Fri, May

Fenwick: Restart football in 'bubble'

Kickstarting a World Cup campaign while banned by FIFA is a scenario T&T men's football coach Terry Fenwick never envisaged when he got the job on December 19, 2019.

Eleven months later, that is the reality for Fenwick. who has also yet to see his team play a competitive – or even a friendly – match. He has also yet to receive his salary.

The former England international had two friendlies against Canada lined up in March, but the outbreak of covid19 scuppered those plans.

The pandemic turned out to be just the first wave in a tsunami of troubles to hit local football.

On March 17, FIFA appointed a normalisation committee to take charge of T&T football, replacing the William Wallace-led executive. A six-month legal battle ensued and culminated in a September 24 ban handed down by FIFA.

FIFA suspended the TTFA after Wallace's executive insisted on challenging its removal in the local High Court and not the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

FIFA said the suspension will only be lifted when the TTFA fully complies with its obligations as a member of FIFA, including recognising the legitimacy of the committee and bringing its own statutes into line with the FIFA statutes.

If the suspension is not lifted by December 18, T&T could miss the 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifiers.

With Wallace's recent decision to withdraw all legal challenges against FIFA and acquiesce to the wishes of the TTFA membership to accept the normalisation committee, it is a race against time to meet the obligations FIFA has outlined.

However, Fenwick believes T&T cannot wait till December, as the national programme is way behind its regional and international competition.

"We're already behind," Fenwick told Newsday on Monday.

Fenwick recently wrote to National Security Minister Stuart Young seeking to organise training and friendly matches to get the national programme jumpstarted ahead of the November 9-19 FIFA international window.

In the letter, Fenwick said, "Domestic football here in T&T has come to a complete standstill over the last year because of the same political dispute surrounding the United TTFA and their clash with FIFA, the governing body of world football. I am in hope that these issues have now been resolved and we as a nation can move on and compete in world football.

"I would like to bring to your attention that 'elite football' involving all the main domestic leagues around the world and international football has resumed everywhere but here in T&T. I ask for your consideration and help to get T&T elite football off the ground and back up and running. We need the nation to be positive and proud of our national football teams. Please help us get back on track."

Fenwick's proposal involved resuming training at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on November 2 with a doctor present and all players being checked for covid19 symptoms before every session.

Fenwick said the measures used to host the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) can be adopted.

"I humbly request the same 'bubble' that was afforded to CPL cricket back in August/September 2020."

He said to get the T&T players back in some competitive action, a Tobago versus Trinidad game would be held around November 12-17.

"Great for both islands and extremely positive. On the heels of that, we would also like to have a game against neighbours Grenada, 28-29 of November, to get back on track."

Fenwick said it has been difficult to execute plans while T&T is banned and covid19 restrictions are in place. He noted a Saudi Arabia friendly that was on the cards had to be cancelled after T&T was suspended. Instead, Saudi Arabia has arranged two friendlies against the Reggae Boyz on November 14 and 17.

Fenwick also said he needs a travel exemption to scout opposition and look at overseas-based players and those eligible to represent T&T.

"It's important to catch up with what's happening in the region and find out a bit more about out opponents. There is nothing better than seeing them live."

He said local players have played no football for the entire year, which will hamstring the team heading into World Cup qualifiers.

He said with the United Kingdom about to enter a month-long lockdown and the US also taking preventative measures, club will be extremely hesitant about releasing players.

"These club sides will not want players leaving outside a FIFA window. I'm gonna have to put a side together that's experienced and been around the block. There is no Pro League, there is no Super League. There is gonna be just four to five days (training) before my first (competitive) game.

"I've set up a WhatsApp group with local players and talents from overseas to try to bond but it's all futile until I get them on a training ground."

Fenwick held a recent meeting with national security officials and outlined his proposal.

But, he said, "Lots of people are speculating and with all due respect, I'm working hard behind the scenes on players' passports and other plans. We are trying to shortcut so when suspension is lifted we are ready to operate."

Fenwick listed a squad of 33 players to start training. He said the squad will be adjusted when overseas players become available.