FAI Still Not Convincing over €5M FIFA Pay-Out

The Republic of Ireland football team extended their unbeaten run versus England to over 30 years with a friendly match draw in Dublin last Sunday. Thankfully, the affair was uneventful off the field and there was no repeat of the riotous scenes witnessed in the stands when the two teams last met on Irish soil back in 1995. Things were just as uneventful on the field, unfortunately; the game ended 0-0 with very little creativity or imagination demonstrated by either side. Ireland’s next test is a massive must-win Euro 2016 qualifying game at home to Scotland this coming Saturday.

Neither of these events, however, should be allowed to distract from the very serious questions that remain outstanding and unanswered in relation to the €5 million payment of which the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) were in receipt from FIFA subsequent to Ireland’s controversial 2009 elimination at the hands of France from qualification for the 2010 World Cup (after Thierry Henry’s infamous double hand-ball in the direct lead-up to the winning goal of William Gallas). I have been following the matter closely over the past few days and have written in depth here.

Claims that the FAI had been handed a €5 million pay-off first broke on the 13th of July last year. Gary Meneely of the Irish Sun wrote at the time:

FIFA wanted this row [over the hand-ball] to go away. They feared the FAI delegation could raise the issue at FIFA congress in South Africa deflecting from what should have been a good news story. The feeling at the FAI was that Blatter had embarrassed himself… FIFA provided money to try to heal the rift.

The only other media outlet of note to touch the story then was Eurosport who, more-or-less, re-reported what was already in the Irish Sun. The story’s overshadowing on that date was surely inevitable, however, considering the 13th of July was also the day of the 2014 World Cup final. Was its publishing on that date a mere coincidence then or might that have been part of the plan of whoever leaked it? It must be asked; why voluntarily leak a story at all if it is not going to have maximum impact due to the intended audience looking elsewhere? Or perhaps the plan was to have the story piggyback off the World Cup final coverage in the hope that the public would have been more receptive to a football-related story then. Who knows? It would also only be fair to point out that the original article mentioned solely an anonymous source as being the root of the revelation – nothing very concrete – so other media outlets were most likely reluctant to take it on due to obvious uncertainty as to its veracity or verifiability and for fear of legal action.

Media talk of the payment next surfaced nearly a year later when, in light of the corruption and bribery scandal that has currently enveloped FIFA, RTÉ’s Gavin Jennings asked FAI chief executive, John Delaney, to furnish him with further details of the reported payment towards the end of a 29th of May interview on Morning Ireland. Delaney stated that the payment “did not bestow patronage” and was reluctant to confirm further “confidential” details, other than that it was as a result of a “legal case [the FAI] had against FIFA”. Once again, there was relatively little attention immediately accorded to it in the Irish media. That, of course, was prior to the FIFA presidential vote later that same day, Sepp Blatter’s subsequent re-election as president and then Blatter’s explosive resignation announcement a few days later on the 2nd of June.

Sepp Blatter (Kremlin.ru; CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons).
Sepp Blatter (Kremlin.ru; CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons).

On the 4th of June, Ray D’Arcy raised the payment again during another RTÉ radio interview with Delaney. With Blatter on the way out, the FAI CEO, denying that he had ever been offered a bribe, seemed more open to discussing the matter on this occasion and volunteered some further information whilst simultaneously criticising Blatter. Perhaps Delaney was eager to portray himself as an involved global player courageously standing up to and squeezing concessions out of the top dog, but did his ego unwittingly allowed him to expose himself as being complicit in dodgy FIFA dealings? By now, the global press were just burning to expose any possible whiff of a misdeed by the outgoing Blatter; the Irish and international media pounced on the story.

FIFA felt compelled to explain and, that evening, published a statement admitting that they had “entered into an agreement with [the] FAI in order to put an end to any claims against [them]”. According to FIFA, the FAI were given the money in January of 2010 as a loan for stadium reconstruction to be paid back only if the Ireland were to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. (Bizarrely, FIFA were effectively paying the FAI not to qualify for the tournament. What sort of competitive incentive was that?)

The FAI responded with an official statement themselves that night asserting that the €5 million payment was a settlement “without any conditions other than confidentiality” to halt a threatened legal action against FIFA by the FAI. This appeared to contradict FIFA’s statement and so generated further questions. Concerns were also raised by Emmet Malone in the Irish Times with regard to the fact that the payment did not seem to be apparent in the FAI’s published accounts.

Further clarification was delivered the following evening to an expectant media; the FAI, claiming to be no longer feeling bound to confidentiality due to FIFA’s statement, released a second statement with documentary evidence of the receipt of a €5 million loan as an “inducement” to enter into an agreement to waive all FAI claims against FIFA pertaining to the play-off against France and Ireland’s failure to qualify, the spending of said loan on the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road and the writing off of the loan by FIFA. The statement also outlined the nature of a number of interactions between FIFA and the FAI, a timeline of these interactions along with the various related transactions and (still ambiguous) details of the FAI’s asserted legal case against the governing body.

