The Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team’s fading 2017 World Cup dreams were finally put to rest at the Hasely Crawford Stadium last night, as Suriname clinched the final available CONCACAF berth despite a 2-1 loss to Cuba.
Coach Russell Latapy’s team needed Cuba to win by two clear goals if they were to limp into the next round as the Caribbean’s fifth placed team. Instead, they finished sixth with just one win against Bermuda from three group matches.
And even that triumph was anything but straightforward as the young Soca Warriors trailed 2-0 at halftime and needed an injury time winner by Jaydon Prowell to see off the Bermudan minnows.
Latapy, in his second spell as an international coach, now has as unenviable record as the first National Under-17 coach in Trinidad and Tobago’s history to fail to get his team among the Caribbean’s top five counties.
The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) were unrepresented at CONCACAF level twice before in this millennium. But when coaches Ron La Forest and Nigel Grosvenor faltered in 2002 and 2004 respectively, there were only two spots up for grabs.
Latapy had more than twice as many to aim for. And, although he was in charge for barely a month, his record does him no favours, particularly when placed alongside his senior team’s limp exit in 2010 when they were eliminated from the Caribbean Cup in the group stage after a 1-0 loss to rank underdogs, Grenada.
Has Latapy advanced in the interim?
In the six years since he left the senior Warriors, Latapy apparently went on to get his UEFA Pro coaching license while he worked as assistant manager at a few professional Scotland clubs.
And the diminutive maestro—one of the most creative footballers that Trinidad and Tobago ever produced—has always been someone who thinks profoundly about the game. Undoubtedly, Latapy should be an asset to the local game, even though he still has to prove whether his best contribution would be made as a football coach.
Wired868 was informed that there were rumblings of discontent from the players as regards the National Under-17 Team’s 23-man squad as well as Latapy’s starting XI. And some of these concerns were shared by even the independent onlooker.
Latapy said he wanted physical stature in his midfield trio against Haiti. But, as it turned out, his most creative player was the pocket-sized Che Benny who came on to rescue the game against Bermuda.
Arguably the national youth team’s most gifted player, Kishon Hackshaw, started the tournament on the bench and played in four different positions in two and a half games. In fact, central defender Jesse Williams and holding midfielder Jodel Brown were the only outfield players to start the tournament in the same role that they begun it.
And there were raised eyebrows too at Latapy’s unstinting faith in W Connection attacker Isaiah Hudson, who has experience at National Under-20 and CONCACAF Champions League level but did not justify his star billing.
Whether Latapy might have done a better job should not distract from the real architect of this fiasco. And that is the bombastic figure of Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams.
On 20 June 2016, then National Under-17 coach Ken Elie downed tools after the TTFA president had ignored his request for feedback regarding stipends promised under the previous administration.
Surely Elie’s time was worth something? Did John-Williams not respect the post of national coach enough to discuss the issue? Was the TTFA sufficiently bothered by the welfare of its under-17 squad?
John-Williams never responded. Instead, he made a public statement which suggested that he believed Elie to be a volunteer.
It is not the first time the TTFA president said something so monumentally stupid and dishonest that it forces right-thinking people to sit down and catch their breath.
If you believed that Elie was a volunteer, then did his email not alert you to your error?
John-Williams suggested that the TTFA could not afford to pay Elie—without hearing what the coach wanted, which was confirmation that he would be paid rather than an immediate lump sum.
And then, without appreciation for irony, honesty or compassion to his former under-17 coach or other national coaches, John-Williams announced that Latapy would take over the job on a two-year contract.
The two months between Elie’s departure and Latapy’s arrival significantly dimmed whatever prospects this youth team had of advancing to the India 2017 World Cup.
And, in no uncertain terms, John-Williams’ decision to offer paid contracts to Latapy and his technical staff suggests the lack of respect he has for every other national coach under the employ of the TTFA—barring head coach coach Stephen Hart, who was given a contract extension by former president Raymond Tim Kee.
If technical director Muhammad Isa, general secretary Azaad Khan, women’s coach Richard Hood and men’s under-20 coach Brian Williams are all interim appointments while Latapy gets a two year vote of confidence, then what does that say for John-Williams’ faith in their abilities?
And, for all the TTFA president’s boasts of being a “football man”, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he either knows much less than he thinks or the job of grooming international stars is much more difficult than poaching talented youths from rival clubs.
