Mon, Jan

Hart exam: T&T coach talks football philosophy, squad selection and the 2018 W/Cup

“I think football is about creating a balance,” Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Stephen Hart told Wired868. “The first thing you need to know is how you are going to recover the ball. If you cannot recover the ball, then you are in trouble.

“And when you recover the ball, depending on the part of the field you are, knowing how to play. Do you keep it or do you look to launch a counter-attack?”

Hart sat down with Wired868 for a wide ranging interview into the state of the “Soca Warriors”, the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cup tournaments, his tactical and player selections and the Russia 2018 World Cup campaign.

This is the second and final instalment of our Hart-to-heart:

Wired868: What was the trick with Kenwyne Jones? He seemed to have worked with you better than any other coach…

Hart: I think you would need to speak to Kenwyne about that. I try to always advise Kenwyne along certain lines and let him know if I am happy with what he is doing or if I am not happy with what he is doing. But I am also aware of the enormous strain he is under from the Trinidad public, which I think is unfair.

People don’t take into consideration the kind of attention other teams pay towards him. And what I’ve found is it has been very difficult to find a partner for Kenwyne who could create the type of service he would require.

He is not the typical Trinidad and Tobago striker who could pick up and make room for himself or beat his man. He requires service. So the difficulty was to create situations where the service was close enough to him to exploit the space he creates by being double marked and/or to feed off things that come off of him, which is what (Kevin) Molino did so very well.

Wired868: You think Kevin Molino is by far the best partner for Kenwyne?

Hart: Yes. Because Kevin played close to Kenwyne. The other ‘number 10s’ (attacking central midfielders), so to speak, have a habit of playing close to the midfield. And, quite frankly, if a team is defending and the (opposing) ‘number 10’ is playing in the middle of the park, they have done their job.

But if the ‘number 10’ is finding room on the top of the penalty box, then it creates a problem. And Kevin has the ability to find room on the top of the penalty area.

Wired868: Jonathan Glenn didn’t play a minute at the Gold Cup and I think he only played 10 minutes in the Caribbean Cup. What is the value that you think he brings to the team?

Hart: He is an excellent finisher. His finishing ability is probably the most composed in the squad. I think he will get his chance but Kenwyne was playing so well…

Glenn is a ‘nine’. He said he rarely ever plays wide. It is just a matter of biding his time and when he gets the opportunity…

Wired868: The younger players, Rundell Winchester and Kadeem Corbin, didn’t get a look in. Is it harder for new players to grow on you?

Hart: No. It was unfortunate but the way the team was playing at the time, it didn’t make sense changing up the squad for the sake of giving them experience in a tournament.

That is what happens with Trinidad and Tobago football at every level. We are going to tournaments for experience and the (part where we properly prepare players beforehand and provide them with the) experience so they can play in a tournament is severely lacking.

So it is very difficult for me at that point to know what would be coming off the bench with those younger players, even though Rundell is not so much of a risk as Corbin.

Wired868: And what about another newcomer, attacking midfielder Keron Cummings, who got into the team after injuries to Molino and Hughtun Hector?

Hart: I think his attitude was good in that he came in listening… I told him there are  two potential positions you could play and if you do this you would have a very good chance of playing.

But even in the first half of the Mexico game, he started off doing what I told him I didn’t pick him in the past for. Which is he was getting comfortable with the midfielders (and playing too deep). (He would) bounce a ball and get it back but really not do anything (to effect the game).

At half time, the basic knowledge passed to him was get close to Kenwyne and feed off anything that comes to him. (Cummings went on to score twice in the second half with both goals coming from assists by Jones).

Wired868: What do you think of the composition of the squad?

Hart: I think there is a lot of room for improvement and the fact that we had two centre backs playing full back speaks for itself. In my opinion, Aubrey David has the option to be a very good centre back.

I like Cyrus a lot at full back because he gives you so much. But he still has a lot to learn about being a full back. His positioning can be better.

