A Trinidadian Dispute Runneth Over as Cup Money Does Not
By: JACK BELL (New York Times)
Published: June 13, 2007
Trinidad and Tobago went to Germany last summer as the smallest nation, in terms of population, at the World Cup. This year, the Soca Warriors came to the United States for the Concacaf Gold Cup with a prodigious headache.
Coach Wim Rijsbergen has a team that includes only one player who went to Germany — Densill Theobald — after 16 players were barred from participating by the country’s soccer federation. The problem is money.
Federation officials and the players agree that promises were made to the players at the World Cup by Jack Warner, a powerful figure in the country, a FIFA vice president and Concacaf’s chief executive. Promises that were not kept.
“Jack Warner met with us after we tied Sweden — the top players on the team, me, Dwight Yorke, Stern John and Shaka Hislop — and told us that we would get 50 percent of the net profits from sponsorships; the boys were ecstatic,” Brent Sancho, a member of the national team who played last season in England for Gillingham but is not on the Gold Cup roster, said in a telephone interview. “Per player, I think we were talking about $300,000. The government paid each of us $150,000, but that had nothing to do with the federation, which ended up paying us something like $800.
“We wanted to know what happened to the millions from Adidas and eBay, two of our sponsors, and all we were shown was a spreadsheet that claimed expenses were greater than expected and a lot of the marketing was undervalued.”
The players threatened litigation and helped start a union for players who currently play in Trinidad and Tobago. Sancho, who played on St. John’s N.C.A.A. Division I title team in 1996, said that the players were blacklisted and that Rijsbergen, who played on the famous Dutch Clockwork Orange teams in the 1970s, was not happy, especially since he signed a four-year contract last July.
The decision to bring a team to the Gold Cup that has only one player playing outside Trinidad (Darryl Roberts at Sparta Rotterdam in the Netherlands) has left Rijsbergen with what in soccer circles is called an experimental squad.
“I cannot believe that a football federation would not select its strongest possible team for a major international tournament,” Kevin Harrison, an official at the Professional Footballers Association in England, who is consulting the Trinidadian union, said in an e-mail message. “It totally devalues the tournament and the effort that the other competing teams have put in.”
Rijsbergen failed to return messages seeking comment. Warner was not available to speak about issues unrelated to the Gold Cup.
Shaun Fuentes, a spokesman for Trinidad’s federation, said it “simply was not wise for us to have players representing us who are battling the federation.” Fuentes did confirm that Warner made assurances, which he may or may not have been authorized to make, but which the players accepted at face value.
Warner is no stranger to controversy, having been fined and reprimanded recently by FIFA for his part in the resale of World Cup tickets by a travel agency controlled by his family.
Asked if he was embarrassed by the situation, Fuentes said that “this will allow the coach to work with younger players.”
So far, that has not worked well for the Soca Warriors, who lost two first-round games in the Gold Cup, the regional championship, and played Guatemala to a 1-1 tie last night in Foxborough, Mass. It was not known if Rijsbergen would try to break his contract if the situation was not resolved (regional qualifying matches for the 2010 World Cup are expected to start early next year).
“The coach is frustrated,” Sancho said. “He said he has not been able to select his best team, and said it’s like an artist who wants to work with his best paints to paint the perfect picture. But he doesn’t have that. I want to add that Mr. Warner has done a lot for football in Trinidad, but at the same time he tends to forget that without the players, there would be no game for him to administrate.”