Thirty years after he emerged on the world stage at Italia 90 as ‘The Mighty Quinn’, the big man is being asked to lead Irish football from the front again.
It might be more in the way of providing the assists this time, as — deep breath — deputy interim CEO to newly-appointed interim CEO Gary Owens, but Quinn’s arrival in Abbotstown is undeniably the most box-office appointment yet in the rapidly changing face, and faces, of the FAI.
Coming hard on the heels of the recruitment of Owens and independent chairman Roy Barrett — both of whom, hardly coincidentally, were members of Quinn’s Football In Ireland Visionary Group which published its own reform plans in the wake of the eruption of the crisis at the FAI— perhaps the most immediate significance of Quinn’s appointment is that it appears to signal that confirmation of a burden-sharing deal to tackle the association’s crippling debt is imminent.
The man himself suggested as much last night, telling Virgin Media News: “I stepped over the line because I believe it will be good enough. That’s not that I know any of the figures involved. I don’t know where it will end up when it finally is announced — I hope it’s announced very, very soon — but I’m led to believe there’s an assistance in place from the three stakeholders, the banks, Uefa and the government, that will allow the game to move forward.”
Only earlier this month, Quinn had categorically ruled himself out of the running for FAI CEO, claiming that he didn’t have the “skill-sets” for the job.
But he also said that he would be happy to help in any way he could and, for the most part, the job-spec for his new role seems designed to play to his strengths.
As well as achieving the status of legend on the pitch and later, as chairman of Sunderland, amassing a wealth of experience in the business of football, Quinn has remained a popular and approachable figure, qualities which will be well suited to most of the areas in which he hopes to have an impact with the FAI: Grassroots, community development, player development, attracting sponsors, media contact and restoring relations with Uefa and government.
It’s not hard to imagine wide-eyed young footballers in boots and ostensibly more mature types in suits reacting with equal levels of excitement when the familiar lanky frame and smiling visage of Quinn hove into view.
Already Minister for Sport Shane Ross has indicated his delight at Quinn’s recruitment to an organisation which, as recently as early December, he was describing as “a basket case”. Yesterday, he was singing a much more upbeat tune, hailing Quinn’s appointment as “great news for Irish football”.
For his part, the new deputy interim CEO was quick to make a case not only for the restoration of state funding but even for an increase. “The community development stuff, the player pathway, the League Of Ireland — all of this, I think, deserves a little bit more than €2.9 million a year,” he said.
Where the Mighty Quinn perhaps faces his mightiest challenge is being tasked with “leading a future League of Ireland strategy” as the FAI describe it.
His Visionary Group blueprint for reform the game hardly wooed its target audience but Quinn reiterated yesterday his belief that the potential exists “to make the domestic game thrive”.
But, even as he was speaking, turmoil continued in the build-up to the 2020 season, with the FAI understood to be finalising a second provisional First Division fixture list to allow for the possibility that Limerick FC could be successful in their licence application, the club having previously been refused permission to apply.
Meanwhile, other second tier clubs are still strongly opposed to the acceptance of a Shamrock Rovers B team in the division, sparking threats of legal action and even boycott with only weeks to go to kick off.
Last night, Quinn told RTÉ that the League of Ireland “needs to be treated better by the Association” but a striker who was lethal inside the box will have to think outside it if he is to succeed, where many have tried and failed before, in helping lay the foundations for a brighter and more sustainable future for the domestic game.
Yesterday Quinn revealed that he is deferring receipt of an FAI salary which, he also claimed, will be “a fraction – and I mean a fraction – of what the old gang” were paid.
“It’s there but I deferred mine,” he said. “Let’s see how redundancies work out and let’s see where the Association gets to before I take mine.”
He stressed that his position is intended to be a short-term one, at time of major transition for the embattled organisation.
“It is interim and it is for a short period of time, we believe,” he said, “but in that period of time it is very important that a strategy is developed, so that whoever comes afterwards, and whenever they come, that they’re not starting all over again.”