Whilst the statement suggested that the legal case was grounded in “reputational damage” arising out of Sepp Blatter’s breaching of a confidentiality agreement by having “made a joke of the Association’s request to be the 33rd team at the World Cup”, the primary document simultaneously released by the FAI as evidence of the overall arrangement listed only the consequence of the handball incident as a complaint; that being elimination from qualification for the 2010 World Cup. Of course, the problem with this is that a refereeing error would not have constituted valid grounds for a legal action anyway, especially as the document implied that the FAI had already, at the very least, tacitly accepted the referee’s decision as final by participation in and completion of the play-off in accordance with the Laws of the Game. Indeed, the notion that the missed handball might have amounted to valid legal grounds for a case or warranted such recompense as €5 million had already being widely ridiculed as farcical both in and outside of Ireland.

John Delaney gave an interview to RTÉ on the same night as the release of the second FAI statement and, in complete contradiction of the written release, asserted that the refereeing mishap was merely a “catalyst” for what later followed. He claimed that FIFA’s “real concerns” were actually over the supposed strength of his association’s legal claims relating to the “reputational damage” and a previously-unmentioned decision taken by FIFA in the weeks before the play-off against France to seed the draw; Delaney argued that that decision by FIFA essentially amounted to an illegal rule-change. Emmet Malone summed up the glaring inconsistencies in the Irish Times:

In his interview, Delaney repeatedly pointed to a copy of the document and said that Fifa’s “very real concerns” regarding the potential of the legal case are “laid bare for the world to see”.

However, the only complaint listed in the documents is that the handball resulted in a goal which contributed to Ireland failing to qualify for the finals. Neither the seedings nor Blatter’s behaviour are mentioned anywhere in the document.

The document between the associations only says the FAI “lodged certain requests based on the match and its subsequent failure to qualify for the final competition”.

You would be forgiven for thinking Delaney was making this up as he went along. Was he perhaps attempting, rather desperately, to string loose issues together to strengthen the supposed case after the fact due to the public disdain shown for the original flimsy notion that the handball alone was worthy of €5 million in compensatory settlement? Surely, by happily participating in and completing the qualifying play-off without prior objection, it would have sabotaged any potential future claim against the format by which the opponents were decided anyhow? One would also have to imagine that FIFA would have reserved certain rights for themselves in internal documents exchanged between themselves and all participating associations with regard to deciding the format of the entire qualification process, including the play-off games. Such would completely nullify any validity in the FAI’s claim on this particular matter.

In light of all of the above, it is clear that serious outstanding questions remain unanswered. Delaney has been openly critical of FIFA’s lack of transparency and stated of himself and those under him at the FAI, “I don’t know what more we can do in terms of being open and transparent”, but, in entering into confidential (if not dubious) financial arrangements, is his own organisation really as open as he would like to have us think? Indeed, if all was above board, why the need for confidentiality in the first place? Furthermore, why was Delaney claiming that a confidentiality agreement that had already been breached by Sepp Blatter back in 2009 was still in effect in 2015?

Do huge, legally-savvy and capable multinational organisations like FIFA really hand out vast sums of money just like that to prevent legal actions built on extremely weak grounds and for very questionable return? For what reason did the governing body think that €5 million was an appropriate figure? Might an FAI legal action against FIFA on the basis of “reputational damage” from breach of a confidentiality agreement actually have cost FIFA somewhere in the region of or above €5 million so as to motivate the provision of such a payment from their perspective? Might there have been other unknown reasons for the pay-off?

Whilst Delaney was more than happy to let it be known he would be voting for Prince Ali bin Al Hussein in the 2015 election for FIFA president, let us not forget there was also a presidential vote in 2011. As it turned out, Blatter was the solitary runner in that election after Mohammed bin Hammam withdrew four days before the 1st of June vote under allegations of corruption, but that was not to be known a year and a half earlier when the payment to the FAI was agreed. Might FIFA’s payment have been a front to shore up another precious vote for Blatter? After all, despite Delaney’s purported dislike for Blatter’s methods, the FAI vote was allotted to Blatter on that occasion (although, to be fair, it must also be acknowledged that this was in line with the collective voting of the UEFA bloc, of which the FAI is a member).

Is the allegation of the rule-change definitely to be considered part of the FAI’s legal case? If so, it is important to distinguish it from the “reputational damage” claim as the two respective matters would presumably be dealt with separately in law; any action against a rule-change would be expected to fall within the jurisdiction of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, on the basis that it would relate to a competition dispute, whilst any action against a breach of a confidentiality agreement, with a consequent claim for reputational damages, would surely be dealt with by a civil law court. Delaney’s words seemed to conflate two distinct matters very conveniently as if they should naturally be considered as one solid claim. Would FIFA have viewed them in this way when there really was no need to see them as such? In isolation, as they would have been treated by law, the cases would have been much less potent.

If FIFA understood then (on the claimed basis that the FAI’s legal case was strong) that the late introduction of seeding for the play-offs was a breach of competition rules, why was seeding introduced again for the UEFA play-offs for qualification for the 2014 World Cup? Is it fair now too to completely disregard the idea that there might have been some valid legal claim on the basis of the play-off referee having missed Henry’s double hand-ball (even though the FAI originally threatened FIFA with bringing a case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over this and despite the released FAI documents having pinpointed this as a legitimate issue originally)?

