The biggest threat to the Soca Warriors’ dream of qualifying for the Qatar 2022 Fifa World Cup, according to Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) technical committee chairman Keith Look Loy and general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan, is not the ongoing legal tussle between the local football body and Fifa.
It is the supposedly hapless organisational skills of Fifa-appointed normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad, coupled with the global body’s apparent unwillingness to fund the Men’s National Senior Team.
Yesterday, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith criticised TTFA president William Wallace and his United TTFA slate for taking Fifa to court and potentially jeopardising the careers of national footballers. Griffith said the dispute between the two bodies can only be resolved through mediation.
Look Loy said he agreed only with Griffith’s conclusion.
“Griffith’s reasoning is circuitous and flawed but he arrives at the correct destination by the time he gets to his conclusion: mediation—that is the obvious and civilised way to go,” said Look Loy. “Now, the fact is that we have written six times to Fifa in this regard. The first time was immediately after they sought to impose the committee in March and the last immediately after we won in the High Court. Fifa has completely ignored us.
“The unreasonable and intransigent party here, the arrogant party, is Fifa. What they desire is complete and unconditional surrender by United TTFA. The public needs to know this, particularly those who are eager to see a decision of an independent court or our sovereign republic uphold a law of our sovereign Parliament.”
Look Loy said the United TTFA remains open to dialogue with Fifa and disagreed with the claim that Wallace and vice-presidents Clynt Taylor, Susan Joseph-Warrick and Sam Phillip were putting the local game at risk.
“We intend to write to Fifa yet again to seek talks,” he said. “Our intention is not to sacrifice Trinidad and Tobago football but to protect it from those who have traditionally abused and exploited it. And I invite the commissioner to also write Fifa, to propose talks as the way forward.”
At present, Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura remains insistent that the TTFA executive has been removed and Wallace is merely the ‘former’ president—a claim not recognised by either the local High Court or the TTFA’s bankers, First Citizens Bank.
And if Fifa thinks Hadad is taking care of local football business, according to Ramdhan, it has not been paying attention.
Hadad and fellow committee members Judy Daniel and Nigel Romano were implemented as replacements for the TTFA board on 27 March, with Ramdhan continuing as general secretary—a job that puts him in control of the local body’s daily operations.
However, Ramdhan was suspended last month while Hadad rarely visits the TTFA headquarters in Couva and, according to the estranged general secretary, is more likely to hold football meetings at the compound of his family-owned business, HadCo Limited, in Barataria.
And in the absence of meaningful direction or supervision, the TTFA’s office staff supposedly show up and go through the motions each day. To compound the situation, the normalisation committee has not arranged for payment to its coaches, or addressed its debt to the national players.
The Soca Warriors are scheduled to start their World Cup qualifying campaign against Guyana on 8 October and Ramdhan said Soca Warriors head coach Terry Fenwick is panicking.
“There is nothing happening at all at the TTFA and everything is simply being left unattended,” said Ramdhan. “We had the World Cup qualifying draw and up to now, Hadad hasn’t pulled his staff together to try to formulate a strategy for preparing with Covid-19 restrictions, contacting players, finding funding or anything.
“Anytime he is asked, he says his hands are tied, but there is still plenty organising that needs to be done and he just does not seem to be interested. Terry asked me if I can help and I told him I am suspended because the man says he doesn’t need a general secretary.
“That’s what led to [Fenwick] breaking his silence and speaking to the press last week.”
Look Loy pointed out that Fifa has at least US$2 million already designated for the TTFA; and, even without access to the latter’s bank account, can send the money directly to the relevant individuals—in the same way office staff was paid.
“If Fifa is as interested in Trinidad and Tobago football as it claims to be, well there is money sitting down in Zurich designated for us—including US$500,000 for Covid relief,” said Look Loy. “The same way they can find the money to pay the office staff, they can pay the coaches including the Men’s National Senior Team; although Fenwick should obviously be paid according to the conditions approved by the board and not based on his unapproved contract.”
Last week, national youth coaches Richard Hood and Angus Eve both shared their dissatisfaction with the ‘ridiculous situation’.
And, yesterday, Soca Warriors stand-outs Khaleem Hyland and Sheldon Bateau joined in, as they complained about owed match fees and a lack of communication from all sides.
Look Loy said Wallace did speak to Hyland but attributed the uncertainty caused by the normalisation committee, a lack of knowledge about the current senior team players, and Fenwick’s protectiveness of the squad for his own failure to reach out.
