FORMER senior men’s national coach Stephen Hart says he is glad the court process for his lawsuit against the T&T Football Association (TTFA) is over, but he believes the team did not get to “finish what they started” under his tenure.
At a High Court ruling, on Tuesday, Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell ordered the TTFA to pay Hart $5 million for wrongful dismissal and unpaid salaries and bonuses. The TTFA offered no defence.
Hart took up the job of head coach in June 2013 but was fired in November 2016 under current TTFA president David John-Williams, who was elected in 2015.
He filed the action against the TTFA in 2017. The money owed to him does not include damages, as he did not seek additional compensation.
Speaking with Newsday yesterday, Hart said while he expected to win the case, he knew anything could happen. He said he still can’t believe it is finally over.
“I’m glad that segment of it is over. I mean, it took so many years to reach to this point.
“One segment of it is finished and I think there’s still a very long way to go. It’s one thing to win a judgment, it’s another thing completely to collect.”
Asked if he felt he could have achieved more with the team if he had remained head coach, he said, “To be honest with you, when you’re coaching or even when you’re a player, you always know you’re going to have some ups and downs.
“But I had a strong belief in those players. We had a good working relationship and I felt that we could have turned things around when certain players became healthy and were able to go again. That’s a big part of the game. But all of that is just speculation.”
He did not wish to give his thoughts on the state of TT’s national teams but said recent results are “self-explanatory.”
“I would rather not comment about that because I am not really privy to what’s going on on the inside.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment about somebody else’s work and difficulties they might be facing.”
The current head coach is former national defender Dennis Lawrence. He began his tenure in January 2017 and has a record of six wins, eight draws and 20 losses in 34 matches.
Hart coached TT for 43 matches, leading them to 16 wins, nine draws and 17 losses.
On Tuesday Newsday spoke with former national captain Kenwyn Jones, who said Hart had breathed “fresh new life” into T&T football during his tenure.
In response, Hart said the agreement between him and the players was that they were the ones responsible for “bringing the public back to football.”
“If you look at what it (the state of T&T football) was when I came in, I think we were 100th in the (FIFA) world (rankings). We went up to 54th, I believe.
“But more importantly, we started to bring a certain joy to the public. The stands were packed.
“We had our ups and downs, but we were competitive, we qualified for the Hex (Hexagonal round of the Concacaf World Cup qualifiers).”
Hart’s dismissal came just after T&T fell 0-2 to Costa Rica and 1-3 to Honduras in the Hexagonal round, with the team failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
“The Hex was always going to a complicated situation – but not impossible. Those players and myself, along with my staff, we had a belief in each other that we could do it.
“And even though at the time we (staff) weren’t getting paid – the players didn’t know that we weren’t getting paid either – but we all felt we had a common goal to make things happen and to achieve. And unfortunately, we didn’t get to finish what we started.”
On the possibility of his returning as a national coach, he said, “That is another discussion completely, because when you come into a situation, you look at potential programming.
“When I came in the first time, I knew it was going to be extremely difficult, because I only had about ten days to prepare for the Gold Cup, and I was quite prepared to come in. And if things didn’t go well, then decisions were gonna be made.”
He led the team to the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cups, with the team reaching the knockout stage on both occasions.
“Fortunately, things went better than expected, and it created some sort of belief.“So I would have to look at a number of situations.”
Hart lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, and is head coach of FX Wanderers FC in the Canadian Premier League.
SOURCE: T&T Newsday