Who won the 2018 International Champions Cup? It's a question unlikely to ever be asked at your local pub quiz night, mainly because the competition has wrapped up without anyone knowing who triumphed in the latest series of not-even-glorified friendlies. The continued expansion of the football tournament/PR tour has had its detractors, namely Jose Mourinho and fans of domestic football in the USA, who find the MLS overshadowed by the arrival of iconic European teams. But, even in a World Cup year with more star names missing than ever, the ICC has continued to draw crowds across the globe. That such practices undermine domestic leagues is of little concern to the organisers, but should have alarm bells ringing for national associations whenever the circus comes to town.
Wednesday night night saw Chelsea take on Arsenal at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, with over 46,000 supporters eager to catch a glimpse of top-class talent effectively engage in a drawn out warm-up for the regular season. For the FAI these numbers are damning, when only 32,000 made the June friendly international against the USA. While the chasm in quality is a factor here, an almost 50% increase from the national side's last outing speaks volumes, and underlines once more the FAI's chief concern - making money.
Another figure to provide food for thought - average attendance in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division is just 2,212 for the season to date, meaning at any given weekend the League of Ireland attracts less than a quarter of the Aviva attendance. Ireland's proximity to England, as well as a rich history of providing players to the top English clubs, means that understandably Premier League support in the country remains, and there is nothing wrong with this. The Premier League is a fantastic product and is of interest to all but the most hardened League of Ireland fans.
That the FAI have resigned themselves to not even compete with interests across the water is unforgivable however, and as previously noted may damage our international prospects in the long run. And when the FAI are so obviously ambivalent to the fortunes of its own clubs, who can blame supporters for feeling the same way? Irish football fans would rather sing in Cockney accents at Stamford Bridge than endure a night in mainly sub-standard stadia watching lower quality football, and who can blame them, especially when this is the message being sent from the top.
What the FAI have failed to realise - or at least capitalise on - is that the League of Ireland will never be in competition with the Premier League. Switching to a summer season papers over the cracks when we cater for English clubs to appease their Irish fanbase with prestige friendlies. Likewise, Friday night football inarguably caters more for the casual fan than anyone wishing to follow a League of Ireland team home and away, but again nothing substantial is being done to entice a football-mad nation to go through the turnstiles at Turner's Cross or Dalymount.
It's not Premier League football, but nor does it need to be. Dundalk and Cork City have shown in their European adventures that there is quality in the league. It is a haven for hipsters who delight in the obscure and an affordable occasion for young supporters and families. Moreover, it is an opportunity to see real live drama in the flesh.
A front row seat in the theatre beats watching Coronation Street in the pub, and it's about time the FAI began realising that.