Sat, Dec

Trinidad and Tobago defender Neveal Hackshaw about to cross the ball during a 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Bahamas at the Thomas A. Robinson Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas, on June 5th 2021.

TRINIDAD AND Tobago football is at its lowest point ever and in dire need of divine intervention in all aspects of the game.

So says Brian Williams, former 1989 Strike Squad defender, who believes the future of T&T football lies within the creative minds of ex-national players, who wish to one day, return the Soca Warriors to being one of the region’s most feared teams.

The 59-year-old dubbed T&T’s “disappointing” exit from the Concacaf World Cup qualifiers as a cause for “major concern” and called on former players to come together with the sole intention of reversing the team’s downward spiral.

Williams made these remarks following T&T’s 0-0 result against Bahamas on Saturday, which saw them unable to advance to the next Concacaf qualifying round and omitted from 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification.

“The major concern is where do we go from here?" asked Williams on Sunday. "The way we went out was embarrassing. People are disappointed. It was difficult for me to even carry high expectations for us to qualify for the World Cup.

“We are expected to go past teams like Bahamas. I think we got to look seriously in rebuilding our football. It cannot get any lower than this I think. We’re down and we need to get back up.

“We got to rebuild and put things in place with the footballing minds that we have available. Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy, Dennis Lawrence, Shaka Hislop, Brent Sancho, Clayton Morris, David Nakhid, myself and other footballing minds of the future have to come together,” he said.

Williams, a past national men's team assistant coach and former T&T Under-20 men’s coach, called on coach Terry Fenwick and the players to accept total responsibility for the upsetting result which ended all hopes of the nation’s presence at next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

While he thinks that last year’s legal wrangling between the T&T Football Association (TTFA) and FIFA, the challenges which followed (with FIFA appointing a normalisation committee to oversee the TTFA's affairs) and the covid19 pandemic may have had negative impacts on the team's preparations, Williams does not believe these issues should be used as scapegoats for the squad’s poor performance.

Prior to the Bahamas draw on Saturday, T&T defeated Guyana 3-0 (March 25) and drew 1-1 against Puerto Rico (March 28) in their other Group F qualifiers. St Kitts/Nevis, however, won all their three matches to date and, with an unassailable nine points, they will advance to the next stage of competition, despite the outcome of their final group clash against T&T on Tuesday. The T&T-St Kitts/Nevis match will take place at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Williams said, “I coach the game but I didn’t see any enthusiasm and drive by the players. You’re not seeing the players trying to play in some way to really win a football game.

“We got take responsibility, even as coach. Fenwick has to answer and take responsibility like everyone else. The coach, more so, is responsible for a team’s performance.

“When I looked at the game I saw nothing. All of us who represented the country and have it at heart were totally embarrassed with what we saw on Saturday. We have to get together and put our football administratively and in all other aspects, in place,” he added.

Similarly, former national captain and English Premier League striker Kenwyne Jones took to social media to voice his concerns on the team’s performance. He, however, was not critical of their showing but sought to encourage his fellow countrymen to find solutions to help T&T out of its current footballing demise.

Jones posted to Facebook, “To my friends, past teammates, put aside your fan view for a moment and be proactive, get qualified in sport business and administration, coaching at all levels to ensure that we help develop our sporting culture and practices in this country.

“It’s no use sitting at home now being critical of what we see now if we're not actively trying to be a part of the solution.”

Having arrived at the end of T&T’s 2022 World Cup qualification campaign, the squad will soon shift their focus to the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup.

T&T begins their Gold Cup quest against Montserrat, in a preliminary round match, on July 2 at the DRV PNK Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US. The winners of this match will play the winners of the Cuba-French Guiana fixture on July 6, for a chance to join Mexico, Curacao and El Salvador in Group A.

The group stage will run from July 10-20, followed by the knockout stage (July 24 to August 1).

Looking ahead to the Gold Cup qualifiers, Williams does not see much room for improvement with just over three weeks to go. He questioned the team’s strategy going forward.

“We cannot carry hopes into the Gold Cup. The Gold Cup is just a few weeks away. What do you see could be done in any meaningful to have a great impact in such a short space of time? What is our approach to this competition? We’re not on solid ground,” he said.

In conclusion, Williams agreed with Jones’ statement and believes all avenues of local football must be reassessed if T&T is to, once more, return to being a formidable force in the Caribbean.

