Declan Lynch: ‘FAI grapples with executive culture – and loses’

John Delaney in the Aviva stadium. Photo: Gerry Mooney
John Delaney in the Aviva stadium. Photo: Gerry Mooney
We should all be working on the assumption that America is a much stranger place than we’ve ever imagined. We know how strange it can be, from the movies and so forth, but it is probably much stranger than that.

John Delaney is unfortunate. He happens to be the CEO or the Executive Vice President or whatever of an organisation that concerns itself, up to a point, with football. So people care about it, and many of them even understand it.

If his path in life had led to him becoming some other sort of CEO or Vice President or whatever, he would still be roughly the same sort of executive player – except he wouldn’t be reading articles about himself in the paper, because nobody would give a damn.

Yes, when they turn left into business class as they board the jet, you may be sure that there are other John Delaneys contemplating a change of title, a change of role, for reasons that are not entirely clear – but they can enjoy the executive hospitality with a lighter heart, knowing that unlike him, they will probably never have to listen to large crowds of quite angry people singing songs about the unorthodox nature of their corporate governance.

So we need to get away from the idea that John Delaney is unique.

He is certainly, shall we say, marching to the beat of a different drum – but it wasn’t John Delaney in particular I had in mind when I wrote a few years ago that the FAI is the dysfunctional sporting body that other dysfunctional sporting bodies call “the galacticos”.

There’s no way that one man could do all that, but I suppose there is a difference, in that they used to do it for much smaller wages. Undoubtedly, the perception that Delaney is massively overpaid added a new layer to that rich dark comedy – but again, this is a perception that would not be universally shared.

Other CEOs, for example, might well regard John Delaney as being massively underpaid – and as for what he’s getting for being Executive Vice President, which is “substantially less” than the €360,000 he was commanding in his former role, well, the view from the VIP lounges would be that you couldn’t possibly get a person of the right calibre to do the job for that kind of money. Though he appears to be doing it anyway, whatever it is.

“Substantially less” is not a term, not even a concept that a member of the executive class would countenance. These guys don’t do “substantially less”. They do “substantially more”.

Indeed, that is all they do, as far as we know. Though there is anecdotal evidence that members of the executive class who were not called John Delaney were there or thereabouts doing whatever they do, when the financial systems of Ireland and the rest of the world were incinerated.

Be that as it may, they have as little consciousness of their role in these matters, as Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith, or Jacob Rees-Mogg did when they swept down to Chequers last Sunday in their big cars, with the rest of their once-great nation in ruins.

They still wanted substantially more.

So when I see John Delaney, I think not of the man, but of the culture. A culture in which the almighty CEO is venerated as our primitive ancestors worshipped whatever it was they worshipped. And like many other football people, or indeed non-football people, I ask myself not what is wrong with them, but what is wrong with me?

I mean, I don’t think it’s excessively boastful to say that I could run the FAI as well as any man has ever run it – yes, if you laid out a range of corporate treasures in front of me, and asked me which one I wanted to infuse with my vision, I’d probably go for the one which promotes the most popular sport in the world, in a country that loves it.

If you offered me a role at, say, the Ice-Hockey Association of Ireland, now that would be more of a challenge. That would really test my executive mettle, but the football? You know what? I think I’d have that shot in my locker.

In fact, I would probably do it for substantially less than John Delaney was getting in any of his roles – and right there is the flaw in my argument, in my character indeed. Yes, that’s a schoolboy error right there. That would tell any corporate warrior that I just don’t want it enough.

And I know it’s a cliche, but in trying to understand this executive culture which runs our world, cliches are the only internationally approved form of communication.

Your CEO, your Executive Vice President, or whatever – they just want it more.

Or if you can think of any other remotely plausible explanation, we can run with that too.

It’s just another strange week in a strange country

We should all be working on the assumption that America is a much stranger place than we’ve ever imagined. We know how strange it can be, from the movies and so forth, but it is probably much stranger than that.

