An Argentine newspaper has claimed that Irish players received bribes not to injure Lionel Messi at the opening game in the Aviva Stadium in 2010, but the story has been dismissed in the strongest possible terms by the Irish football association, FAI. According to La Nacion, a Fifa official was forced to go to extraordinary lengths to bring the Barcelona superstar and his team mates to Dublin.
Julio Grondona, who was implicated in the recent Fifa corruption scandal, is alleged to have arranged to bring Argentina to the Aviva to appease the FAI following the Thierry Henry's handball debacle. The paper claims the friendly was in jeopardy as Barcelona were playing a pre-season tour in Asia at the time and wanted an insurance policy in case Messi got injured.
It alleges that Grondona was unable to get an insurance payment, but tried to guarantee Messi’s safety by giving the Irish players €10,000 each to not injure the Barcelona superstar.
The FAI has issued a statement on Wednesday rejecting the newspaper's claims.
They said: “The Football Association of Ireland completely refutes the allegations made about the Republic of Ireland v Argentina friendly match in La Nacion as baseless.
“The match in question was organized 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.”
Kevin Kilbane, who played in the game, later insisted he did not receive any payment or instruction to stay away from Messi.
Kilbane told TV3: “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. There have been a lot of allegations over the last month or so aimed at us. Mud sticks, I suppose, and it’s not nice when these sort of allegations are being thrown against the players.
“It’s basically questioning us as professionals, it’s questioning us as people as well. But again, none of the players – I certainly didn’t take any money regarding this, and there’s nothing else really that I can add to it.”
Indeed, Kilbane admitted the claims had taken some of the gloss off what was a big occasion for Irish football.
He added: “To us, it was a big occasion because it was the opening of the Aviva. We lost the game – I think it was Di Maria who scored the goal, as it turned out – and it was a great occasion to be part of, the first ever game at the Aviva.
“It seems to me they have looked at what’s happened over the last month, they have looked at the allegations that have been made against us and they have come up with a theory. Again, I totally refute it, totally deny it” insisted Kilbane.