Call me a cynic, but being handed a barely conditional windfall of €5 million just seems way too good to be true. Is John Delaney really so impressive a negotiator that FIFA were virtually throwing money at him? The story just does not stack up satisfactorily. Indeed, the persistent inconsistencies leave us with an urgent need for further answers and information. If the supposed merits of the FAI’s respective legal cases were explained by the association in greater, more coherent and more precise detail, along with how and why exactly the seemingly arbitrary sum of €5 million (plus an additional grant) was deemed by FIFA to be an appropriate settlement, I would be much more satisfied with the overall situation. Does such information even exist in congruent and reconcilable form?

Indeed, it has been suggested that Delaney might well be called before an Oireachtas committee on sports and tourism to offer clarification to the Irish government on the basis that the FAI is the national football association and is in receipt of taxpayers’ funds. If that is what it takes to attain some certainty and clarity from this matter, in spite of his claim that he runs an open and transparent organisation, then so be it.

Unfortunately, however, I fear Richard Sadlier may have been on the mark in the Irish Independent when he outlined the real great shame of the present matter:

As the clamour for greater transparency and openness in football grows by the day, the FAI can no longer contribute to the campaign for change. You can’t be a credible voice for reform if you have been in receipt of such a dubious payment. You don’t get to run down the practices of FIFA if you have done this kind of business with them.

Did John Delaney sell the Irish moral high ground for a quick €5 million?

Daniel has also written on this matter on his blog here.

Daniel Collins is a Manchester-based writer originally from the north-west of Ireland. Matters relating to sport, politics, culture and identity particularly interest him.

You can get in touch with him via daniel_d_collins@hotmail.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/DanielCollins85. It is also possible to follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/danieldavidcollins85.

Daniel maintains a blog of his own at danieldcollins.wordpress.com.

  • Dan

    F All Integrity

  • kensei

    The only possible legal grounds against the 2010 result would have been the playoff seeding change I think. UEFA changed the rules after the competition had started to seed the draw based on ranking and give the away leg to the higher seeded team after France and Russia were unexpectedly in the playoffs. 2014 is irrelevant – UEFA can set the rules it wants before the competitions, however unfair or otherwise, but the practice of manipulating them mid competition must be fairly dubious legally.

    I’m not sure there is much to answer on the FAI side, unless the accounts are actually wrong. While you might doubt John Delaney’s negotiation skills, do you really doubt that this sort of behaviour was so ingrained in FIFA that they just threw money at the problem on reaction? I don’t, too be honest.

  • chrisjones2

    Frankly, most people just don’t care and those who do have themselves to blame as they are treated as cows to be milked. We know its all corrupt from the dodgy agents through to ticket sales to these bungs of £5 to £10m and all the other little adjustments.

    We don’t really give a damn. If those who love the game want to fix it lobby the sponsors. They are the sources of the cash. Don’t buy the kit or use the credit card or buy the fast food or that brand of beer until they clean it up. Switch to competitors and then see how fast they change FIFA

  • the rich get richer

    The FBI might like to have a chat with John Delaney !

    Just to get a feel of how Sepp Blatter does Business.

  • NMS

    The weakness of the above piece is that it ignores the crucial piece of information, the existence of a FIFA subsidiary in Ireland for tax purposes.

    Ireland has a wonderful piece of legislation providing for exemption of sporting bodies from taxes under Section 235, Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. This little section provides,

    “any body of persons established for and existing for the sole purpose of promoting athletic or amateur games or sports, ”


    “Exemption from income tax or, as the case may be, corporation tax shall be granted in respect of so much of the income of any approved body of persons as is shown to the satisfaction of the Revenue Commissioners to be income which has been or will be applied to the sole purpose specified in subsection (1)(a).”

    This company had senior FAI officials on it as the Irish Revenue requires that at least 50% of the directors of such a body be Irish. There is of course no restriction on where the income comes from or where it is spent on the sport.

    So the FAI share tax advisors (Deloitte) with British Lions Ltd CRO No 318999. (You will of course note the name, the only thing “Irish” is the tax scam). Also until recently The European Rugby Cup Ltd CRO No. 238761 ran rugby’s European competitions. This again was another tax exempt company based in Dublin. The new competition is of course based in Switzerland.

    The UK CASC exemption is very limited because the “A” stands for Amateur. The Irish legislation is much broader as it includes a) athletic, b) amateur sports, or c) games, giving a body the possibility to claim under any of the three headings.

