Football/Soccer

FAI new chief Jonathan Hill "not offended" by 'Wembley-Gate'

The FAI are battling back from a wretched generation of financial mismanagement

THE FAI’s new supremo and Englishman Jonathan Hill says he wasn’t offended by Stephen Kenny’s motivational video the Ireland manager had shown his players prior to last November’s England friendly which depicted seminal moments in Anglo-Irish relations that caused discord within the camp and prompted the Association to investigate the matter.

Since ‘Wembley-gate’, Damien Duff and Alan Kelly have left Kenny’s backroom team for different reasons, with Dean Kiely replacing the latter as the senior team’s goalkeeping coach while a replacement for Duff is close, according to Hill who assumed the reins in November.

Hill has worked as a commercial director of the English FA and also holds many contacts in the blue-chip industry.

Earlier in his career he worked in broadcast with ITV and NBC before becoming the marketing manager of England's successful hosting of Euro 96.

A former amateur footballer and co-founder of junior club Nottsborough FC, the 57-year-old is a keen Leeds United fan, whose heroes include Pele, Johan Cruyff and Nelson Mandela.

Due to Covid, Hill is only getting his proverbial feet under his virtual desk now and is currently based in London until Covid regulations ease.

Yesterday he conducted several rounds of media interviews outlining his hopes for the future of Irish football.

He is keen to flesh out the All-Island League idea, mooted by businessman Kieran Lucid in 2019, which could be a strong revenue stream as the FAI tries to rebuild after a disastrous series of financial misadventures under John Delaney’s 15-year reign.

Hill is hopeful that “10 or 15,000 fans” will be able to attend the 2021 Euro games scheduled for Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, adding that the Association and Uefa would be mindful of the prevailing travel restrictions that might apply come June.

He also believes the FAI’s badly damaged brand over the past number of years is fixable despite the Association accruing historical debts estimated to be in the region of €60m.

Despite his best efforts to move on from 'Wembley-Gate', Hill had to field several questions on the 'leaked' newspaper story that alleged some members of the Irish camp were offended by Kenny’s pre-match motivational video in a game they lost 3-0 to England.

It is understood Duff was furious with the FAI’s decision to conduct an investigation into the video.

“I feel comfortable that it was the right thing for us do, the FAI, to establish the facts,” Hill explained.

“That is all that we did. Unfortunately, I couldn't be there to do it myself because I was here in the UK because of Covid. Gary Owens [Interim CEO] talked to people.

“I was then able to watch the video myself. Obviously I was the only English person on that call; I could say that on a personal basis I was not offended by the video at all.

“Given all of the other conversation we had, the board listened, debated and said there was no case to answer and we move on. And genuinely I think we must move on from it now.”

In a subsequent conversation with Duff, Hill revealed the former Irish international was at odds with how the FAI conducted its business and cited “historical issues” with the Association as broad reasons for his shock departure last month.

The new FAI head also rejected the notion that he would advise the senior team manager not to use the kind of motivational material before games in future that caused such a media furore.

“Motivation is clearly a significant part of any coach’s armoury, so I’m sure Stephen will seek to motivate his players in the way he feels best.”

On the key decision of replacing the outgoing Duff ahead of next month’s 2022 World Cup Qualifiers against Serbia (March 24) and Luxembourg (March 27), Hill commented: “I think it will be an interesting appointment once you find out about it.”

On breathing new life into Kieran Lucid’s lucrative All-Island League idea that got a cold welcome from the Irish FA, Hill said: " I'm fully aware of the concept and the idea. We talk on a regular basis to the IFA anyway.

“Clearly they would need to be a part of those discussions and we will have those discussions as we will in relation to a variety of models that you could apply to the League moving forward.

"I'm very happy to have that conversation with Kieran. He hasn't reached out to me yet to have it. I'd like to think that we do have the expertise both within the organisation and the clubs to be able to develop that idea.”

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Football/Soccer