Thu, May

A downward spiral

Based on the ultimatum Tom Saintfiet faced, it stands to reason that his successor should be required to earn four points from the next two World Cup qualifiers, failing which he will join the list of former head coaches of the senior men’s national football team.

Yet while the usual preoccupation with personality dominates speculation ahead of the announcement of the Belgian’s successor, it really doesn’t matter who gets the job. Unless there is respect for a process and adherence to a system defined by discipline and accountability, no-one will be able to prevent Trinidad and Tobago’s Russia 2018 aspirations effectively coming to an end after the game against Mexico on March 28 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

But the bigger issue will be where the impetus and inspiration are to come from to transform the nation’s premier sport. So much about football here, as anywhere else, is defined by the on and off-field issues related to the flagship side. 

Yet as we have seen with the experience of the women, even after the attention-grabbing ever-so-close World Cup qualifying effort in 2014, and the age-group sides of both sexes, the ship is sinking with all hands on deck and no clear sign that the captain is capable of providing the sort of leadership necessary to rescue the increasingly desperate situation.

As president of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association, David John-Williams is an obvious target when anything related to the sport here goes awry. Often that vitriol is misplaced because much of the self-righteous indignation presumes that the game as a whole was on a consistently progressive path prior to his election to head the administration almost 14 months ago. That is patently not true.

Precipitous deterioration

Still, can we dismiss the almost simultaneous precipitous deterioration in the performance of the side that reached the quarter-finals of two consecutive Gold Cups and made it to the “Hex” of World Cup qualification for 2018 with relative comfort as mere coincidence?

Even as his claim of finally achieving a measure of financial accountability in the TTFA is worthy of commendation, can he successfully withstand accusations of imposing his will on the decision-making process in a number of matters? 

If those among his growing list of detractors are accurate, that hands-on approach has healed rather than widened rifts in a community that has spent decades going at each others’ throats anyway.

So let’s say, for the sake of argument, John-Williams resigns immediately after March 28 with Trinidad and Tobago rooted at the bottom of the six-nation CONCACAF standings, where is the evidence to suggest that any of the familiar personalities in football are capable of leading a meaningful transformation of the game here?

This is not meant to be a plea in his defence by someone who has known him for over 20 years of media-related interactions, but a simple straightforward query in the context of whether change for change’s sake will amount to nothing more than exchange, much like what we have continually experienced in political governance for the past 25 years.

Public relations disaster

Look, that moment a month ago, when he issued the ultimatum upon announcing the appointment of Saintfiet to succeed Stephen Hart, even scolding the relatively unknown coach as he smiled nervously at the highly inappropriate statement, was both humiliating and a public relations disaster. To his detractors it revealed his true nature. 

To those trying to maintain an objective perspective it raised questions about an apparent autocratic style of leadership unable to reconcile with the many interest groups in the game and buckling under the pressure of strident media criticism.

Too much dishonesty

There is little to suggest that football’s downward spiral in this country will be slowed anytime soon though, whether or not John-Williams serves out his full term at the helm of the TTFA. There is too much duplicity, too much dishonesty, too many self-serving feeders at the trough for the game itself to prosper.

And there is too much old talk too. I see the veteran footballers are going to have their latest spleen-venting exercise where nothing more than hot air will be generated. Okay, so maybe there will be a few half-decent recommendations proposed, but it’s very much like the broader issues of governance in this land, where almost everyone knows what’s wrong but no-one is really prepared to do what needs to be done to remedy the situation.

We like it so, or else we would have changed it a long time ago.

From the players, some of whom would have contributed to Hart’s loss of control in the team, making their own coaching recommendations to administrators over the years surrounding themselves with well-fed yes men, football’s present dilemma is no more than another episode in a long-running drama. But what the hell, we jammin’ still, not so?