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Shaka offers to soothe Sunderland.Shaka Hislop's oratory and charisma are now standard fare in his profession as an ESPN commentator and UK Guardian columnist. And the former Trinidad and Tobago 2006 World Cup standout is ready to use his experience and credibility, on and off the field, to help the "Soca Warriors" in their South Africa 2010 campaign.

 

 

Hislop, the first president of the Football Players Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), offered to help the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) improve relations with the foreign employers of their top players in the wake of a public spat between FIFA vice-president and T&TFF special adviser Jack Warner and Sunderland manager Roy Keane.

Keane and Warner traded insults after the England Premier League manager ordered national icon and Sunderland midfielder, Dwight Yorke, to miss a World Cup qualifier away to the United States on September 10.

Hislop, who was once the England Premiership's most expensive goalkeeper and is the only foreigner after Brazilian legend Pele to receive an England PFA Special Merit award, is convinced that FPATT can play a crucial role in the negotiations between club and country, which can be vital to the Warriors' qualification chances.

"From my experience, the TTFF has never negotiated directly with any club I played for," said the former Newcastle, Portsmouth and West Ham custodian. "We have offered to be the go-between but they never accepted. I still think that, with FPATT's help, there would have never been that ridiculous exchange between Warner and Keane that was damaging to football and, in particular, Trinidad and Tobago football."

Hislop insisted that most international players-not just from Trinidad and Tobago-feel pressured by their clubs from time to time. He pointed to Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard's recent minor surgery, ordered by his club, which ruled him out of a crucial World Cup qualifier for England but ensured he was ready for Liverpool's next Premiership fixture.

Like Gerrard and Trinidad and Tobago captain Dwight Yorke, Hislop believes the players are usually the ones to suffer and suggested that more should be done to improve relations rather than merely invoking FIFA's bylaws.

Hislop, a recent inductee in the local sport Hall of Fame, insisted that Yorke was a victim of a lack of dialogue between the two parties.

"I think Dwight has been dragged into this through no fault of his own," said Hislop. "Contrary to what some people have said, (his international future) wasn't a topic of conversation before he signed his new contract at Sunderland. It only came up when he decided to return (to the national side).

"All international players are aware of this pressure although it is usually handled quietly behind closed doors it is not just small countries. A lot of big countries sit with club owners and managers and discuss their concerns so they don't have these types of disputes that drag football down and have hurt Sunderland and Trinidad and Tobago."

He suggested that the T&TFF was often disinterested in building bridges and preferred to use FIFA's influence to strong arm clubs. FPATT prefers an approach that is as respectful to the players' careers as it is to the needs of the national side.

"I think some diplomacy and courtesy will go a long way towards minimizing these problems," said Hislop. "Instead, we have been neglecting that and it just blew up in our face in the international media last week."

The FPATT boss was not surprised by Keane's assertion that Sunderland were stuck with a massive medical bill after forward Kenwyne Jones was injured during Trinidad and Tobago's Centennial match against England in June. Jones has not played since, although he recently returned to the training ground.

When FPATT attempted to open dialogue with the T&TFF in February, Warner suggested that the T&TFF follow the European model where nations were negotiating directly with the "G14" clubs-a consortium of Europe's most influential teams-on the use of their players.

But Hislop insisted that the T&TFF had not followed the G14 pact either as evidenced by Jones' medical situation. Trinidad and Tobago's international players, according to Hislop, are insured for between $500,000 and $2 million (TT), which is not nearly enough to cover rehabilitation for a serious injury in Britain.

"Mr Warner went on a tantrum and used Europe and the G14 as the reason that the T&TFF shouldn't negotiate with FPATT," said Hislop. "But it is part of their agreement that countries should not only fully insure national players but also reimburse clubs their wages while on international duty.

"So you have Mr Warner referencing this agreement to the T&TFF but still not employing the bare basics of what the agreement was about Clearly the TTFF have not negotiated with Sunderland either."

FPATT officially launched in 2007 and were promised funding by Sport Minister Gary Hunt, earlier this year, although Hislop explained that the association remains starved of cash.

"We continue to await funding," said Hislop, "which we need to press ahead with some of the projects we have on the drawing board.

"It has been a quiet period for us but we are still working behind the scene and just waiting for a few T's to be crossed and I's to be dotted."