lincoln phillips.jpgFormer national footballer Alvin Corneal had expressed in the Arena issue of July 6, the idea that the TTFF must not depend on the T&T women players who are resident in the USA to improve the level of the sport but must look locally for players. He was disappointed that 13 girls from the USA represented T&T in the recently concluded Concacaf Under-17 World Cup qualifying tournament. Today, T&T Football Federation (TTFF), technical director Lincoln Phillips gives a response to Corneal where he totally disagrees with his thoughts.
Alvin Corneal’s latest failed attempt at objective analysis appears to indicate, once again, that he is of the opinion that any endeavour in which he is not a main or significant contributor is unworthy. However this time, Alvin took the route of xenophobia in an attempt to undermine a project in which he is not the focal point. As one of the few witnesses to the inside workings of the T&TFF, Alvin should know better than to impishly raise the tired controversy of “foreign versus local” when addressing the U17 women’s program. In fact, he should be ashamed of himself for donning the robes of a demagogue.

The whole idea of hiring foreign coaches for the Women’s program did not occur in a vacuum. The entire women’s staff met with officials of the T&TFF, including Jack Warner (Special Advisor), Keith Look Loy (Technical Advisor) and myself.

After a lengthy discussion regarding the future direction of the woman’s program, it was agreed by everyone present that the U17 program would improve only under the guidance of coaching assistance from abroad. It should be noted that Jamaal Shabazz was in full support of bringing in coaches from abroad. Head Coach, Marlon Charles has also been a staunch supporter and beneficiary of the new direction and the commitment to bring resources to a women’s program that has endured despite being overlooked for many years.

As a result, two top Head Coaches from the United States collegiate coaching ranks were retained to prepare the U17 team for the recent U17 Women’s World Cup qualification tournament. These two coaches, Randy Waldrum, University of Notre Dame and Butch Lauffer, West Texas A&M University, performed their tasks admirably and with the utmost level of professionalism. Alvin’s attempt at sarcasm when alluding to the U.S. coaches’ “magic wand” was neither clever nor insightful but rather illustrated the insecurity of an individual who earned an unimpressive 49-34-7 (W-D-T) record while coaching at North Carolina State University. He is clearly not in the position to critique coaches who have actually won championships.

Aside from the unwarranted broadside of the coaching staff, Alvin’s assessment of the “American Trinis” was lacking in both substance and logic. While Alvin accurately recognized the technical and athletic deficiencies of many of our local female athletes, he seemed to advocate choosing a team based upon a player’s address rather than their ability. Such a strategy would be considered coaching negligence at best and at worst, discriminatory. It is well known that citizenship requirements determine whether or not a player is eligible to participate on a national football team. The players, known by some as “passport players”, that Alvin seems to take issue with are eligible to represent T&T. At the CONCACAF tournament like any other competitive endeavor, you play to win the game. This is the reality of international competition. Once we get past artificial controversies created by those who have their own agendas, the objective of any competitive program is to put together a team that has the best chance to win within the rules of the competition.

Are these “passport players” the future of women’s football in Trinidad and Tobago? I cannot say. In fact, the answer will be largely up to the local players themselves and their ability to answer the challenge of the new standard that has been established. Currently 9 of the 18 players on the present U17 team received their passports just prior to the recent tournament. As Technical Director, I would like to reduce dependence on international-based nationals in the shortest possible time. Not because of any misguided belief in what is “foreign” or “local” but because our national team players would be more accessible to both our coaches and supporters. For this to happen, support must be given to create and strengthen primary school and club football leagues and camps for girls in the U8 through U14 levels. Currently the T&TFF is negotiating with stakeholders to help facilitate bold initiatives in the development of the women’s game. Indeed, developing players domestically will be less costly than recruiting players with T&T parentage. We should, however, continue to provide opportunities for our nationals living abroad to maintain and strengthen the ties with their native land. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that when the time to compete comes, we must select the players who are best prepared and able to win.

Even though our attempt to qualify for the U17 Women’s World Cup fell short by goal difference, our planning and approach has yielded increased visibility and attention to the women’s game in T&T. Costa Rica, who beat our women out for the third and final qualification spot by goal differential, beat our team 6-0 several months before the qualification tournament when we used all local players. We tied them 0-0 in the tournament.

Two months before our training camp in the U.S, we lost to the T&T U20 team 6-0 with all local players. Upon our return with the new “Passport Players”, we tied the same U20 team 0-0 twice. Costa Rica and Mexico understand the realities of competition and Alvin should take note that over percent of the Costa Rica and Mexico teams were made up of “passport players” from the U.S.