CONSIDERING the country's reputed affiliation with the censorious demands of Presbyterianism and Calvinism through the near-500 years since the Reformation, Scotland in the last half-century has been an unlikely playground for some of the wildest spirits professional football has had to offer.
The little Trinidadian midfielder's farewell to Scotland after a decade distinguished by decadence and entertainment in seemingly equal measure may signal the end – or at least the dilution – of the indulgent lifestyle and, at the age of 40, allow Latapy to enter a new phase of maturity and responsibility as coach of the Trinidad and Tobago national team.
Since he was first brought to Hibernian from Boavista by Alex McLeish in 1998, Latapy has cut a swathe through Scottish football, from Easter Road to Rangers to Dundee United and Falkirk, inducing delight and despair by turn in supporters and managers and, typical of one of his adventurous nature, almost invariably with a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye.
Nor did he leave his national team untouched by either his talent or his waywardness. If Napoleon, another of diminutive stature who had a telling impact on his chosen field, had Marshal Ney as his closest and most faithful ally, Latapy had Dwight Yorke and, in the early days, the great cricketer Brian Lara. It is, however, doubtful if even the emperor's reputation as a hard-living seducer of women would compare with those of the three amigos from the Caribbean.
As a teenage prodigy, Latapy shared a house with the other two in Port of Spain, where they wasted no time in establishing their notoriety with well-publicised group sex sessions, booze binges and a fondness for marijuana. Latapy has since insisted that he gave up all drugs when he became a full-time professional.
His abstinence, though, would not include the more conventional smoking habit. When he was recalled to the T&T national squad for the 2006 World Cup in Germany just before his 38th birthday – the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong ambition – Russell's idea of a strict training regime was to reduce his daily cigarette ration from 40 to 10.
Latapy had been dismissed by the national association for errant behaviour in 2001 and had vowed not to return to the international game. His initial rejection of an approach to join the squad for Germany was an indicator of his sourness, but the intervention of Yorke – he himself had returned to international football after an earlier decision to quit – and the association president, Jack Warner, brought a change of heart. In the event, he saw only 23 minutes of action at the tournament, as a substitute in the final group match against Paraguay.
Latapy, of course, was by then no stranger to the sack. Despite helping Hibs to the First Division championship in his first season and winning successive player of the year awards at the club, he was released as a result of a night of debauchery with Yorke when the former Manchester United striker visited Edinburgh in 2001.
The session had ended with Latapy's arrest in the small hours for drink driving. It was also a breach of Hibs' code of conduct, as the player had been drinking within 48 hours of a match. It was around that time, too, that both he and Yorke were dropped from the T&T squad by the coach, Rene Simoes, after they had failed to show up for a training session.
Curiously, Latapy would be rescued from unemployment by Dick Advocaat, a renowned disciplinarian whose decision to take a chance on bringing such an unreliable player to Rangers hinted at a high regard for his own capacity for taming wild men that is not uncommon among managers.
Dick would not have to wait long to be given cause to question his judgment. Latapy missed his debut for the Ibrox club when he turned up on the day of the match too late to be selected. To Advocaat, who would fine himself if he was so much as a minute late for a team meeting, this would be an unpardonable offence. In less than two seasons at Ibrox, Latapy would make only 23 appearances.
But it would be his old sponsor, McLeish, who would show him the door. McLeish cited a desire to rely on younger players – Latapy was then 34 – as a reason for his release, but hard partying and no sign of an inclination to alter his lifestyle were unquestionably decisive factors in the schism that developed between manager and player.
Latapy's recruitment by Dundee United soon after said much about his natural talent, the basis on which managers were clearly willing to take a risk. But his stay at Tannadice lasted only a few months before another old connection from his Hibs days, John Hughes, brought his move to Falkirk. His talent had naturally diminished with age, but it remained useful enough to help the Brockville side win the First Division and enter the SPL at the end of the 2004-05 season. Since then, unsurprisingly, he has been an intermittent contributor, the rigours of the top division and his advanced years often barriers to his reproducing the form of his prime.
Whatever other impressions he has made on his odyssey through Scottish football, Latapy has been a consistent crowd pleaser. His was what may be called an old-fashioned talent. His shimmying, dribbling, passing and innate understanding of space in an age seemingly dominated by muscular athleticism, energy and stamina appeared to fulfil the average Scottish fan's yearning for a style he would regard as "real fitba'."
Even his tendency towards scandal would have helped insinuate him into the favour of those who supported the clubs he represented. As with those earlier, fellow miscreants, the outrageous behaviour appeared to be symptomatic of singular skills.