“We have to go deep into disappointment. And we’re here. We have to deal with the reality of things; how football has been going in T&T, the challenges we had, the pandemic and how we can move forward.

“The talent gap among nations is closing but we are regressing. We should have been moving higher up the rankings (FIFA). What we need to do is to look seriously, including myself, to get involved to trying to assist the football and moving in the right direction.

“The answers are simple but several,” he closed.


Money for nothing
By Garth Wattley (T&T Express)

I would really like to know what Sheldon Bateau, Khaleem Hyland, Levi Garcia and company have been thinking in the days since last Saturday.

Yesterday they completed their World Cup qualifying programme against St Kitts and Nevis having already had their Qatar World Cup hopes ended. It must have been hard to get up for that match, the hangover from the failure to beat humble Bahamas lingering on. At least that would be my assumption.

But it is sometimes a difficult thing to read the minds of Trinidad and Tobago sportsmen in the current era.

Whatever your opinion of the tactics or lack thereof applied by coach Terry Fenwick against a team quite happy to pack its penalty area as if in a siege, one couldn’t help but notice the way the players themselves approached the game. There seemed a distinct lack of energy in their movement and in the pace with which they moved the ball. And the desperation with which the Bahamians defended their goal made it seem that they were the ones whose World Cup futures were still at stake.

Former national captain Clayton Morris, who knows something about playing in high-level matches, was disturbed by what he saw.

“You have to keep in mind you are representing your family, your club and, most important, your country. You are supposed to see that in your face.

“That team (Bahamas) was playing for pride. You playing against a team playing for pride, you supposed to have more pride because you have more at stake.

We were supposed to come with energy and enthusiasm ....It had to start with that personality and attitude...Somebody has to stand up and be counted as the leader,” he noted.

On Saturday, no T&T player was able to lift his game or his teammates to get the result they needed. Why not?

Surely, none of the starting 11 or the substitutes wanted to be associated with the embarrassment of elimination at the first stage, something that had never before happened to a T&T side. None of those players, you would think, was willing to become a target for disgruntled fans on social media or have such a failure on their playing resume. And yet, the Soca Warriors did not seem up for the fight at the Thomas Robinson Stadium.

Forget the actual result, it was not a good look.

Listening to skipper on the day Bateau’s comments afterwards, there was the expected expression of disappointment and acknowledgement of “some responsibility” for the 0-0 draw that was effectively a loss for T&T. However, there was not total ownership of the result.

Responding to what was going through his mind since Saturday, he said:“In my mind it’s so many things when you have a result like that, there’s always a lot of questions. We had lots of questions before the game, even more after the game. As players we have to accept some responsibility for the result. I think it’s just a reflection of some of the things that have been happening over the past years, weeks, months.”

“A reflection of some of the things that have been happening over the past years, weeks, months?” That is a loaded statement that could lead to much speculation.

The shambolic state of the TTFA administration, the lack of resources available to the coaching staff and the restrictions in preparation caused by Covid-19 are certainly factors that did not make it easy for a group of players pulled from different parts to get a result. But those elements should not explain why the Bahamian players, with nothing but pride to play for in the fixture, seemed to exert more effort and be more committed to their cause than the T&T squad.

The mindset just seemed wrong. Those T&T players did not seem to want to win badly enough. But that may not have been how they actually felt. It was as though the desire was in the brain, but only partly in the heart and not at all in the legs and feet. Or maybe it was that the Warriors were already looking ahead to the battle with St Kitts and took a win over the Bahamas as a given.

Whatever the case, technical director Dion La Foucade has a huge job in front of him.

Trying to get cooperation from a divided football community to execute development plans will be difficult enough. But what cannot be overlooked in all that comes next is how important it will be to determine what kind of football culture should exist in T&T and how it should be created.

As in other sports and areas of national life, the attitude to work has changed over the decades. A young person’s definition of hard work and commitment may be very different to that of his counterpart in the 1960s, 70s and even 80s.

More than their predecessors, athletes today may link what they give to what they can get. So the football authorities cannot take it for granted that players and coaches are speaking the same language now. They must acknowledge there is a difference and seek to address it in their programmes at all levels.

More cash for courses and training and salaries will mean very little in future if players at all levels do not understand or accept their roles. It will all be money for nothing.