As the Republic of Ireland face Germany this evening in a crucial qualifier, Sean Curtin examines the different paths the F.A.I. and D.F.B. have taken.
20th June 2000, the final whistle has just blown in Rotterdam. Germany trudge off the field, suffering a three-nil defeat to Portugal. They have been eliminated from the Euros in embarrassing fashion, picking up one point and finishing bottom of the group. Fourteen years later André Schürrle will whip a ball in from the left, Mario Götze will chest the ball before volleying past Romero and minutes later Germany will win the World Cup.
They may not have known it then but the events of June 2000 would set in place reform so wide ranging and effective that Germany were crowned World Champions this year as a result. How did Germany do it and can the FAI. learn anything from their German counterparts?
No half measures. That’s probably the best way to sum up the approach of the DFB (German FA) to rejuvenating German football. A governing body was immediately set up to govern the top two divisions of the Bundesliga. Under this new system, clubs would not be issued a license to play in the league unless their academy could field twelve players eligible for Germany in each new intake of youth players.
Then there is the 50+1 rule meaning a club can not be owned by an outside investor as 51% of the ownership must go to members of the club i.e. the fans. This has ensured the responsible running of club finances for the most part.
The wide ranging reform the DFB introduced took effect in 2002. As Ireland enjoyed partial success and drama in Saipan the future looked bright. Skip forward twelve years though and the two FAs have experience vastly differing fortunes. While the German model has been vindicated, the FAI’s approach has more questions than answers.
It’s no secret John Delaney earns more each year (€360,000) than the entire prize pot the FAI will provide in prize money to the LoI this year (€241,500). The German approach of no half measures is countered by the FAI’s ‘everything half-arsed’ approach.
Yes LoI teams must all field Under 19 squads, but with little support from the FAI this is a financial burden LoI teams suffer with. The LoI has been fraught with financial disasters and poor mismanagement and there has been no real attempts by Delaney and co. to take a handle of the situation and provide strict guidelines on how clubs should be run.
Comparing the FAI to the DFB is unfair admittedly. One is an organisation that pays its head more than the English, French and Spanish FA’s to ensure success, the other is the DFB. Jokes aside the DFB is a much larger organisation without the debt burden of the FAI that is overseeing an internationally recognised league. But there is hope for the FAI.
When the DFB took a long hard look in the mirror in the aftermath of 2000, the insights they found were not original. They borrowed heavily from smaller nations like the Netherlands. Copying the DFB will not guarantee success. But the current trajectory the FAI is on will guarantee failure.
More needs to be done to ensure the financial stability of League of Ireland clubs and to encourage and foster talented young players. Failure to recognise the talent present in the LoI is characterised by ex-Cork City player Brian Lenihan’s temporary inclusion in the current international squad, simply because he is now contracted to a British club.
Ireland may win tonight. But regardless of the result the FAI and DFB are a world apart in how they encourage soccer from the grass-roots up.
Sean Curtin, Pundit Arena.