EDITORIAL: FEW CAN deny that Stephen Hart has been the best national coach since the departure of Dutchman Leo Beenhakker in 2006. “Don Leo” took this nation to the 2006 FIFA World Cup but Hart, two games into the final round of qualifiers for the 2018 Road to Russia, has been fired.
Winless and second-to-last on the table, Hart’s tenure at the helm of local football has been cut short after three years following a string of poor results.
In football, it is the manager that is ultimately responsible for the performance or non-performance of the team. It is easier to change a coach than replace an entire team.
There have been varying opinions on whether the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) erred in sacking Hart, seeking to jump-start a stuttering campaign.
The question though is whether Hart deserved more time to turn things around or whether another individual can weave a bit of magic as Beenhakkker did 11 years ago after replacing Bertille St Clair.
Hart’s achievements seem to indicate that he was the best man for the job. Qualifying for the knockout stage in back-to-back Gold Cups is no easy feat, neither is topping a group which includes CONCACAF powerhouse Mexico.
In his term as coach, Hart has registered 16 wins, nine draws and 18 losses. Eight of those defeats came this year and Hart will feel there are mitigating circumstances to explain those defeats. The indiscretions of players — partying when they should be in camp (Kevin Molino, Joevin Jones and Mekeil Williams) brought questions as to the discipline of the team under Hart. Molino was eventually suspended for two matches last month which just happened to coincide with the hexagonal stage of World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica (0-2) and Honduras (1-3) which TT both lost.
The rise of attacking midfielder Keron Cummings under Hart last year eased the blow of Molino’s absence due to injury, and the 28-year-old, nicknamed “Ball Pest”, grabbed the opportunity with both hands. But Cummings would play zero matches for this country in 2016 owing to a gunshot wound to his leg suffered early on the morning of December 27, 2015, after returning from a boat ride.
Hart’s scouts identified former England Under-17 captain, John Bostock, as someone who would alleviate his midfield woes, but FIFA red tape as well as Bostock pulling out of the last qualifier against Honduras after finally getting FIFA clearance left Hart without creative central midfielders.
The 56-year-old former Canada coach has always been able to get results with little resources but looked to have been backed into a corner this time.
Indiscipline suddenly creeping into the team, failing to qualify for the Copa America Centenario competition, missing out on automatic Gold Cup qualification, beaten in the first two World Cup qualifiers, Hart was living on the edge and the TTFA has decided to pull the plug on his project.
It is interesting to note that several players have spoken out about their admiration for their former coach, feeling they have let him down by their performances. Their utterances only solidify the widely held belief that coaches are judged by their recent results. Against Honduras, TT looked lost especially in defence, which does not bode well for competitive football.
Down 2-0 in less that 20 minutes away from home, there was only going to be one outcome.
Against Costa Rica, the Soca Warriors appeared tentative and unwilling to take the risk of going for victory. Their limp effort resulted in a 2-0 defeat.
Although Hart has done tremendous work in bringing TT football back to relevance, the TTFA can hardly be admonished for feeling a change is needed to get the 2018 World Cup campaign on track.