Team selection was the main issue for fans, coaches and members of the football fraternity in the aftermath of Trinidad and Tobago’s performances against St. Kitts and St. Lucia at the weekend.
In his first outing as Technical Director and head coach of the Trinidad and Tobago national football team Hannibal Najjar selected a squad short on international experience, but was still able to qualify for the next stage of the Gold Cup qualifying tournament with an encouraging 2-0 victory against St. Kitts and a narrow 1-0 loss to St. Lucia.
Najjar, who returned to Trinidad after 15 years of living and working in North America had three players in his 18-man squad that drew queries and in some cases sharp criticism—former Joe Public midfielder Kerwyn “Hardest” Jemmot, defender Colin Roberts from Superstar Rangers and the Canada-based previously unknown midfield/defender Rick Titus.
The 24-year-old Jemmot has been in an out of national teams in the past as coaches, including Rene Simoes, Ian Porterfield and Bertille St Clair often grew impatient with his long absenteeism from training. More importantly, Jemmot was included in the team despite not playing for any club at any level of Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation competitions for the last year.
Collin Roberts, who made his debut at right back position, has been around for some time playing with Superstar Rangers during the Semi Professional Football League (SPFL) days from 1995 to 1999. The tough tackling Roberts currently plays for the Superstar team in the Northern Football Association.
Rick Titus is a 33-year-old Trinidad-born who also holds Canadian citizenship. Titus was voted “A” League Defender of the Year in the 2001 season for the Vancouver Whitecaps. He was signed by the MLS club Colorado Rapids in March 2002 and put on the waiver list in September, he was not drafted by any other MLS Club to date and has plans to play in Europe.
Arnold Dwarika according to Najjar was too absent from the training sessions, while he ruled out Nigel Pierre, who returned to play for Joe Public in their last Pro League and FA Trophy encounters, on the grounds of inadequate match fitness.
No room was found in the squad for a host of recognised midfielders like Densill Theobald, who was appointed captain of the National Under-23 team by Najjar's predecessor, Brazilian Simoes; Silvio Spann, who spent three seasons with Italian Club Perugia and finished the season with W-Connection; Caledonia AIA’s stand-out Conrod Smith and the experienced Dale Saunders (Joe Public) and Lyndon Andrews (W-Connection) who have had their fair share of international matches.
Here were some of the comments:
Anthony Clarke (former national team goalkeeper)
“There were not enough skillful players in the squad who had the ability to create for the team. Too much defenders were in the team and even the attacking players selected were not used. For example Jason Scotland who has been a top striker in the Professional Football League for the past two seasons was on the bench for the two matches.
The team lacked experienced players. Why was Arnold Dwarika not in the team? Then how can you explain the omission of a player of the calibre of young Silvio Spann who spent two seasons with Perugia in Italy, and proves his creativity for W-Connection week in week out in the Pro League.
How could Kerwyn Jemmot, who has not played any football for the season, with no match fitness, be selected ahead of Spann, who is equally talented, but a more dedicated professional.
Najjar was the one to admit that Jemmot was not fit, yet he still selected him ahead of players like Spann and Conrod Smith. This was a total disrespect to all the players in the country who have performed well this season.
Finally from what we have seen of Rick Titus he is not better than any of our Pro League players who play in that position.
It is evident from the composition of the team and the overuse of long balls over the top that ball possession is not a key factor in Najjar's play. So team selection is not the only issue here, the style of play must also come under scrutiny. We did not show any superiority in our style against these Caribbean opponents. In fact, we looked just like them for most periods in the games.
Patrick John-Williams ( co-owner W-Connection FC and football fan)
While Najjar says he is playing for shut-outs how does he intend to get his goals, when he has so many defensive-minded players in the team. We needed more creative midfielders in the line-up. I was disappointed in the general 18-man squad when you look at players like Silvio Spann, Densill Theobald and Conrod Smith being left out of the team. They could have helped with their skill and creativity because you could see T&T run out of ideas in and around the final third of the field.
Winning is not the only issue, but Najjar must think about producing a product or brand of football that can sell.
Another sore point is the inclusion of Kerwyn Jemmot who has not played any competitive football for the season. While I agree that he has the potential to be a unique talent he also has a track record of being ill disciplined. It is illogical that Najjar could include Jemmot and state that he knew he was not match fit, yet drop Nigel Pierre on the grounds of him not being match fit.
