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FAI Involvement in the Saipan Affair
The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) did not emerge from the Saipan affair with much credit. The Genesis Report into Ireland's participation in the 2002 World Cup Finals produced findings that were scathing of the role played by the FAI. Prepared by a Scottish company, Genesis Strategic Management Consultants, at a cost of €30,000 the report led to the resignation of General Secretary, Brendan Menton. Menton remained with the FAI but declined to be considered for the new role of Chief Executive Officer of the FAI.
In the various accounts that have been written about Saipan there are curiously few references to the FAI or it's officials and such references as there are do not reflect well upon the premier football organisation in Ireland.
Criticisms of the FAI
In his autobiography Niall Quinn displays an unusual degree antipathy for the efforts of the FAI during the Saipan affair. It's unusual because Quinn is very rarely openly critical of anyone.
Although the issue over the late arrival training equipment seems to have been a major issue for Roy Keane, Niall Quinn, and indeed other players including Matt Holland, did not seem to be overly concerned by this. This is confirmed in the Genesis Report, "... the late arrival of the skips had little impact on the team.".
Roy Keane Decides to go Home
There seems to have been very little involvement by FAI officials shortly after Keane first decided that he wanted out of the Irish squad in Saipan. The only mention by Quinn, Keane and McCarthy is that the FAI Liaison Officer, Eddie Corcoran had undertaken to arrange a flight home for Keane. Undoubtedly there must have been some tic-tacing amongst senior FAI officials but based upon the various written accounts available it appears that at this crucial time the management and Keane were left to their own devices. It does not appear that the FAI liaised effectively between McCarthy and Keane.
Niall Quinn relates a tale involving FAI Liaison Officer Corcoran that is suggestive of an attitude that would have been far from helpful in Saipan. According to Quinn's account in his autobiography Corcoran had been sent to Estonia ahead of the Irish football squad to check that all the arrangements were OK. At the time the Republic of Ireland were playing a 2002 World Cup qualifier in Portugal and next up was Estonia in Tallin. Corcoran was watching the Portugal-Ireland match in a bar in the Estonian capital. Roy Keane picked up a booking which ruled him out for the Estonia match and therefore would travel back to England after the Portuguese match. Quinn takes it up from here, "The story goes that a local said to Eddie that he must be devastated. Apparently, Eddie smiled knowing that this had it's advantages. He knew his job was likely to be easier."[Page 77]
In Mick McCarthy's account of the events that surrounded Keane's initial announcement of his intention to quit he makes absolutely no mention of contact from any other FAI officials who must have heard the news from Corcoran. If there was any contact it was not significant enough for McCarthy to include in his book. The first reference to any hands-on involvement by FAI officials is when FAI President Milo Corcoran came to McCarthy's hotel room around 8am on Wednesday 22 May 2002. The deadline for the submission to FIFA of the Irish World Cup soccer squad was just moments away. Milo Corcoran told McCarthy that FAI General Secretary, Brendan Menton and Treasurer, John Delaney had been in contact with Keane's advisor Michael Kennedy overnight and that Keane wanted to stay. In addition the FAI had submitted the final Irish squad details, with Roy Keane's name on it, a half an hour before the Irish manager new that Keane had decided to stay. McCarthy said that he was livid.
This lack of communication by the FAI officials with the manager of the senior international team is astonishing to say the least.
Roy Keane is Gone But Niall Quinn Works to get him Back
In the pandemonium that ensued after Roy Keane was sent home by Mick McCarthy, Quinn described the FAI as, "... an irrelevance at the moment. Things are happening to their team that they can only gape at, and all in a horrible public way."[Page 121] Quinn outlined the efforts that a wide variety of people to create a situation through which it would be possible for a Keane return. "I speak with Michael [Kennedy], Michael speaks with Roy ... Mick speaks with his agent Liam Gaskin, and with Taff and Packie. Roy speaks with Michael but not with Mick. Roy speaks Alex Ferguson and, rumour has it, with legendary punter J.P.McManus. Everyone wants the same thing. It says something about the status of the FAI that, effectively they speak with nobody."[Page 160-161]. Quinn goes on to say that at no stage did an FAI official meet with the players as a group. No FAI officer emerged as a communication channel. He felt that the FAI had become part of the problem rather than a facilitator for a solution.
