Now that David John-Williams is out as President of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association, it is finally time to begin thinking about how the TTFA can get its house in order as a collective. As a Trinidad & Tobago citizen based in the United States and also involved in the business of soccer, I have followed the association over the years. Under Jack Warner, there wasn’t much transparency and social media didn’t have as much as an impact as it does today, so I didn’t follow the association as much. Under Raymond Tim Kee, I followed the association a bit, but I didn’t really get involved with the everyday goings and comings of the Association until John-Williams became President and I co-founded the Black Soccer Membership Association in Washington, DC.
I had met John-Williams at a Soccerex event in Barbados about six years ago prior to him running for the Presidency. I thought that he was a confident man, and many people in my tiny Trinidad & Tobago circle raved about how professionally he ran W Connection. When I met him that day, he was on a panel at a global event called Soccerex with Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber. He was very busy with other meetings, so he introduced me to his daughter Renee, who I think very highly of and one day we may see her as the first female TTFA president. She was a very active listener when we met that day, and has been thereafter as we corresponded by email. So before I move onto what I think the TTFA should do next to get its house in order, I would like to wish the John-Williams family the best and as an outsider looking in, thank David for developing the Home of Football. As a business owner myself it is extremely important to invest in assets for your company, and the HOF is definitely one. Thank you!
Now onto the next four years. In order for the TTFA to get its house in order it must become extremely organized and transparent. No more secret balloting, no more closed Annual General Meetings, it should be open to the public and streamed online, and no more of anything that they have been doing since and before the Warner days. Remember, the TTFA is funded by the Ministry of Sport, who is funded by the Government, who is funded by the Taxpayers. So the people need to know where their money is going.
The next four years of President William Wallace and the United TTFA’s focus must be on building a foundation that will make the TTFA sustainable for the next 111 years. If he does this, then this will be his legacy. No brand new facilities, no new leagues, just get the Association fully operational.
After reviewing and completing an audit of the TTFA, President Wallace mentioned doing this at his press conference after winning the election, here is where my team and I would begin:
First, we would complete a total re-organization of the Association. Here in the US, we call this a reorg. Restructure the business model and re-format the association to ensure that three divisions are interdependent, but not coinciding. For too many years the President of the TTFA has not only operated as an island, but he has also been involved with the day to day operations of the technical staff and that can’t continue for success.
The three divisions of operations that the TTFA must focus on are Financial, Administration, and Technical. By financially restructuring the association, you ensure that the staff, players, contractors, advisers, and all of those associated with the TTFA are paid on time. The financial accounts are audited daily to ensure that there is no corruption, and you hire a third party organization to oversee the finances and trusts of the TTFA. Trinidad & Tobago has some of the best accounting firms in the region, so it isn’t difficult to find one who would independently oversee each and every dollar that comes in and goes out of the organization.
A separate administrative division ensures that operations are completed in a timely fashion and on budget. Currently, the TTFA has its President, three Vice-Presidents, General Secretary, and a Financial Manager. This current format is not the proper way to run the day-to-day operations of an association. What we would do is hire C-suite executives, a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to oversee the day to day, a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to oversee the financials, a Chief Marketing Officer to oversee the marketing and promoting of the national teams, and most importantly a Chief Stakeholders Officer (CSO). The CSO would work hand in hand with the CEO to ensure that all stakeholders, sponsors, and donors are appreciated and get a return on their investment in the association. This is important, and a role that we have taken from US Soccer. Of the US$168 million budget that US Soccer has to operate, US$100 million of it is from stakeholders, sponsors, and donors, the financial engine of the Federation.
Trinidad & Tobago has a culture of doing things laissez-faire, but this culture can no longer matriculate to the TTFA because you aren’t just competing against the Caribbean, but you are also competing against the rest of the world. There is a reason why US Soccer has a large annual budget and there is a reason why Germany and Spain federation budgets are US$500-$600 million annually. They are all extremely organized and financially stable.
On the Technical side, the TTFA has to drain the swamp. The old days of technical staffing with last names such as Corneal and Phillips must go. Both the Phillips and Corneals have done a good job of serving football in the country in their roles, but now they must take on a different role off the field in promoting Trinidad & Tobago football. The TTFA needs fresh, young, innovative minds to grow and develop the technical side of football in the country.
Our next step to developing the technical side would be to make qualified hires to include roles such as a Director of Football, a Men’s national team coach with a fully operational staff, a Women’s national team coach with a fully operational staff, youth national team coaches and staff, physio, strength and conditioning coaches, Goalkeeper coaches, a full slate of technical staffing. We would not hire European coaches because they aren’t coming to Trinidad & Tobago to develop the technical division best suited for the TTFA and its long term health, instead they are coming to collect a paycheck and take a vacation. Aside from Leo Beenhakker, who was 64 years old when he took the Soca Warriors to their first and only World Cup, no European coach has had any success in the TTFA, not even the coach who was there for 35 days. I can’t even remember his name.
After qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, the technical side of the TTFA had one thing to do and that was to focus on how to consistently qualify for the upcoming World Cups. The men have failed at this for the last three World Cup qualifiers, and in 2015, under Randy Waldrum, the women failed to qualify for the World Cup despite attempting three times, only to watch Jamaica four years later become the first women’s team to qualify for a World Cup from the Caribbean in 2019. How did Jamaica do it? They did the simplest and most knowledgeable thing, get US born players of Jamaican parentage. If the US women’s national soccer team is the best in the world and if you have Trinbagonian descendants at your disposal from the US, then you need to tap your North American resources to be competitive.
