Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What Next?

Off season - a time for reflection, careful planning, preparation, relaxation and restoration. If that sounds tranquil then it bears scant resemblance to reality. At time of writing Damian Richardson is purportedly standing on the managerial plank; measuring his office are the likes of Alan Matthews. Fresh from expanding his prowess for cup competitions is Stephen Kenny, recently dumped by Dunfermline for his abysmal league showing. John Robertson finally got his wish and will not be returning to Derry City- the possible return of King Kenny to the Brandywell seems too convenient.

Nutsy is only on the periphery of the action with his under 23 obligations and it's noticeable that his name bubbles up less frequently now with regard to vacant managerial posts. Paul Doolin has left many a mouth agape with his remarks regarding the excessive wages being offered to players, some of which he is quoted as calling 'unsustainable' - unless of course your club are sustained by male parents of the glucose/lactose/fructose family of carbohydrates - which does not apply to Drogheda United. the same Drogheda United which has collected first team players like Panini stickers over the last couple of seasons.

One significant victim of such player-grabbing has been the talented midfielder Stephen Bradley. Bradley started just nine of the Drogs league games last term, he completed just four of those. For my limited resources, one of the best passing midfielders in the league, it has been criminal to see him consigned to wearing the club tracksuit in the stand on matchnights. Drogheda's squad-building harks back to the early days of restrictions on foreign imports back in the 80's. AC Milan were the Emperors of Europe then, built on the brilliant orange of vanBasten, Gullit and Rijkaard. Unfortunately the three foreigners per team rule of the era confined such gifts as those of Jean-Pierre Papin to a besuited role in the stands while football's biggest finals were being played.

I accept it's a great leap from Drogheda United to AC Milan - at the moment - it just frustrates me too see talent sat on it's gluteus maximus rather than entertaining on the field of play. Falkirk's intervention must be a welcome lifebuoy for the former Arsenal man, but his talent is an unheralded loss to the future of eircom League football. Given the rumours surrounding an all-Ireland professional league which have been given an outlet recently, his departure is even more unwelcome.

Those proposals are currently shrouded in fog, but come about at a crucial time in the development of the game down South. With all the prerogative of an indecisive female, most of our newly professional clubs are railing against the terms of an agreement they signed about a year ago - particularly that section dealing with wage caps. No longer content - although one suspects that they never were - to accept such an imposition, the flying of the all-Ireland kite smacks of mischievous leverage tactics alongside the resurrection of the old chestnut.

Kaiser Delaney underlined the importance of the wage cap for all clubs this week, and the agreed 65% wage/35% development split is merited when one takes a peek inside our current ground stock. They are hardly welcoming arenae for the potential new punter and will not encourage patronage from those unsuspecting members of the public lured anew into our games. Of course, for those clubs propped up by the aforementioned fathers of sugar, such restrictions represent the Roddy Collins of irritants. It's all about making carcinogens while the sun shines - when Daddy's wallet is open such clubs would be foolish not to indulge his whims. The statement by Linfield's chairman Jim Kerr ruling his club out of the new proposals represents a setback for their substance.

All of this comes at a time of mixed relations between the authorities on both sides of the sterling/euro divide. The IFA contingent are still coming to terms with the admittance of Sunday football from next year, finally bringing the ruling body into line with the rest of Europe. Where Europe and the IFA diverge again though is on the thorny subject of player eligibility. The Darren Gibson saga continues to thwart the idyll; FIFA's interim proposal seems to have incensed further our Northern brethren, while the FAI have predictably towed the line - and why not -we've accepted players from all over the globe under the granny rule, we would have no qualms about pilfering the best that Northern Ireland have to offer. Just this week the issue again spilled over into the realms of our political dunces. This time it was Edwin Poots -a man who must be admired for refusing to change his surname -the NI Assembly's Sports Minister attempted to have a motion condemning FIFA's proposals passed at Stormont during the week. Poots, a DUP member was less than pleased with the disinterest of the Nationalist parties in his motion; his political motion that is. Meanwhile deputy leader of the Ulster Unionists, Danny Kennedy, rounded on Dermot Ahern for his publicly voiced support of world football's governing body's suggestion. The head bods at FIFA meet in Tokyo this Sunday when hopefully a sensible resolution can be produced.

An all-Ireland professional league would provide the impetus that domestic football still clearly needs, but we are not yet ready to present ourselves in our finery to the viewing public. Bohs are in transit - but have been presented with the inevitable legal objections; the sale of Tolka Park will render Shels homeless - this too is the subject of legal process following Ivano Cafolla's objections. Rovers await the keys to their new hoopdom in Tallaght. Drogheda United's plans for a new ground drag on. Windsor Park is falling into disrepair while the authorities decide upon proposals for the site of a new national stadium for Northern Ireland - the site at the Maze is current favourite.

Until we have grounds that welcome families in comfort, we will not attract sufficient numbers to sustain a professsional league upon this island, regardless of any other issues.

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