By the Sunday, 26 May 2002, there many rumours flying around that the FAI had brokered a deal to bring Roy Keane back into the Irish World Cup squad. In Mick McCarthy: Ireland's World Cup 2002 the Irish manager said that, "It's news to me."[Page 195] McCarthy said that all the speculation was unsettling the players at a time when they should have been totally focussed on their first World Cup group match against Cameroon. Instead of sheltering the Irish squad from such speculation it appears that FAI exacerbated the situation.
Following the Roy Keane - Tommie Gorman interview on RTE on the Monday evening in Ireland the media feeding frenzy went into overdrive and journalists were massing outside the Irish team hotel in Izumo. It was Tuesday morning in Japan and having not heard the interview nor seen a transcript McCarthy refused to meet with the media at that point. Niall Quinn said that, "Brendan McKenna, the FAI press officer, goes out. Brendan is a lovely man grappling with a horrible job with absolutely no support or back-up. It's going to be a long day for him, too. It starts with the revelation that this morning he is the only person in Izumo who doesn't know that Roy has been doing a TV interview. Brendan is caught on the hop."[Page 163] What ever excuses might have existed when the team was in Saipan, Japanese communications infrastructure is top class. It is difficult to come up with acceptable excuses for such ineptitude by the FAI.
As it became clear that Roy Keane had not apologised nor had he demonstrated any regret in his Tommie Gorman interview McCarthy moved to close the whole sorry saga. He told the Irish players that he would hold a press conference later on the Tuesday, 28 May 2002, and he wanted to know definitively where the players stood. According to Quinn the Irish players reaction was to unanimously support Mick McCarthy. They drafted a players statement outlining that the interests of the Republic of Ireland soccer squad would be best served "without Roy's presence." Niall Quinn handed the hand-written statement by the Irish players to Eddie Corcoran to be typed and copied for distribution after the Irish manager's press conference later that day.
Press Conferences and a Premature Press Release by FAI
Brendan Menton, General Secretary of the FAI, arrival in Izumo from Seoul had been delayed so McCarthy's press conference had been deferred. According to Quinn, "Eddie Corcoran and Brendan McKenna have had the statement typed up and copied, and because nobody has told them not to, the have gone ahead and handed it out."[Page 168] Unbelievably neither Corcoran nor McKenna saw fit to check with the players or, indeed the manager, before they issued the statement. This is especially strange as FAI officials must have been acutely aware that the situation was highly fluid and extremely delicate.
This was followed up by a farcical press conference controlled by Brendan Menton. At the Izumo City Dome, it lasted just over ten minutes and Mick McCarthy described it it as the worst press conference that he had ever been involved in. Niall Quinn described the press conference as a, "Punch and Judy show". Menton was aware that back-channels to Roy Keane were still open and therefore, on the face of it, there was still a chance that Keane might return to the Irish World Cup squad. In his anxiety to prevent McCarthy from saying anything publicly, that might jeopardise the return of the Manchester United player, Menton effectively muzzled the Irish team manager. The FAI's desire to pander to public opinion was humiliating for McCarthy and created the impression that the Irish manager did not have the full trust and support of his employers.
The bungling incompetence, the succession of press conferences, the covert back-channel activity, and the sheer ineptitude by the FAI meant that, as Niall Quinn put it. "Nobody took control last week in Saipan or this week in Izumo."[Page 204] The fact that Quinn's own actions, in trying to get Keane back over to Japan added to the confusion and actually prolonged the saga, seems to have escaped him is somewhat irrelevant. It was the role of the FAI to pull all of the parties together. To approach the situation in controlled manner and to try to remove or dampen the emotions involved. It never happened and it looks like there no attempt made by the FAI.