Under John-Williams’ presidency, although the senior teams have been relatively steady, there have been alarming results at youth level:
The Women’s National Under-15 Team went from third in CONCACAF to a group stage exit in the same competition, which included a record 22-0 defeat;
The Women’s National Under-17 Team went from reigning Caribbean champions—under the previous regime—to finishing third at CFU level and failing to qualify from the region at all;
The Men’s National Under-15 Team failed to get to the CONCACAF stage for the first time in 10 years;
And, although the National Under-20s are still very much alive in the competition, few believe they can retain the Caribbean crown won under former coach Derek King during the previous regime.
To be blunt, Tim Kee was voted out of office for his failure to raise funding for the game, provide the necessary support for players and coaches and for his failure to ensure that the TTFA’s various committees were functional and allow democracy in the working of the board.
In almost every aspect, things are now worse.
How ironic that John-Williams dedicated so much time to subtly criticising Hart’s handling of a curfew breach by Kevin Molino, Joevin Jones and Mekeil Williams when his football body cannot even put on a football match without torturing paying fans.
The only successful team that the TTFA has is the National Senior Team. So why does John-Williams spend so much time trying to destabilise it—from antagonising players in salary discussions to attempting to undermine his coach’s match selections or disciplinary decisions?
If John-Williams knows so much about football, then why are none of his appointments delivering any success?
The less said the better about the TTFA president’s vow to quit if he is proven: to have walked on to the field during a training session and asked Hart to leave so as to petition players to reverse their coach’s decision; or to have used the TTFA money in his unsuccessful attempt to become Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president.
But Wired868 stands by both stories. And, bizarrely, John-Williams admitted to using TTFA funds—without board permission—for his Caribbean football league pitch, which was delivered a week before he formally announced his bid for the CFU presidency and to the same Caribbean football delegates that he was wooing.
Evidence, mind you, that was shared face-to-face with John-Williams and TTFA vice-president Joanne Salazar in an I95.5FM ‘showdown’.
The National Under-17 Team’s fate shows the danger of not safeguarding football teams from an egotistical larger-than-life administrator. And, for that, the TTFA’s board members should take a long hard look at themselves.
The current TTFA board of directors comprises: David John-Williams (president), Joanne Salazar, Ewing Davis and Allan Warner (vice-presidents), Samuel Saunders (Central FA), Sherwyn Dyer (Eastern Counties Football Union), Karanjabari Williams (Northern FA), Richard Quan Chan (Southern FA), Anthony Moore (Tobago FA), Joseph Taylor (Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association), Dexter Skeene (TT Pro League) and Sharon O’Brien (Women’s League Football).
Presumably, Latapy will now be given the necessary support to prove if he is indeed up to the task—that is once John-Williams doesn’t believe his contract was written with invisible ink like former technical director Kendall Walkes’ deal.
But what about the other coaches and teams? The Women Soca Warriors have not had a single session since their 5-0 Olympic qualifying defeat to the United States on 19 February 2016.
Does anyone care?
John-Williams’ role is to set a path for the local football body over the next four years. It is Khan’s responsibility to handle the administrative aspect of this vision.
The TTFA’s board members must ensure that decisions are made and implemented in the right way while the relevant committees should supervise everything from fund raising and marketing to the hiring and firing of coaches.
And, last but not least, it is the job of the coaches and players to make the most of the tools they are given to deliver success on the football field.
Should deviations from that blueprint become standard fare, then you’d better be prepared to continue reading from the Book of Elie.
CFU Men’s Under-17 Group A Results
(Friday September 16)
Bermuda 2 (Rahzir Smith-Jones 30, Tokiya Russell 81), Jamaica 6 (Raewin Senior 5, Kaheem Parris 17, 72, Kendall Edwards 36, Nicque Daley 42, Tokiya Russell 90+1 [own goal]), Ato Boldon Stadium;
Trinidad and Tobago 0, Haiti 2 (Nael Elysee 22, Steeve Saint-Duc 68), Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Sunday September 18)
Jamaica 0, Haiti 0, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Trinidad and Tobago 3 (Che Benny 70, Jaydon Prowell 73, 90+2), Bermuda 2 (Tokia Russell 11, 26), Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Tuesday September 20)
Haiti 5, Bermuda 0, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Nion Lammy 47, Jaydon Prowell 57), Jamaica 3 (Raewin Senior 13, 74, Nicque Daley 36), Ato Boldon Stadium.