The “Soca Warriors”, who just booked their place in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals for just the third time in the country’s history, are not bumping their heads to Maximus Dan’s “I am a Fighter” these days.
Trinidad and Tobago lead Group C, after successive wins over Guatemala and Cuba, and can top the group with a win or draw against Mexico tomorrow. They will have to do so without not only suspended midfielder Andre Boucaud but also injured team vice-captain and goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams.
Williams looks set to be ruled out for three weeks after a hamstring injury suffered in the first match against Cuba. It means the Central FC custodian would miss the rest of the Gold Cup as well as his club’s opening CONCACAF Champions League fixture away to Steven Gerrard’s LA Galaxy on August 6
If the Warriors finish atop Group C tomorrow, they will almost certainly face Panama in the quarterfinal round in New Jersey on Sunday. Should they lose to Mexico, they will probably meet Costa Rica in the knockout round instead.
Trinidad and Tobago’s most successful Gold Cup was in 2000 when coach Bertille St Clair led a team that boosted the likes of Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy, David Nakhid, Jerren Nixon and the late Mickey Trotman to the semifinal round, where they were edged 1-0 by Canada.
However, with history beckoning, Trinidad and Tobago’s Gold Cup team was again distracted by off-field matters.
On Sunday, Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president Raymond Tim Kee and general secretary Sheldon Phillips issued a press release that accused Sport Minister Brent Sancho of spreading malicious and misleading information and attempting to bully the football body.
And, yesterday, Sancho responded by accusing Tim Kee of mismanagement, dishonesty and disrespect towards the TTFA’s major sponsor.
“They will not be funded,” said Sancho. “Unless they can account for where our funds will go.”
The conflict has not gone unnoticed within the Warriors camp.
This morning, team captain Kenwyne Jones shared Sancho’s response on social media and referred to the feud with two posts.
“We play we fight… support from the relevant body? Still outstanding smfh.”
Jones followed that up with:
“So while the feud continues, the football suffers, note TT anytime we fall short in something it always a funding issue, if this doesn’t stop it can be the end of progress…
“Egos aside put the football first… or leave the relevant offices held.”
Warriors manager William Wallace admitted that there was some anxiety in the camp since, unlike the 2013 Gold Cup, players are not receiving match fees after each game as they are still awaiting funding from the Sport Ministry.
And Wallace revealed that, for the first time in a Gold Cup tournament, the TTFA did not offer win bonuses or financial incentives for qualifying for the quarterfinal, semifinal or even winning the entire thing.
“The last time we left Trinidad with US (dollars) so we got paid after each game,” Wallace told Wired868. “Now, I am trying to get a lump sum payment after the three group games. I hope we can get it done…
“We were not able to negotiate win bonuses due to financial constraints. Based on the budget we are working with, we are barely able to deal with match fees at this point in time.”
The TTFA relies almost entirely on the Ministry of Sport for its funding and was not able to raise money otherwise to pay its staff and players.
Wallace was much more tactful in his response to the Government’s relationship with the Warriors.
“With all that is happening on the political front, I would still like to thank the Ministry of Sport and the new PS (Gillian MacIntyre) who has been extremely professional in her approach in dealing with me,” said Wallace. “At this point in time, the Ministry of Sport is the only bearing tree, so we cannot cut it down.
“It might not be bearing as quickly or as prolifically as we would like it to be. But that is what we have…”
Sancho reiterated today that the Sport Ministry will honour its commitments to the Warriors as well as the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Women’s Team, which is competing in the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games at present.
However, the Sport Minister did not promise any assistance to the TTFA beyond that, which would include the Warriors’ Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Sancho’s own political survival would depend on the polls as the country’s general elections will be held on September 7.
A TTFA insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, defended the timing of the press release, which slammed the Sport Minister’s behaviour.
“We have sat back for a while as the ministry at various times has levelled some misdirected allegations knowing that the organisation is still feeling the effects and negative impact of the Warner years,” he said. “So if something critical about us sounds plausible, even if it turns out to be untrue at closer look, the damage is done.
“And the ministry comes out looking like heroes in a situation they created.”
However, in the United States, Wallace said the Warriors technical staff felt the weekend release was part and parcel of the election season and they were concerned about its timing.
Tim Kee, who is also the Port of Spain Mayor, is the treasurer of the opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) party.
“The staff was questioning whether (the TTFA release) was necessary at that time,” Wallace told Wired868. “But it is politician against politician and we are in that season, so I suppose it is expected.
“As the African saying goes: when the elephants fight it is only the grass that suffers. But my focus is on the players and staff and I will not allow anything to derail that.”