There is a saying that you must never bite the hand that feeds you. And one man who believes he is being taught this lesson the hard way is World Cup acclaimed Soca Warrior Brent Sancho whose exclusion from T&T’s 2010 South Africa Campaign has set tongues wagging. Never one to back away from a challenge, the outspoken central defender is openly declaring that he is being punished from standing up to local football authorities.
Two Saturdays ago, as T&T played Honduras, a group of “old wise men” watching the match on TV at a bar on Ariapita Avenue evidently agreed with him: “Since he open he mouth about the TTFF he never wear the red, white and black again. He may never wear it again, it’s the price you pay for talking,” concluded Sam who had played football in his youth and coached in his old age.
It was a reference to the issue raised by the players of the 2006 Germany World Cup T&T Squad against the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) regarding monies promised and not paid to them after the World Cup. Few would forget Sancho’s vociferous involvement in the case which eventually reached the England courts and the subsequent blacklisting of players on the slate—a decision by the TTFF which many people believed cost T&T a 2-1 defeat against Bermuda in August 2007.
“Fifteen players out of the 22 who went to Germany took the pivotal stand against the TTFF. I was one of the key persons voted in to represent the 15 and the most vocal one. My parents always taught me to stand up for my rights; I couldn’t let this issue pass by. For me it was not a fight for money but for principle and morality,” Sancho reminisced. Six other warriors, though more subdued, also shared the spotlight in the battle against the TTFF but when the explosive win for the warriors unfolded and the smoke of controversy cleared, the blacklisted players who were interested and eager to represent T&T for yet another World Cup were re-drafted—all except Sancho.
“Since the Paraguay World Cup Game in Germany 2006, I haven’t had any dialogue with the TTFF with respect to training with the National Team. Not even a telephone call. I think it is a disgrace to not even be considered as part of the training squad after Germany,” he claimed.
A seasoned defender, Sancho has had several national caps under his belt. His illustrious football career includes playing stints in the Scottish Premier League, Scotland- Dundee FC and Ross County FC; in the USL, USA- Atlanta Silver Backs and just last year, top local PFL team, North East Stars.
He insists that the reasons for his discontentment go far deeper than a mere spot on a team and is convinced that he’s being made to pay the price for speaking his mind. “It’s ridiculous how biased our local football arena is. It’s quite obvious that I am made to pay for standing up against the TTFF. At the end of the day, they had to make somebody a scapegoat for speaking out and that somebody is me,” the newly appointed assistant coach and player with US team, Rochester Rhinos declared. He contended that there is “no logical reason” for not including him on even “a third string Digicel Cup Team”, and that, he declared, is something he simply cannot accept.
So are the “old wise men” on target with their claim or is there a logical reason for Sancho’s non-inclusion on T&T’s South Africa World Cup Campaign? Fitness is usually a major criterion for selection for most sports- is Sancho unfit or more than that, has he lost his touch?
When contacted, the team coaches for the previous teams Sancho has played for described him as a very strong, fit and confident defender. Ross County Coach, Derek Adams said, “Brent is a very experienced player and an excellent defender. He is very composed as a player and handles air balls very well.”
Darryl Mahabir, coach of North East Stars is baffled that Sancho has not been called back to the T&T training squad. Mahabir argued, “Sancho brings stability into the defence. As a central defender, he commands the respect from other players on the field and he is certainly one of the best I have seen. The other players in his position on the National Training Squad are not as skilled as he is.”
Even if the testimony of Mahabir and Adams were discounted, because coaches have different perspectives on players, there is nothing on the local coaching radar to dispute Sancho’s fitness or football ability.
T&T assistant coach and football great, Russell Latapy said he has heard that Sancho is playing well but since his tenure he hasn’t had the time to personally evaluate him. On the topic of evaluation, it is alleged that drafting of recruits for the national training squad are carried out by TTFF scouts who go out on the field, recognize players and then recommend them to coaches for further assessment. The local PFL is usually a very convenient breeding ground for talent, an arena Sancho played in from September to December 2008.
Probable reason # 2: When a team is at its very best there is no rush for new recruits, so perhaps there isn’t a spot on the 20-man training team for a centre back. As so optimistically put by Latapy- “We have a great squad now. Since my stint began on the team we have had two draws and one win- clearly we are doing something right with selection. Furthermore, we have three effective centre backs; there is no rush to add another.”
T&T’s close 1-1 call at the hands of the Hondurans last Saturday could cast doubt on this position. The argument is also challenged by the SOS call which was sent to recovering injured veteran centre half, Marvin Andrews who played his 3rd game for the year a few weeks ago for a second division Scottish league team. “I personally have contacts in Scotland who assessed Andrews and we just invited him to see where he is at,” Latapy said.
Asked whether there was a vacancy for a centre half on the little magician’s magical 20 man squad, Latapy said no, insisting that Andrews is one of a kind, one of the best players to grace T&T football. To the suggestion that while Andrews “was” a great player-(his present playing status post-injury still has to be evaluated)- if he is to make the squad the uneven number of 21, why can’t Sancho be drafted to make it an even 22, Latapy countered: “So why not Colin Samuels or the other potential players throughout the country who show promise?”
So, why not? He responded, “It’s all about timing, we can’t call everyone with talent to the team all at once. And besides, Andrews not coming with the expectations Brent would be coming with.”
Expectation of an instant position on the first 16? A rather unlikely assumption for a professional athlete one would think. Latapy was unwavering in his conviction that there is no mafia in T&T football and that all selections are made by the technical team sans pressure and bias from the TTFF. “We as coaches are qualified to do our jobs and we make decisions to promote the best T&T football possible. No one can dictate whom we choose on a team, not even the fans and the media. All this controversy is unnecessary. If Brent continues playing good football, he will get his chance eventually!” he declared.
Sancho, however remains skeptical on the term “eventually” and is holding to his position that he is being made to pay for standing up to the authorities.
“While this situation has not hindered my career, it has opened my eyes to a lot of things. What message are we sending to our youth when we behave in this manner? Stay mum on real issues if you want money, a job, a sweat on the football team? Don’t speak out it can hurt you? Is that the message we want to send? Furthermore, I am really disappointed in the many players who don’t stand up for themselves against the ills of the TTFF. They take advice from their agent whose only interest is to further financial and personal ambitions with the Federation. While,others are tight lipped due to contracts signed with certain special advisers. Many things that happen in local football have nothing to do with football…but a whole new board game where the big ones eat the small ones,” he concluded.