Next, we would educate and build our own coaches and develop a network with North American based coaches either from Trinidad & Tobago or from Trinidad & Tobago descendants because there are hundreds in the United States and Canada. It seems to me that Trinidad & Tobago coaches are either intimidated by North American football coaches, or maybe they just think that they know enough to do their jobs without any assistance. But, we all need assistance and a network, and it is time that the TTFA and its coaches utilize their North American resources to build a proper international scouting network for players.
There are currently supposed TTFA approved football clinics operating in and around the United States as the women’s national team coaches search for 17-20 year olds to expand their pool, but each time I see an advertisement, it never dons the TTFA logo. Recently, one of the clinics were held in Houston and only fifteen players attended. The most recent clinic in Los Angeles had a grand total of zero players in attendance. What these coaches didn’t know is that Jamaica has a large Caribbean population in Los Angeles, not Trinidad & Tobago. So, we would eliminate this version of international scouting clinics and start fresh by first reaching out and generating an international network of every male and female either from Trinidad and Tobago or of descendants involved in football in North America and Europe. Then leveraging this network, we would map out the best cities in the country with a large Trinidad and Tobago population who could help us to reach our goal of expanding the player talent pool to 300 players each for the men and women. Hosting these player pool clinics in cities such as New York, Toronto, Atlanta, would help us to reach our goal.
On the men’s side, we’d start with the United States due to its college soccer structure, and reach out to every Junior College (JUCO) school with a soccer program and connect with coaches to notify them that we want to identify players of Trinidad and Tobago descent. On the women’s side, we would target the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1, 2, and 3 schools. Of the 23 women from the US women’s national team who have won four World Cups and most recently he 2019 France World Cup, all 23 players played for NCAA Division 1 schools. It will take a lot of time and energy, but most head coaches in the nearly 1800 NCAA Division 1, 2, and 3 schools in the United States are accessible.
So why would we place such an emphasis on the women’s game? Because this is where FIFA is increasing its spending, interest, and visibility. It is the best route to get the country back on the world stage by the 2023 World Cup in Japan. The TTFA must be ahead of the curve and in the game. On the women’s side, the country doesn’t have the population or enough talent to compete internationally, so it must find talent outside of the country. By FIFA investing financially in the women’s game, there is a golden opportunity for the country to emerge from the Concacaf region and qualify for the World Cup consistently for the next five cycles, but this will only happen with a true international scouting network. Most of the Caribbean, all of Central America, and Mexico do not have strong women’s football programs due to cultural differences in what the woman’s role should be in the family, so the TTFA has an opportunity to solidify itself consistently as the third Concacaf team behind the United States and Canada to qualify for the Women’s World Cup.
Having a pool filled with North American base players will prevent losses from nations like St. Kitts and Nevis, a country with a population one-fifteenth the size of Trinidad & Tobago or tying a match versus a country like the Dominican Republic who has zero interest in football aside from fielding a team to not get fined by Concacaf. There are far too many talented US born female players in colleges across the United States of Trinidad and Tobago descent for the women’s team to not qualify for the top eight of the Olympic qualifiers.
Domestically, we would develop the professional leagues and mandate that there is one league or the men and one league for the women. In recent years, I have watched US Soccer approval what seems like hundreds of leagues without promotion-relegation leading to MLS. To sum it up, it has become a mess. We wouldn’t want to see Trinidad & Tobago take this route, therefore one league per gender with promotion relegation.
Now to develop the domestic players, we would have the best 50 players from the leagues train once a week during their season. These players will be the core of the national teams for both male and female, and they will raise the level of competition on the island. If we are truly united and one Trinidad & Tobago, then we can’t follow what other countries do and meet for a camp less than a month before international matches. The TTFA doesn’t have access to the resources or player talent pool like the top tier countries around the world, so we would do the best with what we have domestically by bringing the best together more than a day or two prior to an international match.
The final approach to the technical side that we would invest in is the youth national team structure. Many TTFA fans want Dennis Lawrence out, but you can’t blame him for the national team’s failures if there isn’t an operational youth national team program in place. It has been 10 years since a TTFA youth national team has qualified for a World Cup. The last team was the 2009 U-20 team who qualified for the World Cup in Egypt. I recently watched the U-17 World Cup in Brazil earlier in November, and the TTFA youth national team players are light years behind. The players from France, Netherlands, Brazil, and Mexico who all played in the final four, looked like they could get a first team call up from their club and senior national teams at any minute. They looked like grown men. We would structure the youth national team from U-13 to U-20 and have the players compete frequently. The way that Concacaf has re-structured its qualifying stage for the World Cup now allows all 34 Concacaf nations to compete in Florida every two years at the U-15, U-17, and U-20 levels with the chance to advance. This format has opened up the door to Haiti’s youth national teams to qualify for several World Cups in the last few years.
With TT$30 million in place through sponsors, the TTFA can get its house in order overnight. So far what I have heard from President Wallace is encouraging. In fact, I sent him a Whatsapp message earlier today to congratulate him on his victory. Despite his success as President of the Secondary School Football League, Wallace and his team will have a large mountain to climb, but I ask that supporters of the TTFA remain patient and support him and his team, but also hold them accountable for their campaign promises. We believe that all of United TTFA’s campaign promises should met by the next election cycle in 2023, if not, then they should be voted out.
Technical division is what will propel the TTFA to the top of the mountain, but they will need the right people involved to do so and they can’t be afraid to think outside of the box to revamp the TTFA.