By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — The chief executive of Irish soccer’s governing body is under pressure to hold on to his job after last week’s decision to scrap plans to build a new stadium.
Bernard O’Byrne had controversially championed the development of Eircom Park as a home specifically for soccer. However, the Football Association of Ireland accepted an offer to become an anchor tenant at the government’s proposed Stadium Ireland in west Dublin.
In the end, it was an offer the FAI couldn’t refuse. To row in with the Stadium Ireland project, the FAI will benefit to the tune of £40 million in grants and subsidies in the short term, with further profits from advance corporate box and ticket sales for the new stadium to kick in later. All in all, the deal could be worth £100 million over the next 10 years, and then, of course, there’s the small matter of a free stadium to consider.
But despite the agreement, which should put soccer on a firm financial footing, the air is still thick with recrimination and O’Byrne’s critics within the FAI are already demanding his resignation.
After spending £3.5 million on the aborted Eircom Park project, the association could now be facing legal action from the sports marketing company IMG, which could cost a further £1 million.
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IMG claims it had entered into a commercial agreement with the FAI and is now seeking compensation. Thus, without a brick ever being laid, the cost of the Eircom Park pipe dream could run to over £5 million. And O’Byrne is taking most of the flak for the project’s tainted legacy.
Apart from the well-documented facts that full details of the financial plan for the doomed stadium were only made available by O’Byrne to FAI officers following a legal threat by treasurer Brendan Menton, O’Byrne is facing questions over alleged credit card irregularities and he is also likely to be sued for defamation by two association directors, John Delaney and John Byrne.
Delaney has already called for O’Byrne to stand down and the investigation into the chief executive’s credit card transactions — he is believed to have used a FAI card for personal items and a £6,000 sum is in dispute — will be extended to cover a review of the entire Eircom Park debacle.
With such a level of internecine strife, there is little hope of peace breaking out. Apart from a series of bitter differences between O’Byrne and the FAI officers, his critics at the board of management level will no doubt recall the fact that the government deal was on the table a year ago and that O’Byrne was set to earn a £300,000 bonus if the Eircom Park project was completed.
"The deal was even better a year ago," Delaney said. "If we’d gone down the government road, we’d have spent possibly £2 million less and there would be far less divisiveness. Only Bernard didn’t listen. For the good of soccer, I feel he should go."