Mekeil did his best but it was a huge learning curve for him. He was put in the left back position (although he is) a centre back (for his club)…

Soon we will get the Hoytes (Justin and Gavin) back, who can both play full back. Especially Gavin. Their In Stats ratings are very high. Gavin in particular has the ability to play stopper.

Wired868: What type of player do you think is missing on the team or you feel you can do with more of?

Hart: I think people underestimate the kind of tournament Kevan George had but he was outstanding. He broke up so many players by taking away passing lanes. (And) he kept popping up with the ball in crucial times.

His energy in the midfield and his ability to cover the attacking partner in the midfield and protect his two centre backs was outstanding. A second player to do that job with the same sort of physical qualities would be a big asset.

Wired868: Isn’t that what Dwane James is supposed to be?

Hart: Yes but to be fair to Dwane he is still learning the midfield position at North East and the international learning curve seemed to be a bit fast for him to adapt. He looked far more comfortable in training as a full back.

Wired868: And what about a playmaker who can help us keep the ball better?

Hart: Well that search will continue. Certainly Cummings can do that and Ataulla (Guerra) has the ability to do that but they both have the habit of doing it on the wrong part of the field.

If you look at the other ‘10s’, they come off the defence looking for the ball in pockets like the Mexican (playmakers).

(He explained that Mexico employed a floating ‘10’ rather than one particular player, as Andres Guardado, Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos all played the role at times).

And look how much damage (Michael) Bradley did popping up as a sort of quasi-10 for the US.

Our ‘number 10s’ play too far away from the ‘9’, ‘7’ and ‘11’ (centre forward, right winger and left back). And they play closer to the ‘8’ and the ‘4’ (holding central midfielders) which is not what we want.

Wired868: And what about the deep-lying playmaker that we had before like David Nakhid or even Densill Theobald? Is there a role for that kind of player now?

Hart: Yes. If you could find one for me. But I don’t think we have anything in that mould so to speak.

Andre Boucaud is one who helps us keep the ball very well and every time he came on in this tournament, he settled us down. Because he always tends to be available and, if you look at his passing statistics, he was exceptionally good.

He also has the tendency to make the forward pass rather than the square pass. But his passing range is not like Nakhid’s.

Wired868: So you would like an athletic, combative midfielder?

Hart: No. Not necessarily. I would like a bit more variety in the role of ‘10’ and in the position of the midfield (anchor) so it gives me a bit more tactical variation that I could work with.

So if I need two out and out holding midfielders so I can release four or five players up the field and feel comfortable I can defend, then fine. There are games I would gladly go in doing that.

And if I can get a ‘10’ that can create opportunities for ‘7’, ‘11’ and ‘9’ (right winger, left winger and centre forward) and score some goals, I would gladly accept that…

I think both my goalkeepers (Jan-Michael Williams and Marvin Phillip) are highly underrated by the way. They are two very good goalkeepers and, by goalkeeping standards, they are young.

Wired868: Apart from Corbin, any other national youth players you can see being fast tracked into the senior team for the 2018 World Cup campaign?

Hart: Given the right situation, if they are playing regularly with their clubs.

(He named five National Under-23 players that he is watching closely. But he did not want their names published as he felt it might put additional pressure on the young men).

Wired868: Will we go back to the 4-3-3 formation that you tried to implement at the Gold Cup? Or has that been scrapped?

Hart: Let me just say that the adaptation to the 4-3-3 seemed to be a bit too complex for the players in the time frame that we had. We were losing shape way too easily…

(He gave a detailed breakdown of the two main variations of the 4-3-3 he attempted to use and explained how each would affect the shape and responsibilities of his midfielders, attackers and full backs. However, he preferred not to reveal those ideas publicly).

With the 4-3-3, I could have gotten the best technical players, on paper, on the field. But somehow I think some of those players don’t want to hear anything with the word ‘tactic’ in it.

(He explained how the movement of some players in key roles could cause the collapse of the 4-3-3 system and why he felt it became too much of a risk).

Wired868: Would you say you are pragmatic coach? Do you set up your team not to be beaten and then anything else is a bonus?