  • John Collins


  • John Collins

    I suppose that (1) England were beaten by 2-0 at that game and (2) the English had not got the will imagination or inclination to challenge FIFA

  • “2014 is irrelevant – UEFA can set the rules it wants before the competitions, however unfair or otherwise…”

    Of course, you are correct. Perhaps I was hasty in assuming an intention to seed the 2014 play-offs draw may not have been specified in advance. Was it definitely though? I can’t quite remember with certainty. This article would suggest the announcement similarly came late on: http://www.rte.ie/sport/soccer/worldcup/2013/1008/479178-fifa-to-keep-world-cup-play-off-seeding/

    I recall also France having kicked up a stink about the seeding at the time. They cried foul on the basis that they were in a group with one less team than the other groups, so had played two less competitive games than all other play-off participants throughout the campaign. They argued that this had left them with a tougher task to make up the necessary ranking points to become seeds, but the reality was they actually benefited in terms of the ranking points they accumulated: http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2013/oct/17/england-seeded-switzerland-world-cup-draw-friendlies

    I am having difficulty tracking down the regulations governing UEFA qualification for the 2014 World Cup for reliable clarification on this. Any idea where they might be found, assuming such specific regulations exist/have been published? They’re usually easy enough to track down online. (Can only find this document, which isn’t helpful: http://www.uefa.com/MultimediaFiles/Download/competitions/Regulations/01/87/54/21/1875421_DOWNLOAD.pdf)

    I’d imagine the practice of changing rules mid-competition would indeed be legally suspect, but I would also have to think that an organisation like FIFA, with a large, capable and exceptionally well-paid legal department, would have reserved certain rights, say, to make such tweaks in format between stages. That’s just a suspicion, mind; not at all saying you’re wrong.

    Aye, I hear you; but if €5 million is deemed appropriate to pay off small fish like the FAI with (on the face of it) weak legal cases, what must the serious bribes we’ve yet to hear about be like? I just find it staggering that any organisation with a wish to remain financially stable, no matter how well oiled, would be so casual with such significant sums of money. In saying that, I tried to watch FIFA-propaganda-flick ‘United Passions’ the other night as a bit of a case study and, if anything, it was cinematic proof that those running the show were/are beyond insane!

  • Unfortunately, it appears England’s excellent, organised and prepared bid to host 2018 was just far too clean to even come near being taken seriously.

  • I certainly wouldn’t claim I have the means to cover all corners, but I thank you for your contribution. It’s very welcome and I will take it on board. What I’d really hope is that we can keep a discussion seeking answers going before Delaney slithers through another scandal unscathed.

    Anyway, if I’m reading you correctly, the pay-off was a means of keeping the disgruntled FAI aboard this venture, or oiling an important cog in FIFA’s dodgy network, in other words?

    Are you referring to FIFA Ireland Ltd. though? Milo Corcoran and David Blood (former FAI presidents) indeed served as directors, but that company was wound up in 2008, no? Why would it be relevant exactly to the €5 million pay-off two years later? Why would FIFA have been trying to swing favour with regard to this matter with the company wound up? What’s the link?

  • Also, it was to be held in the summer, the fools… That’s so yesteryear!

  • Isn’t that exactly the type of frustrating predicament Winston Smith lamented though? If only everyone else felt compelled to act, it would make personal action worthwhile. But then our own personal inaction arising from this sense of hopelessness (obviously not as grim a hopelessness as that of the dystopia depicted in ‘1984’) makes us just as guilty and as much a part of the problem as everyone else.

  • Ha, I wasn’t being completely serious. Yous took it well. Fair play. But Lampard’s non-counted goal wasn’t decisive, was it?

    Nor was 1986 the age of communication, great informational exchange and saturated back-to-back football coverage. If Maradona performed his “hand of God” today and got away with it – let’s be honest – the English media would go absolutely ape-shit. They’d be calling for Blatter’s head, even if he had just resigned! Even if they had no will in isolation, the FA would be compelled to action by national expectation.

  • chrisjones2

    But its only by acting INDIVIDUALLY that anything will change

  • NMS

    Daniel – Within Europe two countries, Ireland and Switzerland have provisions within their tax laws for special treatment of sports bodies. Sports bodies are not treated as charities, but in effect have broadly the same tax treatment from the authorities in these two countries. There is a very serious back story to the involvement of the FAI with FIFA and the use of Ireland to run surplus income and expenditure through. However the FAI are not the only bodies who have taken of advantage it. The beauty of using Ireland is no fiscal supervision, this applied equally at the time to sporting bodies and in particular to the IFSC.

  • I understand this, but what’s the connection exactly to the pay-off of €5 million?

  • Of course, those grounds (the alleged rule-change) were never mentioned in any official statement or released document either, nor by anyone else, until Delaney plucked the idea out of thin air late on in the day during an interview with RTÉ on the night of the second statement release. He was pointing to a document in his hand and kept reiterating that all these “claims” he was speaking about were documented for all the world to see in what he was holding in his hand, but the only complaint mentioned in that document was the ref having missed the hand-ball. Which would give me the impression the FAI were/are making it up as they went/go along in light of the fact that the notion we’d be compensated for the handball was widely derided. In the latest revised narrative, that issue has become merely a “catalyst” for issues that arose later. Completely unconvincing.

  • NMS

    Daniel, I would suggest the supposed handball case has nothing to do with the €5M and everything to do with FIFA Ireland and related matters.

    Brendan Menton, a key person in all of these issues, and the man removed by Delaney and his cronies now works for one of the Confederations that strongly supports Blatter, the AFC.

  • I’m still not sure what the supposed link is. I’m not saying there isn’t one. I’m just not sure who or what the payment was for, if related to FIFA Ireland Ltd., in light of the fact the company was wound up in 2008. I know what you’re suggesting, but not sure why. What are the “related matters”?

