Wed, Dec


Even before last Sunday’s international friendly, T&T-born Dr Mario John, an Orlando-based orthopaedic surgeon looked me in the eye and asked, “Man, how have you dealt with this for 20 years?” I looked at him and smiled. I didn’t say much.

This was the first day of the six-day camp at the Omni Championsgate, Orlando and we had more important things to focus on in relation to the upcoming international friendly with the United States.

We were barely 24 hours into our stay and Mario, the FA's chief medical officer for the tour, had already been through much from dealing with players, communicating by the hour with US Soccer to ensure our team was compliant with all the requirements, ensuring our team was receiving everything that had been requested, basically being part of a system to ensure all measures were in place for a national team in the build-up to international football.

Now, remember our team was heading into its first match in over a year and we were welcoming close to a handful of players who were entering our camp for the first time. So you could imagine the challenges were not as few as one would like.

I would give my answer to Mario’s earlier question on the night of the 7-0 loss at Exploria Stadium.

“You learn not to overly despair after suffering a defeat, as heavy as it is, regardless of the circumstances. You reflect, learn from what went wrong, move forward and focus on helping execute a plan to succeed into action. You stand ground.”

I might have sounded confident and less emotional but truth be told, I only got a hang of this maybe 10 to 12 years into my tenure with the national team. I had basically seen it all by then, from faltering in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers to missing out on Gold Cup qualifying after failing at Caribbean Cup level, to losing 5-1 away to Guatemala preceding the heights of beating Bahrain and then holding Sweden 0-0 in Germany, then plummeting again, losing a World Cup qualifier at home to Bermuda, failing to qualify for a Gold Cup until 2013. The list goes on.

I’ve learnt over the years that there are times when it’s not yet right to press the panic button but instead focus on the way forward. For me, the key to dealing with such outcomes lies in the process of effectively reviewing and giving feedback back on the performance. Only then can you formulate the potential solutions.

For this particular game, I think because of the T&T versus USA history and the fact that it was our first international game in so long, the supporter expectation prior to the game had been whipped to fever pitch. And yet, for all the hype and little preparation, we were clearly beaten by a better side. And the backlash has been massive.

I cannot recall there even me half the concerns and dismay expressed when we lost 6-0 to the US in the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup where really you would expect the disappointment to be greater due to the prestige and importance of such a competition. It seemed hardly anyone cared back in 2019. But this time has proven to be different.

There were over 300 T&T fans at the match. They whipped up a tailgate affair and we would hear the sounds of the rhythm section as the bus drove into the stadium. It was a welcomed sight and sound for us. But it didn't end there. We were down 4-0 at half time and as Mario and I approached the tunnel leading to the locker room at half time, we were greeted by this man clad in T&T colours belting out the expletives in local palance from the stand right above.

"All ya wasting time," he repeated maybe four times in ten seconds as other players also walked by. It may have been harsh but it demonstrated pain and passion by a T&T national, he wanted better and we had disappointed him.

I kept my face straight and continued walking as upright as possible. After all, I had bags of urine thrown at me and other members of the staff following the 2-1 win over Guatemala in 2016 in one of many colourful episodes.

Though the score was a reality check, it is a reality check that needs to be put into perspective.

For any coach or team going through such an ideal, it is important that the parties involved be in a position to deliver almost everything effectively from planning to preparation and execution, in victory and defeat. “Know thyself”, a Greek maxim says that understanding how you deal with things helps you explain your actions.

Over the years, I found a mechanism for dealing with defeat. It was a process that allowed me to get over the result and move forward to a place where I could think clearly and therefore assess the performance in a balanced, clear and objective manner. This has helped me with my duties and generally how I manage all media relations at the national team level, also when I’ve worked at FIFA and CONCACAF events and even with my family business.

No matter what strategies you put in place, how committed you are, or how much effort you put into something, sometimes you will face a situation where the differences between you and the competition are such that the outcome becomes inevitable. You can only push on despite the circumstances or odds there may be against you.

In sport, there will always be victories and defeats, the highs and the lows. You have to recognise that in every scenario and every situation there are key experiences that you can learn from and draw on in the years to come.

Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey The views expressed are solely his and not a representation of any organisation.

SOURCE: T&T Guardian