It is ironic that McCarthy stated in his 2002 World Cup book, after Roy Keane's statement that he would not be returning to the Irish squad, that he felt, "... my relationship with the FAI is stronger than ever now Brendan Menton says as much publicly ... John Delaney and Milo Corcoran have said it to me personally. They have stood by me and I am grateful for their support. I have no reason to consider my future now."[Page 214] Just over five months later McCarthy resigned from his position as the Republic of Ireland soccer manager. His relationship had been severely undermined by the negotiations between the FAI Treasurer, John Delaney and Keane's solicitor, Michael Kennedy (aided by Niall Quinn). They engineered a situation whereby McCarthy would have been forced to accept Keane back into the Irish World Cup squad against his will. The fact that Keane never made the call to apologise is irrelevant. McCarthy had been circumvented by an obsequious FAI who could not shoulder the weight of vocal opinion from one half of a divided public.
Genesis Report Findings on the Role Played by the FAI in the Saipan Affair
Following the release of the report by the Glasgow-based management consultancy Genesis, which cost €30,000, Brendan Menton tendered his resignation as General Secretary a week after Mick McCarthy's resignation. Although Menton stayed within the FAI he declined to be considered for the position of CEO which replaced the position General Secretary.
Amongst the findings or the report one of the most damning was that "basic management techniques are non-existent in the organisation" adding that there was "no culture of discipline". The Genesis report was also critical of the the way that the FAI managed [or didn't manage in the case of Saipan] crises. The report recommended extensive changes to improve and modernise management and logistics. It outlined that the structure which incorporate volunteers and professional managers was untenable and recommended a new management structure.
Specific Findings on the Saipan Affair
While most Irish people consider that the 2002 World Cup campaign was a near total disaster for the Irish the Genesis report did make some positive findings. Firstly the FAI would make a profit out of the World Cup and all commercial objectives would be met. From a logistical viewpoint the the planning in Japan and Korea was excellent. The squad, fans, and media had adequate accommodation. Travel and transfers were excellent due to thorough planning. The management of relationships with the Japanese and Korean hosts was also excellent. Saipan was deemed to be a good choice for relaxation for the squad. Playing performance and World rankings objectives were met.
Genesis found that overall planning by the FAI was unprofessional and inadequate any off-field success was more due to good fortune rather than good business planning. The scale of the operation was underestimated by an inexperienced working team and lessons from previous tournaments were not drawn upon.
Genesis said that because Roy Keane missed a squad meeting before the Niall Quinn testimonial , "... FAI officials never informed him ..." that the purpose of the Irish World Cup squad being based in Saipan was to rest and recuperate. While Saipan was a good choice for this purpose it added too much to the logistics of the trip. Bringing the journalists along meant that they had nothing to do but look for stories. The late arrival of the skips of gear, that Keane complained so bitterly about, "had little impact on the team".
The report also says that the seeds of Roy Keane's withdrawal from the Irish squad had been sown many years before but were never diagnosed. The potential for their relationship breaking down had been there since 1991 and had been exacerbated on a number of occasions since then. No-one in the FAI took responsibility to ensure that these issues were addressed. When the row erupted the support for the FAI press officer and the team management was "totally inadequate" leaving Mick McCarthy to take control when he should have been focussed on preparing the team for the group matches. In the absence of a crisis management plan the Saipan incident exposed flaws within the FAI.
Squad members and the coaching panel were canvassed for their opinions on their experiences at the 2002 World Cup and about the Saipan affair. Roy Keane gave a 90 minute interview to a Genesis consultant.
Whatever about now, back in 2002 the FAI was an unprofessional and a badly managed sporting body. The inability or unwillingness by FAI officers to take control of the situation meant that the Saipan saga lasted much longer than it should have done. Members of the FAI management were unduly influenced by a clamour from segments of the Irish public and the media to, in effect, take sides with a player in opposition to the express wishes of their team manager. This undermined the authority of the Irish manager which could have been detrimental to the performances of the Irish team during the 2002 World Cup Finals.Roy Keane Autobiography
Triggs - The Autobiography of Roy Keane's Dog
Ireland at 2002 World Cup Finals - Irish 2002 World Cup Squad - Irish Group Matches
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