As a former Trinidad and Tobago international and with nearly 20 years of European football under his belt, Russell Latapy has just about experienced everything there is to experience in football.
Now, he is trying to pass that experience on as Head Coach of the Barbados National Team, and things are off to a good start after a first-place finish in Group A of League C of the 2019-20 Concacaf Nations League, earning Barbados a spot in the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup qualifiers and promotion to League B.
“It has been a positive year. It’s challenging when you come into a team and you go straight into a competition. You need to get to know the players, they need to understand you, your style of play, it is always challenging but it has been a positive year. One of our main objectives was to get out of League C and get to League B and we achieved that and now we are sitting here with the opportunity that we might be able to go to the Gold Cup,” said Latapy in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com.
For Latapy, the biggest hurdle has been the lack of a professional league in Barbados, however, he is seeing glimpses that his players are beginning to understand what it takes to excel at a higher level.
“If you play teams with professional players with professional attitudes and mentality, it’s difficult to compete against that if you don’t show the same type of mentality, so that was one of the challenges at the beginning, which was to get the players to be more professional and believe in themselves. I think over the last year we have achieved that and we have gotten better,” said Latapy.
Helping Latapy’s effort is the fact that Barbados is brimming with young talent, which Latapy has began to mold since taking over in April 2019.
“We have a fairly young team, which is really good. Young players want to learn, I think for me it is an advantage to have young players who want to have a career in professional football and that makes teaching a lot easier,” said Latapy.
Those young Barbados players were faced with a stiff test in their League C finale against Cayman Islands. For Barbados, only a win would suffice to keep their Gold Cup dreams alive and earn a place in League B. The Bajan Tridents never wavered and collected a 3-0 win, thanks in part to Latapy’s crucial decision to rest some of his players in the previous matchday against Saint Martin (a 1-0 defeat).
“Winning the Cayman Islands was fantastic for the young players. It gave them a lot of belief moving forward. We knew that no matter what, we had to win at home, so I had the opportunity to rest some players. The result in Saint Martin was disappointing, but we had to keep your eyes on the big picture which was the game against the Cayman Islands and it showed in the last 25-30 minutes in which we were fresher,” said Latapy.
Just two opponents stand in Barbados’ way to reach the 2021 Gold Cup, which would be the first ever for the nation. Latapy knows that a Gold Cup qualification would do wonders to help grow football in Barbados.
“The reality is that for young sportsmen in Barbados, cricket is the sport they gravitate to because they can see themselves having a future in cricket in terms of playing for the West Indies. Barbados has never qualified for a major tournament and if we were able to do it, I think it will the result would be more support for the game. We would get more kids playing and it would get the whole country and economy a boost as well,” said Latapy.
As a former player from the Caribbean region, Latapy has welcomed the advent of the Concacaf Nations League with open arms, especially for the opportunities that it affords for young players.
“The thing for young players is that you have to play at that high international level to gain experience and I think the CNL has afforded the Caribbean islands more international games, more international exposure to play at that level and bring more funding into their associations. It's great for young players and gives them the belief that they can compete with players that they watch on television and give them a career in the game. For me, the way I see it, in terms of playing side, there are only benefits,” concluded Latapy.