Trinidad and Tobago forward Cornell Glen looks set to miss out on the Soca Warriors’ Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Mexico next month, after his long-awaited return to international duty ended with a broken arm and another injury-forced spell on the sidelines.
Glen, who is one of just three survivors from the Germany 2006 World Cup squad, was summoned by former National Senior Team coach Tom Saintfiet to replace Willis Plaza, just before Christmas.
It was Glen’s first international call-up in three years and the skilful forward made an immediate impact with a goal in his only start under the Belgian coach in a 3-1 win over Nicaragua on 30 December 2016.
But it was all downhill from there, as the 35 year old forward strained his hamstring during the warm up for Trinidad and Tobago’s Gold Cup play off match against Suriname on 4 January before suffering a broken forearm against Haiti in 8 January.
The Warriors lost both games and failed to progress for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Glen came out worse than most from the campaign, as his injury meant he was ruled out for the season by his employers at Ozone FC Bengalaru in India. And he is unlikely to regain match fitness in time to join new coach Dennis Lawrence’s squad to face Panama and Mexico on 24 and 28 March.
“I was advised by the doctors at the San Fernando General Hospital to do surgery,” Glen told Wired868. “[Dr Terence] Babwah said after three or four weeks I can play with it [using] a soft cast. I saw doctors [in India too] and they decided I needed surgery.
“So I will basically be out for the season because this season [in India] is short and finishes in April.”
Glen agreed a financial settlement with Ozone FC, which allowed the club to pay him off and sign another foreign player. But he does not know when or where his next job will be.
The Indian league is in a state of flux due to financial issues and administrators there are looking into merging the top and second tier competitions. And it is much the same in Trinidad where uncertainty regarding government subventions looms over the Pro League, which also struggles to pay players.
To add insult to injury, Glen still has not been paid for skipping Christmas and flying across two continents to represent his country. None of the 22 players used by Saintfiet were paid for any of their four outings.
“The players have not been paid as yet but they will be paid in the coming weeks,” said Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams breezily, while unveiling Lawrence and Sol Campbell as head and assistant coach respectively on 30 January 2017.
Glen did not discuss the TTFA debt and said he had no regrets about his return to national colours but admitted that he should not have played against Haiti, due to his physical condition at the time. Ever the maverick, the former North East Stars and San Jabloteh attacker said he will defy doctor’s advice and not return to the operating table.
“I did two surgeries in my career and I don’t want to do a third one,” said Glen. “It takes two to three months to heal with surgery. Instead, I will leave the cast on for the full six to eight weeks. Surgery is the last option.
“It is a risk I am taking because doctors said it isn’t bound to heal properly and I might not get full functionality back and won’t be able to rotate my arm as before and so on.”
All Glen’s major injuries came while he was representing his country. He tore ligaments in his ankle while playing against Guatemala on 10 August 2004 and missed most of the season for New York/New Jersey MetroStars.
Then he had serious ligament injuries in either knee against Paraguay at the 2006 World Cup and against the United States during the 2010 World Cup qualifying series. Both knee injuries required operations. The first injury led to his departure from LA Galaxy—who opted not to renew his contract—while the second meant that he spent a third of his time at San Jose Earthquakes on the sidelines.
But Glen was philosophical about his current misfortune. He is still desperate to end his career on a high and has designs on the Russia World Cup.
Despite long spells away from the national team due to injuries and his three-year exile under coach Stephen Hart, Glen is Trinidad and Tobago’s fifth all time scorer with 24 goals—one more than current talisman Kenwyne Jones, five more than ex-Manchester United hot shot Dwight Yorke and three and four goals less than Arnold Dwarika and Russell Latapy respectively.
“I’m trying not to take it on,” said Glen. “I’m just tired and want to come home and be around my kids and family. Maybe this [injury] is a sign. I will see how it goes…
“The only thing I am upset about is that I am missing my national team’s next set of games [against Panama and Mexico]. I probably won’t be [match] fit by then.”
There was some skepticism when Saintfiet recalled Glen—on the advice of his assistant coach Jamaal Shabazz. But the veteran made an immediate impact off the bench in Manama on 27 December, as the Warriors clawed a goal back in an otherwise disappointing 2-1 away loss to Nicaragua.
