It was standing room only in the press briefing at the FAI this morning, with CEO Jonathan Hill and Director of Football Marc Canham in the spotlight on a variety of matters from debt and sponsorship to the more headline grabbing stories of removing one international manager and sticking by another, at least until the end of the current Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Director of Communications Louise Cassidy opened up proceedings with a promise that these briefings, where nothing was off the table, would become a more regular event, at least once a quarter.
The best part of 100 minutes later when the live and daily newspaper sections gave way to the Sunday papers and the broadcast media, she might have been wondering where they would find the time.
Jonathan Hill read a statement at the top of the ‘show’ where he outlined a number of areas of progress under the FAI Strategic Plan, all of which will be more important in the long term sustainable future of the sport than a single set of results an we will be exploring them, from investment in facilities, to revenue that is ahead of target for this year and plenty more in tomorrow morning’s Sport for Business Bulletin.
He then went into an explanation of the review process that ultimately led to Vera Pauw’s contract not being renewed, and a commitment that Stephen Kenny would remain in position as the manager of the Men’s National team through the three remaining qualifiers at home to greece and away to the Netherlands and Gibraltar as well as the friendly with New Zealand in November.
The FAI Board will then review the campaign in its entirety and it will be up to the board, with recommendations from Hill and Canham as to what the next steps are.
A variety of ‘what if’ questions were parried before Marc Canham was asked whether he thought he was the right person to have conducted the review of the Women’s campaign.
He has been in the job for 12 months and has kept a low profile getting to understand the different dynamics of grassroots to international teams but mounted a stout defence as to why he was.
“I have played at every level of the game, coached at every level of the game and spent more than a decade in the FA and the Premier League working with and alongside people who understand the nature of an effective high performing sports environment,” he said.
He could have pointed to the FAI statement on his appointment which read “During his nine years with the Premier League, he has been instrumental in the successful implementation of the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan which has led to an increase in the number and quality of home-grown players playing in the Premier League and seen the progression of young home-grown coaches at Academy and First Team level.
“Marc has led many of the transformations in English professional academies, including the creation of bespoke and individualised coach development programmes with clubs, modernisation of coach education and development in partnership with key football stakeholders. He has overseen the implementation of a multi-million-pound programme to appoint a full-time Head of Coaching in every category 1-3 football club, and led the increase of full-time coaches working in professional academies from 250 to over 850. A significant development under Marc’s leadership was the creation of an Integrated Coaching Strategy, where all English professional football partners have committed to a joined-up long-term vision and plan for coaching, education and development, and career pathways for coaches.”
It probably doesn’t get much better than that in terms of credentials for the job.
The 30 plus interviews that were conducted, many in the week after the team’s homecoming, were confidential as you would expect so no detail was forthcoming about individual feelings towards Vera Pauw but ultimately it was felt that her approach, while undoubtedly transformational in qualifying for a first ever World Cup were ultimately not what would be in the best longer term interests of the team or the teams that follow.
The detail of who said what to whom and when can be read elsewhere. In the end sport is brutal, and at the highest level it is even more so.
We had, and hopefully will continue to have, a very good relationship with Pauw. She spoke eloquently and with feeling at a number of Sport for Business events. She had a strong connection with the fans and both they and we were disappointed in the manner of her leaving.
She leaves o lot of herself in the ongoing story of girls and women’s football, and an indelible mark on the story of its growth. We can only hope for her sake and that of those around here that she resurfaces in an equally strong fashion in another guise. We also hope it will not be in a rival to the republic of Ireland down the line but she will be long and fondly remembered.
Hill and Canham are very professional. They do not get rattled, they are open to any question and can give a strong logical answer in response. They also know how to speak without diving into the feints and dummies that can sometimes be the stock in trade of the sports journalist.
Hill has overseen a redemptive period for the FAI and has built a strong team around him, with whom he is comfortable to share the stage at events like this. That was not always the case.
The fans care less about the background but that is where future success lies and we will dive a little deeper into that tomorrow.