Sat, Sep


"So how is Bertille going?" asked Dwight Yorke.

Almost with exception, the former Trinidad and Tobago international star starts every interview with a question about the welfare of the national team or its coach and his mentor, Bertille St Clair.

I always oblige with the latest bits of gossip but nothing seems to surprise Yorke and I get the impression he already knows most of what I say.

The fact that, on Saturday, the Birmingham City striker opened with an enquiry about St Clair rather than the "Soca Warriors" told its own story in my judgment.

He probably knows my follow-up question before I ask but it never ceases to amuse him anyway.

"Are you ready to put on national colours again?"

Out flashes the whites of his teeth in his trademark grin, as he proceeds to virtually rules himself out of contention.

In an age where everyone is "110 per cent" or "150 per cent" committed for or against something, Yorke shows a much more perceptive grasp of arithmetic.

He is 99 per cent certain that he has played his last international game.

Yet surely if were to return to international duty, he would have done it by now with Trinidad and Tobago set to enter the final round of World Cup qualifiers.

After a 30-minute discourse on Birmingham's stuttering English Premier League campaign and his publicised recent run-in with a racist football fan, I sensed the mood was right to return to the topic of his international career for the first time.

Three and half years have passed since Yorke quit international football for the second time in two weeks and, almost certainly, the last.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that his international career lasted the 13 years it did.

Throughout his life in red, white and black colours, Yorke had been loved and mocked by local fans while regularly clashing with local administrators.

But was there something especially different about his last fall out in August 2001 when he and his close friend and equally gifted player, Russell Latapy, submitted resignation letters after being dropped by new coach Brazilian Rene Simoes?

I explained what I had pieced together over the years of two special players who stood out, on and off the ball, whenever the Trinidad and Tobago team got together.

Their superior abilities on the field were matched by preferential treatment off it with the support, if not prompting, of CONCACAF president and Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) special adviser Jack Warner.

Yorke and Latapy were allowed separate accommodation, travel arrangements and match fees while coaches were advised to treat them with deference.

But dismal returns in the final 2002 World Cup qualifying round turned public opinion against the team.

Simoes, who had steered Jamaica to the 1998 World Cup tournament, believed that the latitude afforded to Yorke and Latapy had drastically affected team spirit and read the riot act before dropping the pair for missing training.

Instead of admitting his role and offering support, though, Warner responded by calling Yorke's behaviour "a cancer to the game" and local supporters were so incensed that the pair was advised to stay away from the venue of the subsequent qualifier for their own safety.

My conspiracy theory was worthy of Mel Gibson.

But Yorke did not correct me once in my tale of when two wrongs did not make a "Dwight".

He picked up where I left off.

"Yes, I felt I was a scapegoat," said Yorke, the smile had long disappeared. "The people in charge know exactly what went on. As a player who achieved so much in the game that no one else in the team came close to achieving "

His final sentence suggested some personal justification for the leeway he received and enjoyed.

But there were hints too at more sinister machinations within the TTFF that, although Yorke did not orchestrate, he was not averse to benefiting from.

When things soured, Yorke and Latapy-arguably T&T's most successful and gifted player respectively of all-time-took the fall alone.

Yorke claimed to have made peace within himself but he has not forgotten.

The reason why he will not wear national colours again is due to his fall-out with Warner.

On Saturday, three and a half years later, he finally told his side.

"Jack (Warner) knows if there is only one person who can tell him to stick his money up himself, it is me," said Yorke. "While everyone else around him rely on him for their income mine comes from the clubs who paid me throughout the years.

"I think maybe they saw me as a threat because I knew so much about what goes on inside the Trinidad and Tobago FA."

The parting was not amicable and Yorke reasoned that, if the national team was Warner's plaything and the veteran administrator had discarded the player, then he would just pack it in and leave him to it.

But he insisted that there is no lingering animosity.

Yorke said that he had good relations with Warner's wife and sons and still thought warmly of them.

He remembered too when Warner kept him at his home before he signed for Villa and is grateful for the role he played in his life then.

But the time had come for them to go their separate ways.

"I don't have a problem with him despite what he or others might think," said Yorke. "I just do not need the TTFA's money. It is as simple as that and not many other players coming from Trinidad can say that.

"Maybe that was a problem."

He revealed that he still grappled with nostalgia whenever a World Cup loomed.

The 1989 "Strike Squad" holds a special place in his heart although he said he was too young to properly analyse the campaign and what might have gone wrong.

"I was young and naive but I was just enjoying the excitement of it all," he said. "The Strike Squad was totally local so we had that special bond while there were people like Michael Maurice with 100-plus caps so the experience was there in the team too

"In 2002 (campaign), we had a lot of pros and experience and youth so it was a great opportunity but again we fell by the wayside."

He still remembers the controversial 2000 Gold Cup when Trinidad and Tobago reached the semi-final stage for the first time before losing 1-0 to Canada and took time to respond to another myth.

Yorke was bitterly disappointed when St Clair was sacked after the tournament although he absolved Warner of any blame for his fleeting performance in the competition.

Yorke was allowed to return to England and represent Manchester United in a Premiership match, which ruled him out of a quarterfinal clash with Costa Rica.

Trinidad and Tobago won 2-1 without him thanks to a golden goal from the late Mickey Trotman, but Yorke returned to the United States with an injury and was ruled out of the semi-final as well.

But Yorke explained that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and not Warner, had made it almost impossible for him to play.

"Manchester United made the final decision in many ways," said Yorke. "I had gotten injured playing for United but struggled and played and scored for them. But then they would not let me play for my country and I was genuinely injured so what could I do?

"Representing your country is one thing but Man United were my employers and I had to listen to them."

Yorke said he still had only good thoughts about Trinidad and Tobago and their efforts to qualify for a World Cup.

"I still support them and I wish them all the best," he said.

The smile was back on his face.

But the national red, white and black will never be on his back again.