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Russell Latapy at Hibernian

The Hibernian match programme, #GGTTH, is always bursting with content, thanks to our team of writers and our regular features making it an enjoyable and worthwhile read.

One of our features is "In That Number" where the career of a Hibernian icon is chronicled and his story is told. To advertise the features on offer in the programme, the official Hibernian website will showcase some of the writing on offer in the programme to a wider audience.

In That Number: Number Ten Russell Latapy

With an eye for a goal and a killer pass the Trinidad and Tobago football legend provided the spark to ignite Hibernian for three seasons.

Russell Latapy’s footballing tale began in Port of Spain, Trinidad, where he turned out for San Fernando Technical Institute and Tranquillity Government Secondary in the Trinidad and Tobago Secondary Sports League. His undoubted talent was rewarded at an early age as he was capped at the under-10 age group and was dubbed “The Little Magician.”

Now aged 19, Latapy turned down the opportunity to go to Florida International University, instead opting to move to Palo Seco in 1987 where he turned out for Trintoc United in the Trinidadian league set-up before he made the move to play in Maypen, Jamaica, for Hazard United – now rebranded as Portmore United.

He played internationally in the CONCACAF region and narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification for Italia 1990 as Paul Caligiuri’s goal earned a 1-0 win for the United States of America, allowing the USA to take the last qualifying spot from the Soca Warriors. But his performances for club and country earned him a move to Europe.

Academica de Coimbra came calling and the attacking midfielder accepted the opportunity to join the Portuguese side in the second tier of their national league set-up. The gifted attacking midfielder played at the side for four years, registering just shy of 150 appearances, and he caught the eye of then Porto manager Bobby Robson.

He enjoyed a two-year spell, winning the Primera Liga in both seasons and becoming the first Trinidadian to play in the UEFA Champions League. He then moved to Boavista for two years, winning more silverware in the form of the Taca de Portugal and the Supertaca Candido de Oliveira.

It was at the end of his second year when his contract was not renewed and it sparked interest with Alex McLeish following a recommendation from Tony Rougier. He accepted an invite to play as a trialist in a game against Brechin, but within minutes McLeish realised the sparkling gem that was presented to him.

Latapy was signed and played in the 1998/99 season as Hibs romped home to the First Division title, securing promotion in the process. The Caribbean star’s killer first touch, supreme skill and his goal-creation talent was evident, especially when Hibs won 2-0 against Hamilton at Firhill with the midfielder scoring the brace that confirmed promotion.

That season in the First Division helped to endear him to the Hibernian faithful and his fan’s favourite status was further cemented as he enjoyed a solid campaign in the Scottish Premier League. His contribution to a good spell of form in October saw him score five goals as the side remained unbeaten, drawing with Aberdeen and Motherwell, before defeating both Dundee teams.

Hibs fans were satisfied with the continued improvement of the team as they finished sixth and they could see the talent contained within the group of players and knew good times were ahead in the next campaign.

The season began in spectacular fashion as the won 11 out of 15 league games, drawing three and losing just one. Latapy was in mesmerising fashion, as he pulled the strings in the midfield and effectively linked with the attack in that spell.

His most impressive game in the spell was against Hearts in the devastatingly brutal 6-2 victory. Prior to the game in the press conference he spoke about his love for the club and how he was reading up on Hibs’ history, before he undoubtedly wrote his own passage in Hibernian folklore.

His assist for David Zitelli’s goal was a perfectly weighted throughball into the French forward’s pass, before he got in on the act with a goal of staggering ability. He jinked beyond a challenge and played a one-two with Mixu Paatelainen before crashing a volley into the net to round off Hibs’ scoring that night.

His form saw him on the shortlist for the prestigious FIFA World Player of the Year, when he came in at 33rd on the list, leaving him on the same level as Dutch footballing legend Denis Bergkamp. His memorable season was soon to turn sour as he was left out of the last three games of the season, including the Scottish Cup Final defeat to Celtic.

Latapy left the club and went on to play for Rangers and Dundee United, before joining Falkirk and playing for the Bairns for six years. In 2005 he helped the Soca Warriors qualify for the World Cup, dispelling the ghosts of Caligiuri’s half-volley from distance as they toppled Bahrain, with the skilful midfielder, aged 38, playing in the group stage defeat to Paraguay in Kaiserslautern.

He left Scotland in 2009 and joined Caledonia AIA in his home country and played a handful of games before retiring. This retirement lasted two years before he joined Edinburgh City in a short-lived spell at the age of 43.

Since 2007 he has dabbled in coaching, he was assistant manager at Falkirk for two years, before being assistant manager of his national team in 2009 and manager in the same year until 2011. He took a spell out of coaching, before becoming assistant at former club Boavista for one year until joining Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the same capacity – winning the 2015 Scottish Cup alongside former team-mate John Hughes. He left the club and is seeking a new venture in football, ideally as a manager in his own right.

A true maverick loaded with undeniable ability, Latapy is still endeared in the Caribbean, Portugal and Scotland and left an indelible mark wherever he went – a fitting testament to his truly unquantifiable ability.