The Gag that keeps on Giving

Steve Beaglehole

It seems that the “eligibility row” is the gag that keeps on giving in Irish football these days.

This time, it’s Northern Ireland’s under-21 manager Steve Beaglehole who has once again waded in with his insight, suggesting that more players will switch association now that Ireland have qualified for the 2012 European Championships and that he would like to see compensation introduced.

Taking the shine away from Ireland’s qualification for Euro 2012, Beaglehole complained that, because the FAI has more money than the IFA and, of course, is more successful, more players within the Northern Ireland youth teams will declare for Ireland.

“The FAI are spending more money on recruitment, on scouting, they go away three or four days earlier than we do when they meet up and they put them in top hotels. Now they will have even more money and their budget will go up again. Northern Ireland not qualifying means our budget remains the same or even goes down. For them that can mean extra training days or a couple of new members of staff. And in terms of the attractiveness of playing for the Republic, it’s something their recruitment people can use. They can say ‘look at at us. look at the success we’ve had’. It’s like the academy system in club football: if your first team is doing well it’s easier to keep people and get others to come.”

Fair enough, the IFA struggle to compete when it comes to the hearts and minds of players from a nationalist background, that’s a reality, but to whinge about the fact that the FAI now has quite a bit more money than the IFA, is desperate. Does he want to FAI to work within the same budget as the IFA, or what? Will he be calling for FIFA to make sure each association has the exact same amount of money?

Leaving that aside, Beaglehole’s perception is fundamentally flawed. His summation of the situation completely diminishes the importance of national identity to the players who opt to play for the Republic of Ireland rather than Northern Ireland, flippantly putting their decisions down to the allure of success. He also implies, like so many delusional Northern Ireland fans, that the FAI is “poaching” players when he talks of recruitment. To date most, if not all, of the players who have declared for the FAI have done so of their own volition, the FAI apparently practising a policy whereby players from the North would have to make their intentions known to them – a policy I disagree with. Why should an Irish national from the north be treated differently to any other Irish national?

Interestingly, Beaglehole admitted that, were he in the position of the FAI, he would also select northern born Irish nationals:

“I don’t blame the Republic for wanting to look at Paul George or Shane Duffy. If I was working for them I would want to because they would improve the team”

He also believes that a system of compensation should be in place for scenarios where a player might switch association, but such a system could be extremely problematic, not to mention taxing on the IFA who have several players in their teams who played for other associations, including the FAI. As he said, his own employers simply don’t possess the financial muscle to cope with it.

For more information on the “eligibility row”, including the pitfalls of introducing a compensation scheme, I strongly urge you to see ‘FIFA Player Eligibility in the Context of Ireland’ by Daniel Collins.

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