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"I consider myself fortunate because at 37 I am still playing," said Falkirk midfield ace and ex-Trinidad and Tobago national football captain Russell Latapy. "I love the game and I still enjoy playing the game and would like to continue playing at the highest level for as long as I can."


Latapy smiles and strokes his chin between thumb and forefinger as though savouring the thought. He has invited Express Sports to conduct the interview in Falkirk's physio room, which would be off limit for such purposes to most players.

Throughout his career, though, Latapy has enjoyed special privileges from a bevy of coaches to go along with his unique talent on the ball. He might not be as dynamic as he was a decade ago, but his star still burns bright.

The low hairdo Latapy sported before his international retirement, four years ago, has been replaced by Rastafarian locks that drop beneath his shoulder blades. His runs, on and off the ball, are shorter as he admitted to being short of match fitness.

But the No.10 is still on his back and an angel continues to lace his boots. The measured passes, hook backs and body feints are as much a part of his armory as they ever were.

It is irrelevant to discuss whether he is still worthy of an international shirt as Latapy has repeatedly asked that his wish to stay retired be respected. But, for mischievousness sake, I tried to gauge anyway from his performance on Saturday in a 2-0 Scottish Premier League (SPL) loss to unfancied Inverness.

Latapy may struggle to burst past international defenders now. If Trinidad and Tobago are defending deep, as tends to be the case against the Mexicos and Costa Ricas of the CONCACAF region, his defensive work is negligible.

But, 30 yards from the opposing goal, there are still few better at bamboozling an opponent with a deft pass or shuffle.

A Dutch writer once remarked that Johann Cryuff had four feet, "right and left and inside and outside"; a charging Latapy can appear almost as unstoppable.

Trinidad and Tobago might still be in Latapy's heart, but he explained that Falkirk dominate his head as he looks toward his future beyond his playing career. He admitted that he never watched his country play since he quit the team in June 2001.

"I have given so much of my life to the national team that the only way for me to move on was to take a step back," he said. "What happens is if I am too involved then I could get sucked in. So I made a decision to step back after having given so much of my life to Trinidad football.

"Because I did well with the national team you have people trying to get you back involved and you appreciate that kind of stuff, but I think some decisions you make, you have to stick by it."

Latapy toyed with the idea of returning to the national set up earlier this year as either a replacement to outgoing head coach Bertille St Clair or as assistant to present boss, Leo Beenhakker. Instead, Beenhakker was chosen and asked him to accept a playing role. Latapy declined.

"I appreciated his offer," he said. "But because of my age and where I am looking to go in football, I did not think it was right for me. I am trying to cross that barrier between player and coach and I have done that at Falkirk. So it would be a step backwards for me if I went to the national team as a player alone."

At present, Latapy is assistant to first team coach Brian Rice who, in turn, is deputy to Falkirk manager John Hughes. Latapy, who has taken the relevant coaching badges, hopes to launch his coaching career at Falkirk when he retires from the game.

The timing of his latest national call-up, he explained, was just not right.

"It was not a case where I am able to go (to Trinidad) and if it does not work then I can come back and get my job here," he said. "So, in making that decision, I decided that it is better for where I want to go to stay here and be involved with the coaching.

"I have been involved with the national team since I was 16 years old, so I gave half of my life to the team. I think I have done a fair shift and I hope everyone understands. I would still want to be involved with the national team but in a coaching capacity."

Latapy insisted that there was no acrimony between himself and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) despite their fall-outs in the past.

He described his retirement as the saddest day of his career and explained that it started with the dismissal of ex-Chelsea manager Ian Porterfield, which had annoyed him and close friend and fellow star player, Dwight Yorke.

Another personal low point was the 1998 World Cup campaign when he was banned by the T&TFF for failing to report for international duty against the United States. Latapy had been injured in an earlier qualifier against Costa Rica and was upset that the local federation never called to enquire about his health, but promptly insisted he report for duty as soon as he returned to full fitness.

But he grudgingly conceded to one regret in his international career. Ironically, Latapy was sorry that he never worked with the coach who dropped him before their first training session together and prompted his retirement from national duty.

"I don't like to use the word 'regret'," said Latapy, "because I do not really regret things in life. But I was sorry that I never had the chance to work with Rene (Simoes).

"There were a lot of things happening around football at the time that I was not happy about and then he made his decision. You have to understand that we are footballers second and men first. So he made his decision and we (Dwight and myself) made ours.

"I am certain he was a good coach though."

At 37, Latapy is not only more sympathetic towards the coaches he sometimes fell out with, but is even an admirer. His eyes shone as he discussed the mind games and tactical dilemmas that he would have to sort out as a coach.

As a player, he cared about his own game trusting in his ability to be a match winner. He is now learning to better utilise and even manipulate the resources of the players around him.

This season, for the first time, he has not set himself a personal target as a player.

"My personal ambition is the team's ambition," he said, "which is to do well and win matches."

If Falkirk are the present, Latapy has his own dreams for the future. He has never forgotten his spell at Porto where he won two Portugal league titles and played in the European Champions League under the tutelage of legendary English manager Sir Bobby Robson and his sidekick Jose Mourinho, who is now a star in his own right as Chelsea boss.

He reminisced over Robson's shrewd reading of the game and Mourinho's charm with the playing staff.

Latapy, who speaks fluent Portuguese, would love to return.

"My dream job would be to coach the club that I like the most in the world," he said. "And that is Porto. I have always been a Porto fan."

For now, Latapy would settle for survival with Falkirk. Hughes stressed how important the former Laventille boy was to the club's chances of staying up in the SPL.

"Russell can do things which other players cannot do," Hughes told Express Sports. "I have seen him better (than he was on Saturday) but if we are to succeed this season in the premier league, a big part of that will be on Russell's shoulders.

"Of course, we also have to look at Russell's age and we have to nurse him and look after him. But if I am an opposing manager and I look at the Falkirk team sheet and Russell Latapy's name is not on the team sheet, I would be doing somersaults."

He will not wear national colours again. But "The Little Magician" is not ready to put down his wand just yet.