All hail the return of Little at Large. And he’s well pleased with Irish football’s most organised dandy, John Delaney.
The process may have been tortuous but the result is inspiring. While Trapattoni’s name is obviously on the tongue of every football lover in the Emerald Isle, the name of FAI Chief Executive John Delaney also deserves to be uttered with respect.
Rightly pilloried over the Staunton debacle, Delaney has shown that he learns quickly. He certainly pulled out all the stops not to make the same mistake again. The Staunton era was a shambles. Promising a world-class management team, and then producing the likeable, but totally inexperienced Staunton was risible. But then we were used to it. The FAI does not have a strong history in the area of managerial appointments. Even when it did hit the jackpot with Jack Charlton, it was more accident than design.
The appointments of Mick McCarthy and Brian Kerr were par for the course. The cheap option some said – showing a lack of ambition. But it now seems that Staunton was the last straw. A 5-2 defeat by Cyprus and a last minute winner against San Marino were surely the lowest moments in Irish football history. It simply could not go on.
But sacking Stan was always going to be difficult for Delaney – after all, he was instrumental in his appointment. He also promised publicly that Stan would see out his contract – there was a four-year plan, we were told. But so poor was the qualifying campaign for Euro 2008, that the removal of Staunton two years in to his tenure was the only sensible option. Staunton’s failure was Delaney’s failure too – and many called for Delaney’s head to roll as well.
But the chief exec stood his ground. And while his efforts to distance himself from the Staunton appointment were unedifying, everyone must now be glad that he did not give in to the clamour. A harsh lesson learned, and learned well.
In Irish football and for the FAI, the international XI is critical. Without a strong domestic league, the Irish legionnaires who ply their trade in England and Scotland are the association’s one real money-spinner. For all the fine work that Delaney has done to create a proper structure for the development of the game at grassroots level and his efforts to put the eircom League house in order, at the end of the day, the association is judged by media and public alike on the success of the Boys in Green. It may seem unfair, but it is true. The appointment of the great Trapattoni is finally proof that the FAI now understands that it must give its only major cash cow a proper foundation for success.
Delaney deserves huge credit for all of this, and his manoeuvrings since the Staunton sacking are worthy of note. Delaney and the FAI board were hammered for giving Stan the job in the first place – their selection serving to underline their lack of understanding of what is required in football at its highest levels.
In response, Delaney cleverly announced the formation of a three-man selection panel of experienced football men (Givens, Howe and Houghton) to go out and get a new man. He backed this up by saying that the FAI would not seek to influence their work. In one fell swoop, he had removed responsibility for the appointment (and any bad press for future failings of a chosen candidate) from the association. The choice would be that of football men – the blazers would only rubber stamp.
For a while, the plan seemed to be folly. As the days passed into months with seemingly no resolution in sight, so pressure in some sections of the media for a decision intensified. The lack of concrete news clearly upset journalists with columns to fill. Speculation became the order of the day. The lack of an appointment suggested inertia and an association dragging its feet.
As it has transpired, it was nothing of the sort. The reality shows that Delaney and the FAI allowed the three-man panel to do its work. And one has to respect all involved for their fortitude in not caving in to the pressure to make a quick appointment. Had they done so, then we might be talking about Terry Venables or worse today.
And John Delaney is entitled to his Cheshire Cat grin. He may well think to himself today “I promised them a world class management team, I just never said when.” Well, ladies and gents, that when is now. Take a bow, John. Take a bow.
By Paul Little