You don’t see much in the movies, for example, about the profound craziness of the American attitude to healthcare which can mean, in some circumstances, that if you break your arm, the only way to pay the bill for fixing it would be to organise a kind of a gigantic fund-raiser something along the lines of LiveAid. A large number of Americans seem to think that any other approach is essentially a form of communism.

Nor would many have thought it strange last week that the US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, cut the funding for the Special Olympics.

If anyone even thought of doing something like that here in our communist wasteland, they would probably live in constant fear that the thought might some day inadvertently reach their lips, and they would say it in public, and very ugly scenes would ensue.

Betsy DeVos isn’t like that. She was insisting that there was a perfectly good reason for this, that the Special Olympics is a private organisation, not a federal programme – hey, she even gives money to that private organisation herself, which reminds us that Betsy DeVos is unbelievably rich.

And like a lot of unbelievably rich people in America, she has an ideological certainty that places a higher moral value on the charitable contributions of unbelievably rich people, than on the wretched “federal programmes” – words like “federal” and even “programme” make them think of our old friend, the communism. Whereas words like “private organisation” are self-evidently good.

So she was cutting funding – until the moment that Trump declared that “the Special Olympics will be funded”, that he had “over-ridden my people”. (It is said that “Trump savours news coverage which shows him acting unilaterally”, putting minions in their place.) Betsy had tried though, she had tried.

But that wasn’t even the strangest thing in America last week. Stranger still was the reaction to the Mueller Report, or rather not to the report itself but to the four-page “summary” offered by US Attorney General Bill Barr of a document which “exceeds 300 pages” that will not be published till mid-April, and then with redactions.

Much of the media simply repeated Barr’s “summary” and the ecstatic “No Collusion!” of the Trumper, as if these were reliable reflections of the contents of the unseen report. Indeed, some were already agonising about how wrong the American media had been about Trump and Russia, rather than how wrong it was being in its uncritical swallowing of the official verdict.

In our communistic society, we would apply more rigorous scrutiny to a plan by the county council for the painting of double yellow lines – and “rigorous scrutiny” of the plan in this case means just reading it.

A more rational response to “Mueller” was that if it really was good for Trump, copies of it would already have arrived at every single door in the United States. Now that would be a federal programme for which he would “over-ride” all.

Merson calls it on perils of a gambling addiction

Paul Merson’s gambling addiction is in full spate again.

On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, the former footballer spoke with much insight about gambling being the worst of his addictions, because “I’ve found when you want to get drunk or high, you have to put the stuff in your body. If you don’t have the first drink, you don’t get drunk.

“With gambling, you don’t have to put anything in, it’s just there. And it just grips you – you are constantly looking at your phone and it just grips you.”

“Merse” will get no argument from me on that one – but there were a couple of areas of his testimony which perhaps needed embellishing. The fact that at the height of his addiction, he had backed the Under-20 Lithuania basketball team is not just some kind of a mad “fun fact” – in truth, it is very easy for the online gambler to find the proverbial under-20 international basketball game going on at any time of day or night, to fill the void.

And then Merse describes it so well: “After the bet is on, you are like, what did I do that for? It’s a weird feeling… as soon as you have done it, you’re like, I can’t believe what I’ve done. Then the self-worth comes in and you hate yourself.”

But there is another aspect of Merse’s situation which must make it enormously difficult for him. His main job is on Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday, where they are always “calling” things, be it the result of the game or just the next yellow card. The calling starts at noon and continues for about six hours until there is nothing left to call. It is a Call-athon.

Merse has been to all sorts of rehab establishments, and would be acutely aware how important it is to get away from your old environment – or, to put it simply: if you’re an alcoholic, you should stop going to the pub.

Likewise, if you’re a compulsive gambler, maybe you should give Soccer Saturday a swerve.

Though, of course, if it’s what you do for a living, you really are in a terrible place. You are like the alcoholic barman, except they’d make a big deal of that on Good Morning Britain, whereas the awareness of Merse’s problem is not so clear.

So we wish him well.

Sunday Independent


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