  • kensei

    I don’t doubt some of the sums involved will be utterly shocking. I think there is also a sense of Blatter using FIFA’s money as is own, so who knows how the personal might have played into it?

    Football has been on the up continuously for the past 25 years, maybe longer. There is an awful lot of money going about for them to throw about and its easy to get bailed out while the tide is continuously rising. A few notable cases aside, it’s the same reason most Premiership teams aren’t in a boatload of trouble.

    The tragedy is something like only a fifth of FIFA’s revenue go into to developing the game. Imagine how much more popular and successful the game could be, and how much good could have been brought to developing countries if the money had been invested prudently.

  • As I understand it, the FAI’s request to be the World Cup’s 33rd team was put forward with no expectations whatsoever and in fully-aware knowledge that catering for Ireland would have been impossible; a complete impracticality. We were never in a position that we were on our way to South Africa during the tie; not even after Robbie sent us into raptures in the stands in Paris. We were merely headed for a shot at penalties before Gallas scored.

    The reason the FAI threw the “33rd team” suggestion forward, rather than officially asking for a replay of the game, was because replay appeals are only entertained when a technical error or error of legal interpretation has occurred. When the issue is the referee failing to apply the rules correctly to an observation, there may be a case. When the referee has simply failed to observe something but otherwise applied the rules correctly to his perception, there is no case.

    The “33rd team” request was made simply to force FIFA to recognise or acknowledge the foul-play/situation by having to at least officially consider it on the basis that it was lodged, no matter how unfeasible it was. The match report on FIFA’s website after the game hadn’t even given the slightest hint of an indication that the winning goal was scored in an exceptionally controversial manner.

    Games have been replayed before on technical errors: http://goal.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/19/ireland-cites-uzbekistan-bahrain-decision-in-appeal/?_r=1

  • MainlandUlsterman

    On the Lampard goal – I disagree, I think it was critical. England were 2-1 down, the goal would have made it 2-2 going into half time. Totally different game if you’re having to push for an equaliser than if you’re level; England conceded the further two when they took risks at the back in attempt to equalise, risks that would not have been taken had the scores been level. It was a turning point.

  • Might have been a turning point (merely arguable), but, as I said, not decisive in the same way one goal is decisive in a game decided by a one-goal difference (not arguable; an objective fact).

    There were some other differences that perhaps coloured the respective reactions too. England were outplayed by Germany, whilst Ireland’s performance in Paris was a performance-of-the-decade. On the balance of play, Ireland being the dominant team on the night (and I think anyone watching would have agreed), it was an exceptionally harsh way to go out. With Lampard, the officials missed a non-decisive goal; with Ireland, the officials missed a double hand-ball (a blatant act of cheating) that led directly to the decisive goal. It wasn’t just the Irish who seemed to find that more galling.

    I flew back from Paris to Derry via Luton and had to sleep in the airport for a few hours before getting the Derry flight. (As soon as the play-off draw had been made, Ryanair hiked up all prices for flights direct to Paris from Ireland, so we had to detour both over and back.) I hadn’t got wi-fi or anything on my phone so the first real idea I got of the media reaction to the whole thing was by looking at the British papers in Luton airport. Even they were roundly scathing of “Henry the cheat” and FIFA because Henry had been able to get away with something so brazen. I’m not sure Lampard’s missed goal aroused the same sense of disgust in most people.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The impact of any goal / non-goal is unknowable, ultimately, but I would say the difference between 2-1 and 2-2 when you get past the halfway point is not to be underestimated. A lot of people were quite resigned to the defeat and made little fuss afterwards, but I was pretty annoyed, not because England would have necessarily won, but just that people were cheated out of knowing. You might say you can’t blame Germany for a bad refereeing error but do think it was bad sportsmanship from those players – Neuer in particular – who saw the ball go in very clearly and pretended they hadn’t. To me that is the worst kind of dishonest play and it should have been a straight red for Neuer. At the very least, he should have been disciplined after the match footage was reviewed.

    I have to say I often find myself at odds with football punditry and even much of the wider public when it comes to match interpretation generally.

    The big errors in interpreting games and results come from laziness and playing it safe (nothing to do with England here or Lampard). Pundits “talk the result” – there’s a tendency for them to think that “the score never lies” and that if a team lost 2-0, say, they must have deserved to lose 2-0. But not so – goals go against the run of play, teams playing the better football and hammering on the door do get shut out and hit on the break. The pundits pretend the team was 25 per cent possession and only 2 shots on goal deserve all the plaudits for playing it perfectly, when the opposition dominated the ball and might have had 20+ attempts on target. Why not say that the defending team got lucky? Which is the real truth of it. They rarely say that. And the pundits always raise their eyebrows in mockery when the boss of the attacking team that lost says they played OK and deserved to win. They did.

    It’s actually a little microcosm of how we all tend to see history: that what happened was always going to happen. We project our hindsight back to make a pleasing pattern of actions leading to the consequences that occurred. But events don’t really unfold with such logic in reality. There’s much more uncertainty and possibility than most people allow. Small changes can make a big difference.

