Earlier this week it was announced by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) that a new tier was to be added to the governing bodies coaching ladder.
This new tier, entitled the ‘National ‘C’ coaching licence’, has, in the FAI’s words, been introduced to “bridge the gap between Youth Certificate and the UEFA ‘B’ licence.
Surely such a step would be welcomed with open arms by the very people this is geared towards helping climb the coaching ladder, the coaches themselves? Wrong.
Despite the announcement of this new coaching licence being only a couple of days old, it has already caused heated debate and outrage among Irish football coaches across social media, with some cynics labelling it as nothing more than a “money racket”.
Up until the introduction of the new ‘C’ licence the cost of gaining entry onto the FAI’s youth cert was €300.
However, anyone who has recently completed said course will now be asked to shell out an extra €125 for what is described as a bridging course to include the new ‘C’ licence material.
This is where things not only get complicated but controversial also, and Niall Riordan has helpfully crunched some of the numbers relating to licences in both this country and abroad.
While those eligible for the bridging course will end up paying a total of €425 to achieve their ‘C’ certificate, any coaches who have not yet reached this stage of the ladder and wish to book a position on the ‘C’ licence coaching course are being asked to pay a staggering €600.
In layman’s terms, this means some coaches will be paying an extra €175 to achieve the same credentials as other coaches…how can this be fair?
Why should we care about the cost of such courses? Maybe you have no intention of ever stepping into the world of football coaching and, after all, the men and women booking these courses are obviously passionate and interested in doing so.
The reason the wider football public in Ireland should take note of this situation is because it is your children that will continue to suffer through a lack of qualified coaches and, as a result, the development of Irish football players will continue to slow, and rapidly at that.
Gone are the days of Irish teenagers leaving school at the age of sixteen to move to top English clubs and break into the first-team.
More and more Irish players are failing to make the grade and are instead falling out of love with the game; we can not expect English clubs to develop our talent for us anymore as the elite clubs now look to Europe and beyond for football’s next big star.
However, that’s an argument for another day. The simple facts are we are not producing enough qualified coaches and, consequently, our grassroots players are suffering.
At present we have close to 800 qualified UEFA ‘B’ licence coaches in the Republic of Ireland, while there are just 300 or so coaches who hold the UEFA ‘A’ licence.
Riordan compared these figures to Spain where there are almost 24,000 UEFA ‘B’, UEFA ‘A’ and UEFA pro licence coaches, while Italy and Germany have roughly 30,000 each.
So what are the reasons for such disproportionate figures aside from the population? The simple answer is cost.
In Ireland, the UEFA ‘A’ licence costs €3040 to sit while the UEFA Pro course costs €7550. In Spain, the same courses cost €1200 and €3399 respectively. That’s 55% cheaper.
Reigning world Champions Germany charge €530 to take part in the UEFA ‘A’ licence with the UEFA Pro costing €1510. That’s 80% cheaper than what is being charged by our Football Association.
Perhaps the most damning stat of all is the comparison of qualified coaches in a much smaller nation than ours, that nation being Euro 2016 fan favourites Iceland.
There are currently 800 UEFA licenced coaches in Iceland and while that is the same number of just our ‘B’ licenced coaches it amazingly amounts to 0.3% of Iceland’s population.
If this was to be the case in Ireland we would currently have 13785 licenced UEFA coaches at our disposal. These are damning statistics and need immediate examination by the FAI.
Euro 2016 has breathed new life into the Irish public’s love for the national football team, however as we all know a couple of poor results during the World Cup qualifying campaign and that new found passion for the Boys in Green will soon pass.
What the FAI should now be looking to do is use the success of Euro 2016, and the fact that the Aviva Stadium will host matches at Euro 2020 to secure a long term legacy for Irish football.
While the Dalymount Park project may be pointed to as proof of such efforts, the current state of grassroots football and particularly the League of Ireland shows that a glossy new stadium will change little in the long term.
What is needed now is a concrete plan that will look at Irish football from top to bottom and set goals and targets such as increasing the number of qualified coaches to acceptable levels.
We have seen so many false dawns in this regard before such as the forgotten genesis report and the totally forgettable Conroy report.
Quick fix schemes such as switching from winter football to a summer schedule and the chopping and changing of league structures should no longer be accepted.