“It was simply not possible for Wallace (or me, and I have no official function in this regard) to communicate with players when the coach had not confirmed a squad before the one outing we had agreed against Canada,” said Look Loy. “Many of the players he wanted were unavailable and the outing was cancelled by Covid. To communicate with an unknown group—more so while the coach was shrieking that only he should communicate with players (another example of his nonsense)—would not have been sensible or possible.”
The Soca Warriors head Group F alongside Guyana, Puerto Rico, St Kitts and Nevis and Bahamas in the preliminary Concacaf World Cup qualifying phase. Only the winner will advance to a do-or-die play-off against the champions of Group A—El Salvador is the top seed—with a berth to the final Concacaf eight team group at stake.
Look Loy warned that Trinidad and Tobago’s group was not as straightforward as it seems.
“I think it is a tricky group because it appears to be an easy group but it is not,” said Look Loy. “In particular, we have a history with Guyana. The last time we played them at our home, we drew and they will be up for this game.
“[…] I don’t expect that playing Puerto Rico in Puerto Rico would be an easy match either, so it is not as straightforward as many seem to think. If we get past the group, we have a decent history against El Salvador; but I suspect it won’t be the El Salvador of past years because they have a good ranking in Concacaf right now.
“So while it is not a bad draw and one that we can look forward to, it is still one that we have to negotiate carefully.”
Another factor in the qualifying campaign, Look Loy suspects, might be Covid-19. At present, St Kitts and Nevis are the only scheduled opponent who are not reeling from the virus.
The Bahamas, a country of just over 385,000 people, has recorded 898 positives with 15 deaths. Guyana, who have 785,000 people, have 568 positives with 22 deaths and Puerto Rico, a country of 2.8 million, have just under 23,000 positive cases with 279 deaths.
Look Loy is perplexed as to why Concacaf didn’t follow the example of the Asian Football Confederation and postpone its qualifying campaign until 2021.
“I don’t know what Concacaf is seeing that I am not, because there are Covid restrictions in place all over the Caribbean right now,” he said. “How does football fit into governmental restrictions? That will be a serious issue.”
Look Loy does not anticipate that the suspension of the domestic game would have much impact on the Warriors, judging from Fenwick’s shortlist for their aborted friendly against Canada in March.
The English coach named 44 players divided equally into an ‘A’ and ‘B’ team for the friendlies. There were only six local-based names included: former teenaged San Juan Jabloteh forward Justin Araujo-Wilson (now at Czech National Football League club, FC Vysočina Jihlava), versatile Defence Force defender Curtis Gonzales, electric Club Sando winger Shaqkeem Joseph and the Terminix La Horquetta Rangers trio of playmaker Keron ‘Ball Pest’ Cummings, attacker Isaiah Lee and midfielder Jamal Creighton.
Incidentally, Rangers director Richard Ferguson did not allow his players to train with the national team anyway.
“Based on Fenwick’s approach to the two Canada friendlies that didn’t come off, he doesn’t intend to use many local players, so Covid restrictions won’t be an issue,” said Look Loy. “We will rely on foreign-based players and foreign-born players, who will not have any opportunity to come together and prepare. They will have to jump straight into it and rely on their own experience to see them through.”
But Look Loy suggested that the management of the National Senior Team was also being affected by the current instability.
“I am looking on and seeing [Adrian] Romain, [Keon] Trim and [Keith Jeffrey] being described as National Senior Team assistant coaches and I’m wondering whether Fenwick has gone completely off the reservation,” said Look Loy. “Who appointed them? The technical director and director of national teams are employees, so they don’t have the authority to appoint team staff.
“[…] But that shows again the extent to which our football has descended into chaos. The normalisation committee has been in charge for five or six months and literally done nothing, so people are doing what they want.
“Fenwick is a person who needs managing, which would have been the job of the [TTFA] technical committee.”
Ramdhan credited Hadad with facilitating improvements at the Home of Football and fixing the team bus. But there were a string of more pressing issues left unattended, from insurance matters, to coordinating refereeing courses, and dealing with frustrated creditors.
Hadad, according to Ramdhan, held the general secretary partially responsible for controversial contracts agreed with Peter Miller and Avec Sport before they went to to the TTFA Board. Ramdhan has already served Hadad with a pre-action protocol letter and intends to fight his suspension in court.
“When Hadad started, he said he knew nothing about football and he would listen to advice,” said Ramdhan. “But it seems that the only people advising him are Brent Sancho and David John-Williams. He told me that he speaks to David everyday and while David might have done some foolishness, he has a lot to contribute to football.
“I said if you are willing to engage David, then why not Wallace who is the immediate past president? But he does whatever he wants.”
With the Qatar campaign set to kick off, local football stakeholders appear stuck between its besieged elected officers, a hapless normalisation committee and an uncaring governing body.
And things are likely to get worse still.