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Timely Italian lesson

“Roti is culture, being late is not culture. It's a bad habit.”

It is always a bit of an eye-opener when foreign eyes survey the local environment and present a very different perspective on attitudes and behaviours.

Carolina Morace has been in this country for just about two months, obviously enough time to have been exposed to this “any time is Trinidad time” mantra so as to have an instant reply when the topic was broached nearing the end of an interview last Friday on TV6's “Morning Edition.”

Charged with the responsibility of overseeing the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association's female programme apart from being head coach of the senior national women's team, the former Italian international striker pounced on that celebrated notion of acceptable tardiness like a loose ball in the six-yard box.

Paolo Rossi would have been proud.

In a very different context, Dennis Lawrence extolled the virtues of international exposure in relation to developing a more professional attitude and fostering a work ethic among players that will redound to the benefit of the individual footballers apart, of course, from being of greater value to the national cause, especially with the onus now on the new senior national men's team coach to revive a flagging World Cup qualifying campaign.

Given the immediate concerns of Friday's duel with Panama and next Tuesday's fixture against Mexico, both at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, the former national defender - who will always be remembered for that headed goal in Bahrain which clinched this country's first-ever qualification for a senior men's World Cup finals in 2006 – needed to be upbeat ahead of those games.

I mean, you wouldn't expect your head coach to be downcast and bracing the population for the worst, given the limited preparation time and the additional challenge of rebuilding cohesion and morale in a squad following the contentious departure of Stephen Hart last November and the short-lived tenure of Tom Saintfiet.

Sitting alongside Morace and with TTFA president David John-Williams also in attendance for the hour-long dialogue, Lawrence praised the commitment of the locally-based players while remaining optimistic that the incoming talent, including the recently errant Kevin Molino, would be smoothly integrated into the system that he is developing to counteract the threat of the Panamanians and Mexicans.

Which raises an interesting question: what is our system, what is our style of play? Is it a hybrid of European, South American and other influences or something unique, a brand that is immediately distinguishable? Given the increasing globalisation of the sport, a phenomenon lamented by some as resulting in a tedious technically-dominated sameness to the international game, a stand-alone brand of play is unlikely.

During the heady days of the qualification campaign for Italia '90, the brand “Kaisoca Soccer” was affixed to the team that carried its own nickname – the “Strike Squad” – and took this country to within a point of getting to the World Cup finals.

Under the guidance of head coach and former national striker Everald “Gally” Cummings, the unit led by central defender Clayton Morris churned out result after encouraging result to galvanise national fervour to a level not experienced before or since, the subsequent qualification for Germany 16 years later notwithstanding.

Yet while we (meaning both the media and general public) heaped praise on the team and conveniently overlooked questionable happenings around the succession of games in 1989, many looking on from the outside offered a very different perspective.

Among the international press contingent for that critical final qualifier against the United States on November 19, Italian football writer Giancarlo Galavotti, reporting then for Turin-based Guerin Sportivo, the world's oldest regular sports magazine, described the national team's style as “naive” ahead of the heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the Americans.

Having finally made it to football's “Big Yard” in 2006, Trinidad and Tobago played what could be described as a pragmatic style under the guidance of Leo Beenhakker, seeking to frustrate more accomplished group opponents – Sweden, England and Paraguay – by getting as many players as possible behind the ball and only very occasionally daring to range forward with any concerted sense of purpose.

Not surprisingly, it divided opinion back at home, especially as the beloved veteran playmaker Russell Latapy was left on the bench for the first two games. Agreement with the Dutchman's tactics of trying to eke out a result, as ugly as it looked, was counteracted by a desire for a more expressive, attacking type of football, even if it risked comprehensive defeats.

Now, almost 11 years on from that historic experience, we appear no closer to understanding what works best for us on the football pitch. Whatever that style is though, it is doomed to fail without adherence to time-honoured virtues.

Believe it or not, that includes something as rudimentary as punctuality.