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Column: Galway United chiefs are risking economic stability for short-lived success

Former CEO of Galway United writes about how other League of Ireland clubs have heeded advice to rein in spending on their playing squad – but how he feels Galway Utd are risking it all to do the opposite.

Nick Leeson

THIS FRIDAY, 1 JULY, marks the opening of the transfer window for Airtricity League of Ireland Clubs. Usually the start of a transfer window is met with some excitement. Followers of the English Premier League clubs would eagerly scour newspapers and other media sources for the next big-name signing and see how their team is faring against their competitors in the buying and selling stakes.

It’s not quite the same here in Ireland. Transfer fees are very much a thing of the past. Certainly in the last two or three seasons any transfer between Irish clubs has been geared towards reducing the playing squad rather than trying to increase it.

Initially you would think that this year will be no different.

The Football Association of Ireland and their Compliance department have done a fantastic job in recent years of putting manners on the constituent clubs. Gone are the days of the high-profile failure of former League Champions Shelbourne, Drogheda, Cork and Derry. All were chasing the financial Holy Grail of European Cup qualification and assuming all sorts of risk to achieve this. Not just financial risk by overspending and inflating salaries but in the case of the latter, operating a dual contract scheme that attempted to shield the real payments that were being made to players.

The FAI deserves to be applauded

Those days are gone and the Football Association of Ireland deserves to be applauded. Some will argue that it has robbed the domestic game of some of its better players but anyone with a bit of hindsight will see that football in Ireland is in a far better place than it was. All of these regulations through the guise of the UEFA Club Licensing Process have been extremely successful.

The 2011 season marks a watershed though. The Airtricity Premier Division will expand from ten teams to twelve at the end of the season. The top two teams from the First Division will be promoted automatically, the team that finishes third will feature in a play-off against the team that finishes bottom of the Premier Division. So there is an awful lot to play for.

With the exception of one team in the Premier Division, barring any rules being broken, all are sure of their position in the Premier Division for 2012. There is no need to speculate wildly for any of them: sensible decision making should be the order of the day.

Dundalk FC were the first to announce that they would not be increasing their players budget during the window, thankfully for their supporters,
they will not be reducing it either. Drogheda United may look to source new players; they started with a more than realistic budget and may have some purchasing power to secure their Premier Division status into 2012.

Looking higher up the league, UCD and those above are already safe enough and have no need to take on more risk. Bohemians are over-achieving with their reduced budget and the rest will battle it out for European qualification.

Every opportunity should be taken to stabilise Galway United

Reports last week suggest that every player at Galway United is up for sale. My old club, Galway United, languish at the bottom of the league. They have the worst point record of all 21 League clubs, the worst defensive record of all the 21 league clubs and the equal poorest scoring record in the competition. Sources close to the club suggest the weekly playing outlay is close to €4,000 as opposed to the €2,500 that was paid at the end of the 2010 season. This is against the advice of many representatives of the League and the FAI who advised caution, especially with the season that was in it.

Economic conditions dictate that every opportunity possible be taken to stabilise the club rather than pursuing the folly of success on the pitch. Targets set by the Management Committee to sell season tickets, increase funding and balloon support have all failed. To my mind, this has nothing to do with legacy debt that is largely underwritten by the directors. It is a simple case of over-trading – revenue is far less than
expenditure. I believe whoever signed those playing contracts is at fault and I believe they will pay the ultimate penalty, whether that is simply relegation or something more serious for the long-term future of the club.

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