Off The Cuff

by Ed Diggins

FAI finally getting their act together?

Love them or hate them, it has been a good few weeks for the FAI. The much maligned folk from Abbottstown can be accused of making mistakes in the past but need applauding for some of their recent work.

It is hard to know where to point the blame for the fixture fiasco in Slovakia which saw thousands of Irish fans sent to the wrong city, many of them left ticketless. John Delaney and co acted quickly to eradicate the blame, organising the now legendary disco train to Zilnia and back.

Delaney subsequently filled the carriages with €5,000 of Carlsberg creating a carnival atmosphere and elevating him to hero status for the day. Yes we are a fickle bunch, but it won him back some respect solving what could have been a huge headache.

The announcement a few days later that tickets for the FAI cup final between Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers were €5 and €10 was genius. Nobody expected it, but the reaction was sensational. Last Sunday was one of the best days in the recent history of the domestic game with the attendance of over 36,000 being the biggest in 40 years.

The FAI has received criticism for the ticket prices in the new stadium, but this was one they got right. An incredible atmosphere created a wonderful occasion as the real sporting people of Ireland were present. These are the supporters we need at our games but they are being priced out of the market by corporate greed, a market that is now practically dead.

The game also took some heat off the FAI in their battle for ground with the IRFU. The attendance last Sunday was bigger than when World Champions South Africa came eight days earlier. The significance of this is huge, a marker for future games and pricing structure.

Another source of abuse directed at them was the fact that the IRFU had sold out all their premium tickets, something the FAI failed to do. The IRFU were lucky and nothing else, they sold their seats at a time, when Ireland’s economy was beginning to recline.

Being 6 Nations champions helped along with the draw of the four southern teams.  A heartbreaking World Cup exit in Paris and a less than appealing Euro 2012 qualifier draw were the final nails in the FAI vantage club coffin.

How things have changed with 16,000 empty seats when South Africa called. Rinse and repeat for Samoa last weekend, with 20,000 vacant. The IRFU bubble has burst and it is plausible that a huge portion of their fans that purchased premium seats, are now regretting the decision. Their ticketing layout was a disgrace and it has spectacularly backfired on them. Greedy is a word that comes to mind.

While I am sure that Delaney would not take much pleasure at the misfortune of others, it is very likely that he breathed a huge sigh of relief last Sunday when his great FAI cup final give away proved a massive success.

He looked a more relaxed and content man when he announced another coup for the FAI, that current Champions League holder Inter Milan are due next summer in The Aviva. Concerns have already been submitted by League of Ireland fans over another attempt at an Airtricity XI after their mauling at the hands of Manchester United last August.

Perhaps having Shamrock Rovers play as champions would have been better as a more settled team would have a more realistic chance of doing themselves justice. The key thing here is timing as a clash with Champions League and Europa League qualifiers is possible, meaning Rovers would not be available.

It is a case of some good work done, a lot more to do for the FAI, but at least for a change they are getting things right.

Special word for Ciaran Kelly who saved all four penalties on Sunday evening in the FAI Cup Final. I hope the lad is single as the freedom of every available knickers in Sligo beckons for the foreseeable future!!

Glazers MUST come clean.

Cautious but optimistic is how I feel about the news that the Glazer family are going to clear off the PIK debt at Manchester United.

This is due to be done on Monday with an estimated £220 million to be paid on the high interest loans. As to where this money is coming from is anybody’s guess. The most likely is simple refinancing, borrowing at a lower rate of interest than the reputed 16.5% that the initial loan was being paid at.

Another would be that the Glazers have other business interests and sold some off to finance the deal in cash. This would appear to be the least likely as their other ventures are not performing and it is thought that the maximum at their disposal would be in the region of $100 million.  It is also possible that they have found another investor or in other words, traded a part ownership of the club for the PIKs.

These loans were always the personal responsibility of the owners with them having the option to take money out of the club to pay them off. The suggestion that this will not take place, if true, is the most welcome news for United fans this week. But can the Glazers be trusted?

Our friends in the MUST organisation have gained huge publicity over the past four days asking for Malcolm, Joel and the rest of the family to come clean about where the money has come from. I have to admit I am not their biggest fan, but MUST certainly know how to play the publicity market, striking always when the iron is hot.

Even when it appears that some goodness may come from the announcement, they still are able to make a scene. I do agree that a lot of questions still remain, but the Glazers are unlikely to answer them, with next January being touted as when, if ever, an explanation will come. In reality, I do not think much will change except a lower rate of interest and a guarantee that the huge cash reserves at United remain untouched.

This week’s financial results were strong but nothing to write home about. Many positives are evident and I believe the doomsday scenarios being painted in certain places are way off the mark. The club is on target to eclipse last year’s results which showed an operating profit of £100.8 million.

So far, commercial income is up 24%, a staggering fact considering the current global economy. Overall operating profit is up 4.5% with turnover up 9.7%. Overall club debt is at £509million, down for £521 in June. Cash reserves remain strong at £157million. One worrying observation is an astronomical rise in wages of about 12%, which does not contain Wayne Rooney’s new contract. This would suggest that United have too many staff on their books and a cull could happen next summer.

United as a business is making huge money. The real tragedy is that this money is going to service bonds, loans and interest and not back into the club.

Roy Hodgson the scapegoat

The pressure is back on Roy Hodgson after his side’s mini revival came to a halt at the Britannia Stadium last Saturday. You have to feel sorry for him, he was handed a team and club in turmoil and has had very little time to get it right.

The astonishing thing for me is how Liverpool fans still back Rafael Benítez, the man who played a huge part in the clubs current plight. Yes the club was a mess off the pitch, Roy has bought one or two players below Liverpool standard and has said some silly things in the media. The real problem boils down to the team he took over. Aside from Reina, Torres and Alonso, the vast majority of Rafa’s signings were a disaster.

Case in point being wasting £37million on Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani in 2009. Robbie Keane, Ryan Babel, I could go on and on. If you look at the Liverpool squad now, it is littered with too many average players, practically all who were brought in by Benitez. I still believe that Liverpool will finish in the top six, not because of their own brilliance, but due to the standard of the teams competing with them.

Coming in the next two weeks –

FC United – Who the hell are they?!

The Bosman Ruling – Ruining Football.

Contact ed@backpagefootball.com or follow Ed on Twitter.

2 Responses

  1. McrRed says:

    The bit about Roy Hodgson? He’s only under fire because he’s crap. Absolutely the wrong man for Liverpool.

    Would have Rafa back in a heartbeat (considering how badly he’s doing at Inter you never know!)

  2. Ed Diggins. says:

    maybe he is, but who else would possibly have taken over? he had just taken his club to a european final, something liverpool failed to do. theres an argument of course his record is getting the best out of lower teams so to speak, but he has also managed at a high level. he was voted LMA manager of the year last year, so he must have been doing something right! maybe he is not a liverpool manager, but i think given the mess he inheritated, alot of it is not his fault. things are going a bit better lately for him, so lets see how it goes.

    if people think King Kenny is the answer, they would need to think again.

    as i said, i expect him to have liverpool challenging for top 4 after christmas, its not that hard to do in that league and a fully fit torres should see that happen.

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