Despite concern the secondary school bearing his name in Trinidad is being neglected and fears his own bid to return to work is being hampered by racial prejudice, it’s heartening to find Russell Latapy still smiling.
An impish grin has spread across his face as he contemplates his relationship with the Scottish Cup. “I have always had – how should I put it? – an up and down affair with it,” he says, on a visit to Scotland from Portugal to promote today’s William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final between Hibs and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, two of his former clubs. “I had some wonderful times with Hibs and then I missed the final for well-documented reasons. Then I was able to come back with Inverness a few years later and was able to lift it.”
These “well documented reasons” involve a night out with Dwight Yorke in the run-up to the final in 2001, when Latapy-less Hibs were beaten 3-0 by Celtic. He enjoyed some delayed redemption last season when he and John Hughes guided Inverness Caledonian Thistle to the final, where they defeated Falkirk 1-0. “It got a bit crazy on the way back up, it was way past my standards,” he says, with reference to the subsequent celebrations on the team bus’s return journey to the Highlands.
The mood turns slightly more serious when he contemplates his current situation, which could be described as being between jobs. He walked away from Inverness before the beginning of this season, explaining to Hughes that he wished to manage in his own right, rather than be an assistant.
He planned to be back in work by the end of the year. “I do miss Scottish football and football in general, but it was a decision I made at the time and you have to stick by them,” he says. “I left Inverness at a peculiar time, when it was the beginning of the season and everyone pretty much had their teams. I was hoping that maybe by December I would be back in the game.
“I know I will be back in the game by the beginning of next season. I’ve already had a few offers that have not been right for me, although not in Scotland. These have been in Portugal and the Caribbean. But next season I will definitely be back.”
He believes his ambitions are being frustrated through no fault of his own. There is a persistent suspicion black managers are not being given the chance to show what they can do in British football – and Latapy subscribes to this view. In Scottish football, where Latapy would most like to manage, the absence of black managers is as stark as anywhere, perhaps starker.
Since John Barnes’ ill-fated period in charge at Celtic, the only black or mixed race manager to work in the top flight was Marcio Maximo, who had a short time in charge of Livingston in 2003-4. Dave Smith, who managed Montrose for a short spell in the 1990s, was the last to operate in the lower tiers, where Latapy says he is happy to start being a manager in his own right. He was interviewed by Falkirk after Steven Pressley left in 2013, while there were rumours he was in line to take over at Alloa Athletic in January, before Jack Ross was appointed.
“Do I think there is still a block for black managers?” he ponders. “Yes, I do. I know it can be dangerous to compare situations but you see a lot of managers getting opportunities who have not proved themselves and then you see a lot of black managers who have done a lot as players and in coaching who do not get that opportunity. I think there is still, unfortunately, the situation that black managers are not getting a fair chance compared to young, white managers.”
He is not necessarily in favour of the implementation of a Rooney Rule-type measure, as applied in American football, whereby clubs are forced to interview a certain number of black and minority ethnic candidates.
“I would have to think more about that [the Rooney Rule],” he says. “But what I would say is that I – and every other black manager in football – want to get an opportunity based on merit, not based on a governing body saying they have to do it. I would suppose maybe that would be an opportunity for us to show what we could do, but I would much prefer to get a chance through a chairman of a club saying ‘he is the right man for our club’.
“I’ve had a few interviews and they thought that someone else was the right man for the job.”
For the time being he is based in Porto, where he watches one of his former clubs play each home game. He realises he has to keep watching football to keep himself updated in coaching techniques. But he is also travelling back and forth to his Trinidad homeland, where as well as having discussions about a club managerial vacancy – he is deliberating whether to take the post or not – he is involved in efforts to ensure the Russell Latapy secondary school can survive a recent downturn in investment.
“It is in a very difficult area where I grew up,” he explains, with reference to Laventille, a suburb in Port of Spain. “The school has been a bit neglected. So I had a couple of meetings with the ministry of education to try and upgrade the school.”
He has, then, perhaps more important things to worry about. But he accepts the Scottish Cup is a serious business, particularly when it comes to Hibs. What does he think the Hibs fans would prefer – success in the Scottish Cup, or promotion? “Both!” he says. “The fans want to play in the Premiership but they also want to win the Scottish Cup.”
“It’s been more than 100 years!” he adds. “But I think if they could do either one the fans will be delighted this season.”