Sitting in a subdued Aviva Stadium last Sunday witnessing arguably the most dour game ever experienced between Ireland and England, it was very hard to pinpoint any highlights, or indeed any moments of enjoyment in general.
But I have to admit that a wry smile did appear on my face when the English fans started chanting “Sepp Blatter, he built your ground” in the direction of the Irish fans.
Not the most provocative of rhetoric that has ever been exchanged, but certainly amusing. Of course the English fans were referring to John Delaney’s revelations last week that the FAI had accepted a €5 million pay-off to stave off legal action against FIFA following the Thierry Henry handball debacle back in October 2009.
Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t believe there is any place in sport for bribery, and the latest allegations regarding FIFA and Sepp Blatter have certainly undermined their toxic organisation. But Delaney has received scathing criticism following the ‘hush money’ revelations, some of it over the top in my opinion.
That fateful night in Paris when Henry intentionally ‘handballed’ was a bad night for football. The Irish performed gallantly before being undone by a highly controversial decision, reminiscent of the Maradona episode in the 1986 World Cup. As a result, both the players and the FAI were irate following the final whistle, as Ireland’s World Cup dream ended.
The FAI apparently proposed a 33rd team solution to FIFA, which was laughed at publically by Blatter. Then they threatened legal action, cue the €5 million pay-off. You would have most sympathy for the players in this scenario, footballers who were denied an opportunity to play on the greatest stage of all.
But any legal action taken by the FAI would have almost certainly proved futile. How many matches have been replayed following controversial decisions in the past? Few, if any at all – the officials’ decisions are always final.
What FAI Chief John Delaney was tasked to do was the make the best of a bad situation in the wake of the saga. A replay was out of the question and the 33rd team proposal was impractical, so, in these circumstances, whether distasteful or not, a €5 million pay-off, in the form of a loan, was a tolerable resolution.
The agreement was a €5 million loan to the FAI initially, which would turn into an official payment if Ireland failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Ireland didn’t qualify, so the FAI got to keep the money.
To quell any notions that may have arisen regarding the destination of the money, Delaney also produced a document publicly confirming that the payment had been made into the official bank account of the FAI.
These latest revelations certainly further reflect adversely on FIFA, but there are not too many people in the world who would have turned down the ‘compensation package’ if they were put in the shoes of the FAI Chief. Despite the saga’s unpleasant edge, did John Delaney over-‘Sepp’ the mark in the circumstances that prevailed? I don’t really think so.