    Back to England, what is often missed in their big tournament exits is that the margins have often been very small. To be fair, in 2010 I thought England were dire (until sections of the German game when they came alive) and overall deserved to go out. But for all the doom and gloom there’s often not much in it – and worse teams than England often squeeze through:
    – 2014 – great against Italy and deserved at least a draw; pretty poor against Uruguay but again a match that 9 times out of 10 would have ended a draw.
    – 2012 – outplayed by Italy but didn’t really look like losing to them either and only went out on pens.
    – 2010 – as discussed.
    – 2006 – only going out on pens again
    – 2004 likewise.
    – 2002 beaten by Brazil but only 2-1 and again it could have gone England’s way.
    I could go on 🙂

    The bad thing about the Germany match in 2010 was losing their discipline at the back so early in the second half: they should have held it tighter for longer. They were average but I don’t think Germany were all that much better. We build up ‘overseas’ teams sometimes with a kind of awestruck stupidity – I think it’s a problem with British football generally, we show too much respect, when the opposition is usually as vulnerable and beatable as us, if you have a go at them. The game is often lost in the head before a ball is kicked.

  • “The impact of any goal / non-goal is unknowable, ultimately, but I would say the difference between 2-1 and 2-2 when you get past the halfway point is not to be underestimated.”

    The ultimate impact of many goals might be unknowable, but when the margin is one goal, and that one goal was scored under very suspect circumstances, you know that that goal was decisive. You can say that for sure. When you’ve lost 4-1 after having had a goal ruled out, you just can’t be as certain.

    “You might say you can’t blame Germany for a bad refereeing error but do think it was bad sportsmanship from those players – Neuer in particular – who saw the ball go in very clearly and pretended they hadn’t. To me that is the worst kind of dishonest play and it should have been a straight red for Neuer. At the very least, he should have been disciplined after the match footage was reviewed.”

    Players are there to play and win. Referees are there to observe and referee. Players do not have any responsibility to do a referee’s job for him. Sure, it might be a nice ideal and often you do get exceptionally honest players assisting, but I wouldn’t have thought it was Henry’s responsibility to provide the referee with information subsequent to his hand-ball. Honest players won’t get very far in the game. Remember Rooney telling the Preston keeper over whom he dived in the FA Cup earlier this season to win a penalty that he had to take the dive? There’s a culture not just of acceptance there but also a culture of promotion and expectation. Clubs and managers obviously promote this behaviour because it’s in their interest to do so. It is profitable for them more often than not because it is tolerated by FIFA.

    It is FIFA’s responsibility to stamp that out of the game as governors. Even if Henry had informed the ref, a ref cannot change his decision if he has not observed or perceived the admitted foul-play. Mistakes happen and players want to win so may take advantage – that’s the nature of competition unfortunately – but I would be reluctant to get into blaming players and refs when FIFA have the power to legislate for extra assistance and the use of video technology. They could stamp out diving tomorrow if they really wanted to. Why they don’t want to, I don’t really know. Any theories?

    “Why not say that the defending team got lucky? Which is the real truth of it.”

    I respectfully disagree. Like Seneca the Younger, for me, what people refer to as “luck” is really just what happens when preparation meets opportunity. I don’t believe in the superstitious notion of luck as some sort of invisible force for good acting contrary to the laws of physics to shape events and circumstances in our favour. That’s bunkum. If one team’s goal has been absolutely bombarded for 90 minutes, yet they hold out and then go on the counter-attack to snatch a last-gasp winner in stoppage time, that’s not luck; that’s a combination of their great discipline and defending with their opposition’s wastefulness, lack of precision, inability to break down an organised unit and failure to focus until the final whistle is blown.

    “It’s actually a little microcosm of how we all tend to see history: that what happened was always going to happen. We project our hindsight back to make a pleasing pattern of actions leading to the consequences that occurred. But events don’t really unfold with such logic in reality. There’s much more uncertainty and possibility than most people allow. Small changes can make a big difference.”

    You don’t believe in causality then? We could take this discussion off on a rather philosophical bent, but I fear it would devolve into tautology. What is this “uncertainty” to which you refer and what are the possible “small changes”? The observed laws of physics provide us with certainty and consistency; they cannot be changed to create other possibilities from how they are expected to behave. From there spires (or has spired) every causal event in the whole history, present and future of existence, be that two planets colliding or two humans interacting. What you say isn’t provable. It’s just a theory; that things could have been different for some mysterious reason, but we have no way of knowing because that’s not how things happened. It’s merely an academic exercise anyway. You can’t change the past; we can only learn from it. And that learning from it and making the future is all part of the causal flow.

    “…they should have held it tighter for longer.”

    Should have, but they didn’t. Was that “bad luck” then or just poor discipline/teamwork? If they had have, maybe Lampard’s uncounted goal might have been decisive. Putting something down to luck is a failure in analysis.

    “We build up ‘overseas’ teams sometimes with a kind of awestruck stupidity “

    Hmm, I dunno. My impression is that the English media have irrational notions of superiority and a rather condescending view of the game abroad. We’re always being told the Premier League is the best league in the world, but goes it really live up to that billing? 2014 was the first time I can remember expectation upon the England team not being wildly fanciful to the level where the players involved actually looked fearful under the weight of the pressure. It was an aberration. Remember this?: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4015/4714590924_b15326a95f_b.jpg

  • MainlandUlsterman


    “The ultimate impact of many goals might be unknowable, but when the margin is one goal, and that one goal was scored under very suspect circumstances, you know that that goal was decisive. You can say that for sure.”

