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Trinidad and Tobago and Canada U-20 players confront one another during a Concacaf U-20 qualifier at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on Tuesday, February 27th 2024.

Every weekday afternoon in the Aranjuez Savannah, as I am sure prevails in most open green spaces throughout the country, there are several groups of youngsters (mostly male, but a few females as well) going through football drills with the guidance of their coaches.

In this specific case there are at least six groups, ranging in age from primary school level to what looks like Under-20s, and there appears to be no lack of effort and enthusiasm notwithstanding the blistering heat, which mercifully eases off as sunset approaches.

Even when the formal proceedings are over and the cones and other paraphernalia are packed away, there are always at least a handful who stay back to do their own thing under the floodlights.

Give some a chance and it looks like they will keep at it until the next proper training session gets underway the following afternoon.

So where does all that energy go when it’s time to wear the national colours? Is it an attitude issue? Or maybe a reflection of the nation’s poor work ethic?

Are our coaches at fault in failing to motivate their charges and maximise the obvious potential? Are they implementing systems and styles of play which are inherently deficient?

In the aftermath of the thoroughly lacklustre showing of the home side in their decisive final game of CONCACAF group qualification last Tuesday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, I had initially intended to focus on the comments of head coach Brian Haynes, both before and after that 3-0 loss to Canada.

However, Haynes is not really the issue here, even if some of his utterances make no sense at all.

There have been many different coaches across the age-group levels and the senior team – both male and female – before him and doubtless there will be many to follow him, presiding over performances which all have a common thread: lack of consistent pace, failing to put opponents under pressure in their own half of the pitch, giving up possession too easily, defence all over the place, and fatigue later in the game leading to more errors as concentration and cohesion go out the window.

Of course there are exceptions, yet these are so few and so very far between as to prove the rule, which is that talent and skill alone can never compensate for serious deficiencies in discipline and work-rate.

In the days when audiences in excess of 15,000 per night routinely attended such tournaments —so no-one was caught unawares and fans had to be locked out despite 13,000 empty seats— the likes of Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy and Clint Marcelle provided considerable thrills and excitement.

Yet the results were essentially the same and we were all left to wonder what could have been.

Almost 40 years later we are hardly stirred by such disappointments because in the same way that taking in news of multiple murders overnight is as much of a morning routine as doubles, papers and coconut water, our level of desensitisation is such that the latest sporting setback prompts little more than a “what-you-go-do?” shoulder shrug.

So how do you break this cycle of dysfunction to give the next generation of aspiring footballers a better than fighting chance of not only fulfilling their potential but taking the national game to another level where world-class standards of fitness and an uncompromising work ethic are non-negotiables? First we have to acknowledge that it is indeed a cycle of dysfunction.

Unfortunately, as with what prevails in wider society in relation to corruption and the disintegration of law and order, there are more than enough powerful and influential people who are content to have things just as they are, and indeed will go to great lengths to ensure the maintenance of the status quo.

It is in this context that next month’s Trinidad and Tobago Football Association election is really an irrelevance, although much attention will be paid on what the contenders are putting on the table and what they are promising to do if elected.

Unless their track record shows a willingness to buck the trend, how is it even possible to anticipate a different type of leadership which may actually put the interest of football and footballers first?

Then again, even if some well-meaning revolutionary were to somehow prevail, there is always FIFA waiting in the wings to wield the big stick and ensure you toe their line or prepare for life without their precious funding and the death-knell of international isolation.

Yet the youngsters will keep on turning up after school for their training drills with most dreaming big dreams.

If only we could collectively lift our heads above selfish agendas we may actually become facilitators of a new status quo and eventually change the storylines from games like the one against Canada.

SOURCE: T&T Express