Robbie Keane. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
still on the sidelines

New FAI boss yet to meet Robbie Keane to resolve his future

New CEO Jonathan Hill spoke to the Irish press today, where he revealed the FAI are saying no to a gambling sponsor, and that he has yet to read Champagne Football.

ROBBIE KEANE REMAINS both on the payroll and the fringes at the FAI, and thus continues to draw a reported annual salary of €250,000 as an employee with no present role at the debt-laden Association. 

In 2018, and during John Delaney’s tenure as CEO, Keane signed a four-year contract with the FAI which saw him join Mick McCarthy’s coaching staff with the Republic of Ireland senior men’s team.

Stephen Kenny opted not to retain Keane on his staff when he took over last April, and though the FAI reached agreements with McCarthy and his assistant Terry Connor, no agreement was reached with Keane, who has remained under contract since. 

FAI Chairperson Roy Barrett told the media two months ago that new CEO Jonathan Hill would engage with Keane to find him a role at the FAI, though Hill today said he had yet to meet Keane on the matter. 

“Robbie remains an FAI employee”, said Hill. “I haven’t had the opportunity yet to sit down and talk with him, I will do that. Robbie is a legend in Irish football and I look forward to having an open and honest conversation with him about the situation. 

“It hasn’t happened yet, and I am open to all different possibilities in relation to Robbie. But Robbie will tell me where he is currently, I hope, when we get the chance to chat.” 

Today was the first time Hill met the Irish media, four months after taking the role and becoming the FAI’s first permanent Chief Executive since John Delaney stepped aside to become Executive Vice-President in March 2019.

Owing to the pandemic he continues to work from his home in London with the FAI’s Abbottstown offices closed, though says he hopes to move to Dublin in time for the start of the League of Ireland season and Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers, both slated for the end of March. 

Hill has spoken about immersing himself in Irish football, working lengthy days and talking to as many people as possible to understand his new job, though his research did not extend to reading Champagne Football, the bestselling book chronicling the disastrous misadventures of his predecessor. 

“I’ve read excerpts of it in The Sunday Times serialisations of it. It would be foolish of me to say it’s not important to understand the past to frame our here and now and our future as well. There are any number of legacy issues, some of them in the book and some not, that I’ve had to listen to and deal with to move forward. That’s part of the job, but I am focused on the future because what else can I do? 

“The staff of the FAI, the board and all of our stakeholders, want to hear and see my vision and the organisation’s vision for a modern, progressive, and diverse sports governing body. That’s what I’m focusing on: the future, rather than the past.” 

unnamed Jonathan Hill, FAI CEO.

One of the legacy issues Hill is dealing with is the lack of a sponsor for the Republic of Ireland senior men’s team, as Three Mobile elected not to renew their deal when it expired last year. While deals have been struck with SSE Airtricity and Bank of Ireland in relation to the domestic game, the international team – the FAI’s most valuable product – did not not have a sponsor for the three games of the most recent international window in November, and won’t for next month’s World Cup qualifiers either. 

“I’ve been involved with the commercial side of the sport for a long time but I inherited that situation”, said Hill. “Normally getting a deal of that magnitude and complexity would take between six and 12 months door to door, if you like, to be consummated.

“So to find a national team sponsor in a Covid scenario, where brands and business are under extreme pressure for very understandable reasons, was always going to be a challenge.

“That does not mean that we are not out there in the marketplace, talking about the platforms on which we think we can deliver to a national team sponsor and I completely believe in the platform we can provide because we are the number one sport in the world.

“It is certainly our intention to find a partner [but] I know we have some work to do so that brands want to be a part of the story of Irish football moving forward and I am confident that we will get to that point.”

The FAI is not saying yes to any potential sponsor: Hill confirmed the FAI are not interested in partnering with a betting company, after Paddy Power reportedly showed interest. That said, the FAI are exploring a way in which they can get a cut of the national betting tax. At present, a levy on every bet placed in Ireland – regardless of which sport on which that bet was placed – yields a reported €96 million per year, and the majority of it is ring fenced for horse racing. 

“The chair of the FAI board Roy Barrett is certainly passionate about that as an issue that should be debated more openly and I think we will be part of that debate”, said Hill. 

“We have a good idea of what percentage of betting within Ireland is on football, but no I wouldn’t pre-suppose how that betting levy might be approached in the future. I would like to be part of that debate with all sport in Ireland, and not just on football. If the Government is open to that engagement, I am sure that debate will happen moving forward.”

Elsewhere, Hill confirmed there will be a streaming service in place for the second half of the League of Ireland season, following last night’s announcement of the return of WatchLOI for the first half of the season, given the opening half of games will be played behind closed doors. He did, however, sound his optimism for a phased return of fans this year. 

“Like other sports and sporting associations we will have to have a fair approach when we have fans back in but we will be happy to get to the stage where we have 5,000 or 10,000, even when the crowds have been small, even 3,000, they make a lot of noise.

“If we can have 5,000 Irish fans in the Aviva Stadium I believe they will make a lot of noise. We want to get as many of our fans into the stadium as possible.” 

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey look ahead to Italy-Ireland, discuss Joey Carbery’s positional future with province and country, and try to figure out what happens next with the postponed France-Scotland fixture:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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