Once, Michael McComie's only desire was to make himself into a top class goalkeeper. Now, after years between the uprights, he has turned his attention towards developing young players-with immediate success.
In his first season as head coach at Joe Public, McComie guided the "Eastern Lions" to the 2004 league title in the National Super League, with four matches to spare.
Already, he has been named Most Valuable Coach after the first round of competition and barring upsets, is almost certain to be named 2004 Super League Coach-of-the-Year at the end of the season.
At 31, McComie is one of the youngest coaches in the country and holds the enviable position of being at the helm of the more affluent clubs in Trinidad and Tobago. Even he was surprised when he got the appointment and immediately made his decision to retire as a professional player.
"While I could have played for a few more years, I have always felt that I shouldn't have to play football at age 31 to earn a living. And while I didn't expect to coach Joe Public, I felt that coaching was definitely one of the areas I could exploit,"he said.
McComie first came to prominence as a national Under-14 goalkeeper who moved through the youth ranks from under-14, 16,18, 20 and under-23 teams. He has also had several stints as keeper on the Trinidad and Tobago national senior team. Ever-controversial and sometimes quite eccentric with his antics on the field, McComie has often got under the skin of fans. Some love him, some definitely don't.
Either way, McComie has definitely made a name for himself as a player, first at St Augustine Senior Comprehensive, where he excelled and then in 1996 with ECM Motown where he began his club career.
A year after joining Motown, he moved to CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh, but before 1997 had ended, McComie migrated to the United States where he played indoor football for three seasons in the EISL. On returning to Trinidad in 1999, McComie moved to Joe Public where he remained a player until January 2004.
He describes his years at Joe Public as challenging because of the high expectations of their owner Jack Austin Warner, a vice-president with FIFA, the governing body for world football.
"It has always been a little more demanding playing at Joe public because of the high standards which the management of the club set. This is a club that demand results and so a Joe public player is always under a little more pressure than other players. But one thing I can say is that in my years with the club, I have never had to worry whether my salary would be in the bank. A lot of players with other clubs cannot say that."
McComie's coaching break came when former national Under-17 coach Ron La Forest offered him the chance to be his assistant with the national team. McComie had hardly had much coaching experience, but was always a student of sorts under La Forest, who was also the senior coach at Joe Public.
"'Ron La' took me and walked me step by step through the rudiments of coaching from the basic up. That gave me a good start. Whenever I come to a football match, I can be seen with senior coaches like Jimmy Blanc, Gally Cummings and Michael Grayson. Sitting down and talking to Gally for ten minutes is more valuable than taking in two hours in a coaching course," McComie says.
McComie's opportunity to go it alone came a few months ago when Joe Public were restructuring their operation as they prepared for life in the Super League. La Forest had moved onto the national senior team as an assistant to Bertille St Clair, leaving the head-coach position vacant. Warner offered the job to McComie, who did not refuse the challenge.
One of his first actions on assuming the post was to bring in several Jamaican national under-23 players. Of them, Roen Nelson has been an instant hit and has been the runaway leader among the Super League goalscorers.
At one point, the 22-year-old Jamaican had hit five hat tricks, one beaver trick and two doubles to take his tally to 23 after his team's first 15 games. McComie also recruited tough Antiguan defender George Dublin who was one of his teammates in the 2001 Joe Public team that won the T&T Professional Football League. In addition, he had 13 players who Joe Public retained from their original 65-man roster and the new coach relished the chance to build the team almost as much as playing itself.
"The challenge is different. During my time as a player with Joe Public, we had as many as 13 players who were on the national team. Now, we have a younger team with a lot more inexperienced players. But even so, I feel the team is much stronger than last year because the players are not just a lot more talented, but focused as well."
Having won the Super League, McComie is also ready to test his Joe Public team against any of the top sides in the land. Rarely ever short on confidence, he feels that his bunch can match anyone in the T&T Pro League and feels that they will more than hold their own when national competitions such as the FA trophy come along.
"My main aim is that Joe Public play good football," he says. "I am here to pursue the direction of the club which is to play football of the highest level. I also think we can match any of the top clubs in the country and if I am to be successful, my ambition will be to develop young players and ultimately reward the management for the huge investment it is making in these players."
McComie also defended the Super League, stating that while it may not have as many good clubs as the Pro League, it also had its pluses.
"We always wanted to play football in the best organised league. Although the Super League (may not be the) best (football-wise), it is definitely the best organised and most professional," he said.