Belfast Telegraph

FAI deny players were paid not to tackle Messi

By Damian Spellman

Republic of Ireland football chiefs are taking legal advice over claims that Irish players were paid $10,000 each not to tackle Argentina star Lionel Messi during a 2010 friendly.

The Football Association of Ireland have described the allegations, made in La Nacion in South America, as "baseless" and have vowed to take the matter further.

Argentina travelled to Dublin in August 2010 to play the Republic in a friendly to officially open the new Aviva Stadium - the report suggests in part to help compensate the FAI for the nation's controversial World Cup play-off exit to France nine months earlier.

An FAI statement said: "The Football Association of Ireland completely refute the allegations made about the Republic of Ireland v Argentina friendly match in La Nacion as baseless.

"The match in question was organised by Kentaro and announced by press release prior to the World Cup play-offs in 2009. We are consulting our legal advisers in relation to the article, and will be taking further steps."

The report claims that the late Julio Grondona, then president of the Argentina Football Association and senior Fifa Vice-President, suggested to Fifa President Sepp Blatter that the Argentinian team should head for Dublin.

However, it alleges that Messi's club Barcelona were unhappy with the arrangement and with an insurance quote for the game coming in at $5million, it was decided to adopt the less costly policy of paying the Republic players to go easy on the visitors' star man.

The game, in which captain Robbie Keane won his 100th senior international cap, ended 1-0 to Argentina with Angel di Maria scoring the only goal in front of a crowd of 45,200.

The FAI found themselves thrust into the limelight earlier this month after chief executive John Delaney confirmed they had received a loan, later written off, of €5million from Fifa in the wake of the Republic's play-off heartbreak at the Stade de France.

Delaney claimed the payment, which was used to offset the cost of redeveloping the old Lansdowne Road stadium, had been made after he and Blatter had entered into a deal under which the Irish governing body would not take legal action over the goal which handed France their ticket to South Africa after referee Martin Hansson and his assistants failed to spot Thierry Henry's handball in the build-up.

The confidentiality agreement between the two parties, which was released by the FAI in a bid to clarify the situation, described the payment as an "inducement" not to enter into litigation.

Full-back Kevin Kilbane, who played in the game, later insisted he did not receive any payment or instruction to stay away from Messi.

Kilbane said: "I am totally unaware of it. There was no suggestion around the game that we were to stay clear of Lionel Messi, and of course none of the players received any money as payment regarding this.

"It's total news to me and I'm sure it will be news to a lot of the other lads as well.

"It's quite poor. It's not nice when these sort of allegations are being thrown against the players."

Belfast Telegraph


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