FOR local clubs, the biggest problem with the Confederation/CONCACAF Club Championship, at one time, was that the early rounds usually took place around March/April, two months before domestic action got underway.
Hence, amidst Trinidadian successes in the competition - like Defence Force, champions in 1978 and 1985 - there were also many instances of failure. Failure that occurred when under prepared teams struggled against lesser-talented opposition from countries such as the Netherlands Antilles, St. Lucia and even Suriname. Even when ties were won, performances were sub-par and eventual elimination came as no surprise.
This was the scenario up to eight years ago. Have things changed much? You bet they haven't. Even with ever-changing formats (the Confederation Championship has never had a consistent time frame) Trinidadian clubs are still unable to get things working for them. In 1997 and 1998, the final stages of the competition took place in August - when the SPFL was on its break. The lack of competitive action affected United Petrotrin and Joe Public and both were beaten by MLS club, DC United, in successive quarterfinals. Joe Public would lose again, the following year, to the Chicago Fire and, with the final stages now moved to January, made it a hat trick of quarterfinal exits last week.
The 1-0 loss to Mexico's Pachuca saw a much improved performance over the 8-0 and 2-0 defeats to United and Chicago: but it was still a loss, nonetheless. Team manager, Richard Abraham acknowledged his concern to the Trinidad Express over Public's preparation for the game - all of eight days - and his relief that things did not turn out really disastrous, once again: "The fellows made a tremendous effort and anybody from Trinidad and Tobago would have been proud of their performance."
That may be. But Joe Public are not exactly making a big impact on this competition.
Like other continental club tournaments, the Confederation Championship could be used as an indicator as to the level of a country's domestic football and the strength of its top clubs. But, is it fair to make an assessment of local clubs, knowing that they have frequently gone into international action without the proper conditioning?
Just as the presence of proven, but under performing, players such as Brian Lara and Jimmy Adams, negates against the West Indies being written off as a weak team, it is hard to come up with a final verdict on the strength of Trinidadian clubs, based on what has been pointed out, above.
To be perfectly honest, the combination of factors does not work out in favour of local clubs. Apart from playing outside of competitive periods, Trinidadian sides are also coming up against opposition (particularly sides from Mexico) that are in the midst of their domestic seasons. The only thing that officials can do at this point is to devote more time and resources to proper preparation. International friendlies against other club teams is one option - but not many local club sides can afford to organize these - tinkering with the domestic schedule, to help representatives in the Championship is another.
Whatever way, something must be done about the string of failures.