    I don’t think you can. It may have been the case with the Henry goal (it was quite late in the match, wasn’t it?) but a suspect goal at, say, the 50 minute mark changes all the play thereafter. Who can say what would have happened if the goal had not been scored?

    On fair play: yes we’ve got used to the depressing amorality of football players cheating, but we don’t have to accept it. Play to the whistle, yes, and it was ultimately up to the officials to get the decision right. But I hate simulation. Neuer’s behaviour was an act of simulation every bit as bad as diving to win a penalty – by playing on as if there were no goal, he tricked the officials. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WML0aP4jo_g
    You can see from the footage he had a clear view of the ball crossing the line – not by a little, by a lot. Other players who couldn’t see it properly, fine, but Neuer saw it. He probably isn’t even ashamed of his behaviour, as your view of fair play is unfortunately the dominant one at present – but he should be.

    On luck, probability and goals: if you have 75 per cent of the ball and 90 per cent of the shots on target, you are unlucky to come away with no points. It’s not “bad luck” in the sense of something happening by random chance, of course not; but it is surely unlucky in a probabilistic sense. 19 times out of 20 in that scenario (talking roughly here), the “attacking team” will get at least a point. If a match is that one out of the 20, it’s unlucky when that happens because it’s the anomaly. It’s unlucky too in another sense: the attacking team is pursuing tactics that usually work. You can’t make goals happen in football, not absolutely – what you can do is create the conditions in which scoring becomes much more likely. The attacking team in that scenario has done all the right things, except score. Now you can say scoring is all that matters and berate them for not scoring, praise the defence etc. But there are some games where you have to say the defending team got lucky. I’d say a lot of Northern Ireland games in there early 80s were like that, they rode their luck, particularly in the defeats of Spain and West Germany. I don’t think either of those felt defeated by a better team. We defending valiantly and took our chances when they came. But would someone coming down from Mars and looking at the action conclude that the other team was unlucky to lose? Probably.

    On causality: the point is, one event follows on from another yes, but it could always have been different. To believe otherwise is to hold a rather mediaeval belief in the pre-ordained nature of human events. But things could always have been different. It’s only with hindsight that the unfolding of human events looks inevitable. I don’t go as far as the “flap of a butterfly’s wing” example; but what if Hitler had caught a bullet in the head in the WW1 trenches, to take one example? It’s not just a “theory” it’s kind of obviously factually true that there is more than one possible course events can take, unless you believe in supernatural deities directing our fates – I don’t.

    On England’s tactical mistake in the second half – no that was a criticism of England’s tactics and decision-making, not luck. I’m not saying they lost purely due to bad luck. Just that the non-goal played a large role in influencing the subsequent play; England made mistakes too. They may have lost anyway; we don’t know.

    On the Sun headline: I’m not a fan of the Sun or the Murdoch press generally, but actually it was an incredibly easy draw by World Cup standards. You point though I think is more about the overweening expectations in the English media. And they are annoying. But I actually don’t think it’s unrealistic for England to aim for winning a World Cup. OK, the last couple of tournaments they’ve been really disappointing and have fallen away a lot. But I think expectations should be high. For all their failures, England is consistently a Top 10 in the world team. Over the past 10-15 years they’ve faced and beaten the likes of Germany and Argentina in big tournament matches. They came within a whisker of the World Cup Final in 1990 and the Euro Final in 1996. I think the 2006 and 2008 vintages were capable of getting there too. The potential is there, in a country of 50+ million people with a thriving league and as a former World Cup winner. I think England needs to think big, not retreat into apologetically accepting under-achievement. There are big issues with the England side yes, but I always think, tantalising potential to impress on the world stage. We’ve only seen flashes in the last 20 years but anyone who watched 1990 for example saw a truly world class team – and it can happen again.

  • “I don’t think you can. It may have been the case with the Henry goal (it was quite late in the match, wasn’t it?) but a suspect goal at, say, the 50 minute mark changes all the play thereafter. Who can say what would have happened if the goal had not been scored?”

    Gallas’ goal was at the end of the first-half of extra-time. If the goal hadn’t been scored, well then it wouldn’t matter because the offence or wrong would not have occurred. Obviously, the issue was that a goal was scored through a blatant act of foul-play and that goal proved decisive as the winning margin was that solitary goal.

    The origin of this argument was in comparing the decisiveness or significance of the two pieces of play; Gallas’ goal after Henry’s double hand-ball and Lampard’s uncounted goal. I was arguing that the Gallas goal was more decisive in the Irish tie than Lampard’s uncounted goal was in the English tie, thus explaining in part why people found the former harsher or more galling. I sense from your statement, “it may have been the case with the Henry goal”, that you agree.

    On Neuer, if he makes the honest shout and the goal is given, he has his team-mates, manager and country on his back. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality. Very few players would make such a call, so it’s harsh to single out Neuer. There’s an incentive to win by whatever means possible, so our nature will more often than not drive us to do that. If the ideal of which you speak was possible, we could even dispense of referees and games could be self-policed by players, but no sport operates on such a basis.