Yet it is ironic that despite including Jemmot in the 18 ahead of other creative and committed players, Najjar did not use him in the matches. So what was the purpose of including him in the 18? I am hearing that Najjar wants to rehab him. Well the national team is not a rehab centre. If Najjar wanted to help Jemmot he should have called him to training. Tell him that he wants him to be part of his plans for the future and monitor his committment to the programme. What signal is he sending by rewarding Jemmot for no committment.
I think there are more talented players than Colin Roberts to play for Trinidad and Tobago at right back. He has not being playing at a high level of football as compared to other players in that position in the Professional League.
While for a foreign based player to come into our national team to make his debut at age 33, Rick Titus needed to be a special player like a Russell Latapy or a David Nakhid. Rick Titus is not a special player.
Also Jason Scotland would have been a better choice than Kerry Noray for the game against St. Lucia. If you compare the two, Scotland could take more beating than Noray. Many times Noray tried to turn and run with the ball, when a Scotland would have held it up and laid it back off to the oncoming midfielders.
Clyde Ramsaroop (manager ,Arima Fire FC, football fan, Deputy Fire Chief)
I was not really pleased with the general quality of play though we did qualify for the next round. We did not string enough passes together. The midfield did not appear to have the creativity needed. Skipper Travis Mulraine did not provide the openings we needed from midfield, in fact the midfield was very dormant. I was not too happy with the team selection.
Firstly, Kerwyn Jemmot, though he is a good player, was not playing any football at all, so he was not fit and should not have been in the team. Then Colin Roberts, who is not playing in the Pro League, did not have that fitness required to play at that level. While when I saw that they brought in Rick Titus I thought he would come and light up the place, but he did nothing special. In fact there are better players than him here in the Pro League.
Both Arnold Dwarika and Nigel Pierre should have been in the team and Najjar needs to bring them back as soon as possible. I think we need some other talented goalkeepers in the squad. Jack did not perform well.
They took too long to introduce Jason Scotland into the game because the conditions did not suit Kerry Noray at all. I would like to see some other goalkeepers get into the team. I am not satisfied with Kelvin Jack at all.
Richard Fakoory (businessman, owner of Superstar Rangers)
Everyone seems to be taking a hack at Hannibal Najjar because he is trying some new players. But Hannibal must be commended for putting his foot down and setting a standard of discipline for players like Arnold Dwarika and Nigel Pierre to come up to. He has sent a serious message to these players by going without them for this tournament.
I think it is a good start for us after only two weeks under Najjar, in three months time you are bound to see a stronger and better prepared team. How come no one was as critical when Martinique beat T&T in February and we had all our foreign based players plus the Dwarikas, Pierres etc. No one was saying that we were beaten by a Caribbean oppoonent then.
Regarding Jemmot I think he is one of the best talents that we have...potentially as good as Russell Latapy. The kid's got talent and though he has been a bit delinquent in the past if Hannibal feels he can straigthen him out then he should be given the chance to do so. Nothing is wrong with that. Jemmot is not getting any special treatment.
I thought when Anton Pierre came on he brought the game to life. Collin Roberts, who everybody knows is a Superstar Rangers player, did not have a great game, but he did not have a bad game either.
I think it is early days still and Hannibal needs to be given a chance to do his work.
Anil Roberts (Ministry of Sports-Sport Programme Coordinator)
The team basically is a totally new team. The fact is at least we have moved on which is the main objective, but there must be some concern that when the foreign based players are not used we are at such a mediocre level.
Because we struggled against St Kitts and then lost to St Lucia when I would think that even our "B" team and 'C' teams should be far superior to other Caribbean teams.
But I believe the loss had much to do with the playing conditions. I want to know why the games were not played at the five stadia.
With all the rain we are having, the Centre of Excellence does not drain well and it was a mud pit... (which) definitely was not to our advantage...
There were some bright spots like in defence where Keyeno Thomas and Brent Sancho looked better.
But the midfield while they did a lot of work, they lacked the creativity and vision and a high quality player probably (Arnold) Dwarika. It is clear that we need these (talented) players to fall in line and play for our country or else we will never be able to beat Mexico and Costa Rica...
It is a long road and the journey has just begun. I am not not going to criticise a coach in two weeks.
He showed a lot of courage to go into the game without some of his better known players (for disciplinary reasons).
The main thing is not the results of the senior team right now but how we can lift our level because we are lagging far behind the world quality wise.