Earlier this week, the FAI’s accounts showed us that the association ended 2015 with debts of €50 million but turnover was up €8 million thanks to five big home games in the qualifying stage for France 2016, while a mega-money spinner friendly at home to England also boosted the coffers.
Reports estimate the total amount earned from the national teams success in France at a staggering €11 million, but salary costs within the FAI soared up 30% with controversial CEO John Delaney still raking in €360,000 per year.
Again, comparing this to the elite European nations, Delaney is earning more than double his Spanish and German counterparts. The Spanish CEO currently earns €140,000 P.A. while Germany’s football presidents is rewarded with €140,000 P.A..
With the FAI aiming to be debt free by the year 2020, the same year as the Aviva will host two group stage matches at UEFA’s Euro 2020 competition, surely bringing Delaney’s salary into line with our European rivals would go along way to helping reduce the cost of coaching courses here in Ireland?
With the vast majority of coaching positions in Ireland being unpaid, we are losing more and more coaches from the system.
Out of concern that his comments may affect his ability to get onto future courses, the coach asked not to have his name published.
Wanting to get a better idea of the strain the cost of these courses puts on hopeful candidates, I spoke to a former League of Ireland coaching staff member who is currently contemplating his future within Irish football due to the current situation.
When asked what stage of the FAI’s coaching ladder he was on and how the current costs had effected him, the former LOI coaching staff member replied:
I have my Youth Cert but can’t afford to continue on due to the huge costs involved now in Coach Education in Ireland.
As mentioned earlier, the vast majority of coaching jobs in Ireland simply reward coaches with experience for their CV as they are unpaid positions and when asked about his experiences since gaining the youth cert, the coach informed us this:
I had paid coaching employment for four months but even that was only expenses and enough for a take away on the way home after ONE of the three sessions we had during our week!
Already clear the strain this coach is under in his quest to climb the coaching ladder in Ireland I inquired further as to the sacrifices he has had to make just to reach this middle tier of the education system. His response was brutally honest.
It has been a strain on my relationship. It has also been a serious financial strain as I was unemployed and every spare bit of money I had was spent to pay for my badges and traveling to and from training and matches to gain my experience to move on up the Coach Education Ladder.
I have had to miss out on family events and holidays etc. but in return the FAI seem to be making it so much harder for us coaches who don’t have a name in football or move in the right circles to be able to succeed!
Earlier in this article the danger of losing Irish coaches to foreign associations was highlighted as one of the main causes for concern that the FAI should have when examining the cost of coaching courses here in Ireland.
That case was backed up by this coaches statement that he fully intends to move abroad to follow his coaching dream and he not only listed finances as a reason for this but what he sees as an unfair playing field.
Yes, I have and I will be going abroad for two reasons… 1 – The cost, obviously in the financial climate we are currently in we have to make savings where possible, especially as clubs here in Ireland don’t pay their coaches and 2 – I have been told that when you go abroad you are treated the same as anyone else no matter what your history is within the game or what circles you move in!
Sensing this coaches total discontent with the current coaching set up within Ireland, I went on to ask him for his feelings on FAI CEO John Delaney and the salary he currently draws despite the obvious challenges currently facing grassroots football domestically.
In a very short answer…it is a joke. Us the Joe Bloggs pay for his exorbitant wage and he does not care one bit about the domestic game or coaches!
Wanting to give this coach the final word and a chance to lay out his beliefs on the path Irish football coaching is currently taking, I asked if he had a message for the FAI that he would like to convey on the behalf of coaches like himself who are feeling totally disillusioned with the entire set-up at the association at present.
His response was, as expected, passionate.
I would say to the FAI to go back to the drawing board first and foremost and then ask them to make it a fair playing field for EVERYONE doing any of the Coach education courses.
I find it very unfair that an experienced coach like myself (coaching at a high level for eight years) must leave a minimum of 12 to 18 months between badges to gain coaching experience but some are doing the same courses and are being fast tracked through them due to who they are.
Another thing that I feel needs to be revisited is the fact we have a huge number of 21/22-year-olds coming out of Carlow IT with very, very little coaching experience but have a UEFA ‘B’ licence and are entrusted with coaching the future players of this country, where proven experienced coaches are moved aside purely by financial restrictions and employment commitments to try to make the money to do the courses.
It is getting to a stage where we will soon have very little experienced coaches in the country and a lot of very young coaches where we really need a good mix of both.