Cooke Steps up to Government Frowns at FAI

The latest twist in the FAI management saga will not have pleased the Government but the appointment of Paul Cooke to what was known as the interim CEO post and is now the ‘Executive Lead’ was an essential step given the need for leadership.

Cooke’s previous and ongoing involvement with the FAI, even as a fierce critic of John Delaney, is too close for the Ministers Shane Ross and Brendan Griffin who had wires humming again yesterday evening with a less than enthusiastic welcome for his appointment.

“The Ministers note media reports regarding the appointment of Paul Cooke as executive lead at the FAI,” read the statement released shortly after 5-30 pm.

“As has been stated repeatedly, and most recently yesterday, Ministers Ross and Griffin believe the most urgent priorities for the FAI should be the appointment of the four independent directors, the independent Chairperson, and the filling of the CEO vacancy, whether on an interim or full-time basis.”

“Various stakeholders will continue to be concerned until such time as the Board and the Executive are led by completely independent people without any prior or present involvement with the FAI. We look forward to an early appointment of an independent CEO following a thorough process.”

“Government funding cannot be restored until such independent directors and an independent CEO are in place.”

Cooke currently serves as a volunteer Vice President having been elected to that role at the AGM over the summer. He has been a key player in navigating the roiling financial waters that will become obvious in their murkiness when the 2018 and restated 2017 accounts are published this week ahead of a reconvened AGM later in the month.

They are a critical part of the process of the independent directors and chair coming on board and in turn the process starting for the long term permanent appointment of a CEO.

Cooke is a qualified Chartered Accountant who has served as Managing Director of both the Irish Daily Star and the Sunday Business Post. He has served on the Technology Committee of Chartered Accountants Ireland and is a non-executive Director of the Cappagh Hospital in Dublin.

A former director of Waterford United he sat on the FAI Council for nine years between 2005 and 2014.

That involvement clearly makes him culpable for some of the sins of the past which the Government is keen to see resolved before the restoration of Government funding.

The harsh reality is though that an ongoing debt of €50 million plus, and the relationship with UEFA who have provided funding of €15 million in the short term, are more important than the €2.9 million in funding supplied by the Government through Sport Ireland.

The first choice for the job of steering the FAI into a better future was turned down by the experienced John Foley under the pressure of Ministerial dissatisfaction. Once that decision was taken and announced on Monday it was imperative to have someone take the reins.

Those with a capacity to do so do not grow on trees around Abbotstown or elsewhere and the danger of being without an identifiable and competent individual this week of all weeks was a simply greater threat than the wrath of the Government.

No timeframe for Cooke’s involvement has been specified and it may be that his tenure will be short as the weight of the unknown begins to lessen.

Then again, the size of the issues facing the Association, and the pressures of handling them in such a bright spotlight might be seen as too much for individuals to take on.

Cooke’s experience would make him a viable candidate for the CEO role on a permanent basis though that will be a long way from the ideal situation in Minister Ross’s eyes, at least for now.

Could this be the most public job interview of all time? If he succeeds he will have done enough to persuade a sceptical Government that the strengths of today are more important than the weaknesses of yesterday.

He will have to dance with the balance of a Messi, the confidence of a Ronaldo and perhaps the ‘wow’ brilliance of a Stephanie Roche if he is to do that but nothing is impossible.

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Image Credit: Ryan Byrne, Inpho.ie

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