    On the luck debate, it’s just a word I don’t really like to use as I think it’s a short-cut to conducting a proper examination into why something happened. Check out these highlights from Ireland’s 0-0 draw against Russia in Moscow in 2011: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdzFeVY4_fA

    It was a bombardment upon the Irish goal for 90 minutes and we came back with the point we went there for; the point we needed to help us qualify for Euro 2012. We weren’t interested in risking leaving space at the back by pushing for a win, so we were happy to let Russia dictate play and soak up their pressure. Ultimately, Russia weren’t good enough to break us down – they became frustrated and wasteful perhaps because the psychology wasn’t right – and our spirit saw us through ’til the final whistle. It was undoubtedly Richard Dunne’s greatest ever performance in an Irish jersey. He even cracked his head off the running track for his efforts. It was heroic; of McGrath-versus-Italy-at-USA-’94 proportions. Many people called the result lucky for us, but that’s giving the Russian strikers too much credit, whilst not giving the Irish defending and goalkeeping enough. That point was fully deserved.

    Forgive me for blowing our own trumpet! 🙂

    Someone coming down from Mars might not place the same bias, emphasis or weight on attacking football as you seem to do. You seem to be saying that simply because a team has shown more willingness and quality in attack, that they are the more deserving winner, irrespective of whether or not the opposition has defended valiantly and been more clinical in front of goal by taking their chance when it arrived.

    “To believe otherwise is to hold a rather mediaeval belief in the pre-ordained nature of human events.”

    But there has only been one way and your theory that there might just as easily have been another way is just as unprovable as me claiming that there can only be one way. We have the impression that there might be more than one way, but I’m not sure we can say for certain that there could have been more than one way.

    Anyway, the debate or theory I proposed in relation to determinism isn’t so medieval, nor has it remotely anything to do with theology or a belief in supernatural deities; I’m a staunch agnostic atheist!

    Rather, it’s grounded in a repeatedly and scientifically observed ability to put faith in Newtonian physics. This is what I’m getting at really (although I do appreciate that quantum mechanics, which, as of yet, we do not fully comprehend, can cloud matters at minute sub-atomic levels; perhaps we may be able to observe some semblance of predictable patterns there too at some point in the future): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism#Day-to-day_physics

    “Newtonian physics depicts a universe in which objects move in perfectly determined ways. At the scale where humans exist and interact with the universe, Newtonian mechanics remain useful, and make relatively accurate predictions (e.g. calculating the trajectory of a bullet). But whereas in theory, absolute knowledge of the forces accelerating a bullet would produce an absolutely accurate prediction of its path, modern quantum mechanics casts reasonable doubt on this main thesis of determinism.”

    I think England’s youth development infrastructure is presently playing catch-up behind the likes of Spain and Germany who’ve revolutionised that area of the game after France set the pace in preparation for World Cup ’98. (Ireland’s, mind you, is beyond farcical; our association happily piggybacks off the second-rate English academy system.)

    Fewer English players are getting opportunities now at the top levels of the game due to the influx of foreign players into the Premier League as a consequence of the amount of money in the English game now. Of course, the Premier League isn’t controlled by the FA, so there is no incentive there for the Premier League clubs to give priority to the development of English players. That inevitably hampers England’s chances in turn.

    There are quotas for European competition, where clubs are required to have a minimum of a few home-grown players, but you can see how that system can be “abused” too when you have clubs like Manchester City simply buying players like Jack Rodwell or Scott Sinclair to warm the bench as they help the club satisfy the criteria.

    England have traditionally focused on grit rather than flair. They won the 1966 World Cup playing the former way and it has been suggested it was the worst thing that ever happened to English football because they’ve been stuck in that mode ever since. There seems to be an assumption in England that there is a right way to play the game; such unimaginative and straitjacket-type thinking obviously stunts creativity and diversity of play.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    we’re probably beyond going back through the points again so we’ll leave it at that, but just on the grit / flair thing with England, it’s an interesting one. I think you’re right, England coaches have at times been caught in 2 minds about how to play. I think what they’re caught between is playing “the Continental way” (defensive, tight, nicking clever goals) and playing the ‘British” way (piling forward at pace, lots of wing play, crosses etc). The former England aren’t great at because players aren’t brought up playing that way; and the second rarely works against well-organised international teams.

    In reality, England usually tries neither of these but a third model which is better for England – it’s the style of football you associate with the Dutch or modern German teams. That is: physical, attacking and using pace a lot, not sitting back, but with a bit more patience and subtlety. English players can play that style very well. What I think they’ve lacked in recent years is a sense of mission and purpose to galvanise the team and inject that extra little burst of verve. They’ve looked tentative and disjointed way too often.

    If I were Hodgson, I’d experiment slightly less and build more of a tight team spirit with keeping to the same young(ish) players. Tough on those outside the tent, but of course real quality can still break in. Jogi Low did this successfully – pick who your key people are and stick by them over 4-6 years. For me, players like Lalana, Wilshere, Kane,Sterling etc can be world class and he needs to pick a group and develop their understanding, win or lose.