And, in his first start, Glen scored a neat volley to erase an early Nicaragua lead and won the free kick that saw Trinidad and Tobago take the lead in an eventual 3-1 win.
But, on what should have been his glorious return in front of his home fans, Glen ended up in tears after straining his hamstring during the warm-up.
“I went into the dressing room and started to cry,” said Glen. “It was really heartbreaking. I never got injured during a warm up in my entire career. But I felt it coming because we trained really hard coming up to the game and I was telling Carlos [Edwards] that I could feel my hamstring was really tight…
“I think the way we practiced [before facing Suriname], the intensity was a bit too high and the pitch was heavy and the grass was thick. We had travelled a few days before [from Manama too]. It was a combination of things.
“It was not just me because Carlos pulled up, [Hughtun] Hector had hamstring problems and there were a whole lot of other guys [like Maurice Ford and Carlyle Mitchell] with quad and muscle injuries too.”
Trinidad and Tobago lost 2-1 to Suriname in extra time on that night and, four days later, Saintfiet’s job was already under threat as they prepared to face Haiti. The Warriors needed a two-goal win to stay alive in the competition and, according to Glen, the Belgian begged him to play—despite not being fully recovered from injury.
“I wasn’t supposed to play [against Haiti] in the first place,” said Glen. “The coach begged me to play… To strain your hamstring and play three or four days after is seriously unheard of. I regret playing that match. I was not fit to play.”
Ironically, Dr Terence Babwah, who claimed to have resigned from Hart’s technical staff because the then head coach allegedly used goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams while he was carrying an injury—a claim that much of Hart’s technical staff and the player himself denied—sat on the bench and is not known to have complained about Saintfiet’s use of Glen for that match.
The Belgian coach also sent defender Carlyle Mitchell back on to the field against Suriname while he was clearly injured, since the Warriors had exhausted all their substitutions.
Saintfiet, according to Glen, was a mixed bag. The forward appreciated the coach’s no-nonsense approach to discipline and his general stewardship.
However, he disagreed with Saintfiet’s tactical approach, which was to play reactive, counter-attacking football against mediocre opposition, and felt the journeyman coach did not respond well to the pressure of the job.
“Looking back at it, there are two sides to his coaching methods. In terms of his discipline, I totally agreed with that and accepted it. That is part of what is seriously lacking in Trinidad and Tobago’s football. Some of the things that some of the senior established players get away with over the years, under a serious coach like [World Cup 2006 coach Leo] Beenhakker they would never get away with it.
“I remember in 2005, I was dropped for most of the qualifiers just for sulking because I wasn’t playing during the Gold Cup. I only got called up for the [FIFA Play Off] against Bahrain and, when I met up with him, I apologised and we moved on.
“Some of the things these guys did like asking for time off but then playing charity matches. No serious coach would stand for that… But his biggest problem was letting the media get to him… In almost every practice [session], he would mention you [and Wired868] and it affected his job and the pressure from the [TTFA] got to him.
“His football philosophy, I absolutely didn’t agree with. In the Caribbean, we are a powerhouse and teams like Suriname are afraid of us. But he wanted us to play deep and try for the counter attack. That is why the Suriname coach said after the game that he was surprised and expected more from us.
“Discipline-wise, he did a good job. But, in terms of football, I didn’t agree with his philosophy.”
Glen is far from finished. He hopes to return to the playing fields soon and is open to starting the 2017 season in the local Pro League. From there, he would like to catch Lawrence’s eye and wear red, white and black strip again in competitive action.
“It is unfortunate that I couldn’t show what I could offer the team at home in the Haiti game but I am still not retired yet!” Glen said. “Hopefully I can get back in the team and show Trinidad and Tobago what I can still contribute.
“I just want to get over this [injury] and get back playing and then maybe see what opens up…”
Trinidad and Tobago’s top international scorers
Stern John 70 goals
Angus Eve 34 goals
Russell Latapy 29 goals
Arnold Dwarika 28 goals
Cornell Glen 24 goals
Kenwyne Jones 23 goals
Nigel Pierre 22 goals
Leonson Lewis 21 goals
Dwight Yorke 19 goals
Devorn Jorsling 18 goals