Hart: I think football is about creating a balance. The first thing you need to know is how you are going to recover the ball. If you cannot recover the ball, then you are in trouble. And when you recover the ball, depending on the part of the field you are, knowing how to play.

Do you keep it or do you look to launch a counter-attack? What is required?

But the first thing is creating some sort of balance.

Wired868: Do you see Trinidad and Tobago primarily as a counter-attacking team now?

Hart: I would say in the timeframe I had to work with the team, it was easier to put that in place. But it is one of our weapons. Yes.

Wired868: Have you signed your new job contract yet?

(His contract as head coach expired at the 2015 Gold Cup).

Hart: No. We are still in negotiations.

Wired868: Anything you’re looking for that you can reveal? I know that before you did not have performance bonuses…

Hart: Well it is not so much about me as (it is about) the capacity to give us what is necessary come the World Cup qualification campaign. I think those things must be seriously discussed.

It is not just what I get out of this but do we have everything covered for the players and staff, do we have everything covered in terms of (practice) games (and) the equipment to physically prepare properly. You know. Everything that goes with a proper World Cup campaign…

Wired868: And I assume you have asked the TTFA to make the In Stats software available?

Hart: Of course. In Stats was a tremendous help for me both in keeping track of my players as they played every weekend (with their clubs) and (to monitor) the opposition. (It also gives) a breakdown of my team and every single pass (made during the game); if it was backward, forward or square, completion or not completion, every dribble, every touch of the ball broken down by player…

Wired868: What for you is an adequate working environment?

Hart: Well, first to begin, it would be nice to have a working budget. So we would know we can go out and sign contracts and nail down games months in advance.

We and the players should know this is what we will be receiving contractually and we would get it upon arrival. And of course that includes staff. So we will not have anything to worry about.

This is extremely important because a lot of the staff take time off from work… (I have) a tremendous support staff (and) they have to be taken care of…

Wired868: Ideally what games will you like to get before the World Cup qualifying campaign?

Hart: The first thing is just to play on every single FIFA date. To play home and away. FIFA dates don’t allow us to train together anymore. So the main thing is to play the games (and), regardless of the outcome of the games, get the players working together on a consistent basis. And to play (our friendlies) on a home and away basis (as we will during the qualifying campaign).

Hopefully (I want to play) against Latin American teams and, depending on how the fixtures come out, play a team that will play similar to the United States.

Wired868: What team plays similar to the United States?

Hart: We would probably have to go to Europe for that.

Wired868: What about the Copa America Play Off against Haiti?

Hart: We can’t get a firm date on that and it is actually hindering us going out and looking for teams to play (in the upcoming FIFA windows). Because we don’t want to sign a contract and then (CONCACAF says) we have to play Haiti then.

Wired868: Is the Play Off a one-off game or a two-legged contest?

Hart: I have no idea. CONCACAF can’t seem to tell us.

(He shook his head disapprovingly).

Wired868: So we just have the Mexico warm-up game?

Hart: We have a few more things in the works but the Mexico game is the only contract that was signed.

There are six FIFA match days between now and the start of the World Cup qualifiers. I hope to use them all. But, if I can’t, I would prefer to play on the second date so I can have the players together for a longer period of time.

Wired868: What about the national players who are not playing competitive football now or might not even be attached to clubs?

Hart: Hopefully, I can shortlist some of them and they can work consistently with (fitness trainer) Tobias Ottley… It is going to be difficult for them, let’s face it.

Wired868: Any local-based camps planned or that you would like to have?

Hart: At this point, I think it is a little complicated. There certainly can’t be one in August because of the CONCACAF Champions League as too many players would be missing.

We may be able to have one after the (Mexico) game in September. But that depends on our finances.

Wired868: What’s the value of the next three months for you as World Cup coach?

Hart: Two things. One is to start to play some games so we can keep together as much as possible. See players and experiment with players. The games have no value except for the fans. The real value for us is in building the team again to (play in the 2018 World Cup qualifying tournament).

Wired868: Thanks for your time, coach.

Hart: No problem.