In the context of post-Saintfiet deliberations at the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), serious consideration should be given to restoring Stephen Hart to the head coaching position. It is likely that Hart has used the interval away from the role to evaluate, reflect and structure or restructure his thoughts regarding what worked, what did not work, and what will not work in attempting to qualify for Russia 2018. Not to have so reflected would defy natural human tendency.
With World Cup qualifying returning in a mere 70 days, and the national programme having squandered four valuable weeks of what would have been fourteen preparatory weeks, the federation’s focus should be consumed with what is best for national football, rather than with what could be best for national football.
Certainly, a new period of management and coaching experimentation does not fall into the former category. Even if FIFA 2017 financial disbursement renders Phillipe Troussier – the originally preferred choice to the departing Saintfiet – affordable, the operational calendar of international football and player development priorities render such a choice indulgent and profligate. Alternatively, some putative candidates for the job, from within the marketplace of domestic football, would suffer from the obstacle of having to surmount tactical naivete within the limited period available before March 24, 2017. Trinidad and Tobago football is not short of tragicomic moments, but it is short of Bruce Arenas.
Saintfiet’s departure presents the opportunity to marginalise emotion, and displace ego and hubris, with injections of common sense, reason and practicality. Although not devoid of error during his tenure, Hart unquestionably invested in the senior team programme, and possesses the professional maturity to move forward in the national interest, without wallowing in the hindrances of the several misadventures of recent weeks. The leadership of the TTFA is encouraged to demonstrate a similarly mature competency.
Hart knows the landscape, holds the coaching capital to resuscitate the interest of foreign-born players, has renewed motivation and incentive to achieve with Trinidad and Tobago, and possesses a sufficient record to consolidate and defend reconsideration. On a rationally supportable basis, the TTFA could have extended Hart a probationary period that culminated with the recently-concluded CFU Men’s Caribbean Cup 5th Place Playoff series versus Suriname and Haiti. It would have been an opportunity to right the failure to qualify directly for the Gold Cup and to iron out elements of play prior to hosting Panama and Mexico. Had that been the case, not many supporters of the game would have taken issue with a dismissal of Hart had outcomes versus Nicaragua, Suriname and Haiti produced results and approximations in performance consistent with those obtained under Saintfiet.
As such, the present crossroad requires doses of goodwill, grace, honesty, humility, introspection, statesmanship and transparency by the TTFA. Pursuing those paths, rather than another cul-de-sac of expediency, is what the national community wants of the federation, and what international observers of Trinidad and Tobago football ought to be identifying as mirrors of good governance and decision-making in the projection of the global image of the TTFA.
Permitting Stephen Hart the opportunity and respect to redefine and restore his legacy appears consistent with public sentiment. That sentiment suggests that the footballing public is positioned to live with the outcomes of a Hart “do-over”, rather than to float through a new cycle of faecal experimentation. Ultimately, whatever the decision made in manager selection, it will be entered into an audit of the legacy and future of the present federation directorate. The choice does not have to be Hart, but it must be unquestioningly credible and immediately viable.
Take that to the bank.