THE sacking of Bertille St. Clair made no difference.
The hiring of Leo Beenhakker certainly had no impact.
But the re-introduction of Russell Latapy did.
It took the 37-year-old midfielder to give Trinidad and Tobago revived hope of making its first appearance at the World Cup finals, after a come-from-behind 3-2 win against Guatemala last Saturday.
The Laventille-born midfield maestro not only added substance to the team’s attacking drive from his position in the mid-third and, consequently, brought deeper dimensions to defence.
But he also created the team’s character and mind-set.
This was evident in the way they fought back from yet another early deficit (a goal down in just two minutes and the umpteenth within the first half hour of all matches) and twice falling behind.
Beenhakker was decent enough to recognise this, but dishonest to take any credit whatsoever.
“At least he is giving me more possibilities and balance in the team,” he told reporters.
“Latapy is a very intelligent player.
“He has a very good eye for running with the ball.
“He has a very good eye for the free man and, the way he is playing now, he gives something extra in the balance of the team,” Beenhakker said.
“We had a difficult start again, just like the USA match, but I have to say the team after this disappointment conceding a goal after just two minutes, coped very well.
“They did what I coached.”
That must be a first for the blonde one, whose resume is approved for its glowing list of stints at some of the major football capitals of the world and not for the brevity of these (mostly one-year) stints.
With Latapy in the team, largely due to the pleadings of his close friend Dwight Yorke and not so much the special manipulator, a lot more is possible; and as such it is perhaps only natural many would want to take the praise.
But the average fan needs to look at a few obvious facts before immersing into the type of euphoria that the likes of a certain former president is paid to create when there is money to be made at the gates.
First of all, we have seen almost every conceivable permutation of the same players throughout this, FIFA’s longest and most complex qualifying campaign, be it under St. Clair or Beenhakker.
These permutations were sans Latapy.
Two things are therefore now likely: Either the players have been injected with the boost of self-confidence that Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) refused to employ a team psychologist to give (and enough to go on for the rest, or any part, of the campaign without Latapy); or they have not!
If not -- and obviously, then, Leo is making no impact -- then TnT’s World Cup qualifying campaign depends on one man and one man alone: Russell Latapy.
As a consequence, his feelings leading up to and on the next match day would have an impact.
His mood, his temperament on that day, his health and wellbeing, his mindset would all impact on TnT’s three remaining virtual finals.
Therefore, far apart from the next extreme of giving him the Prima Donna treatment, TTFF and their adviser’s manipulative tendencies would have to be kept in check.
Permit me to digress here.
One cannot help but look with scorn on the lack of real urgency to bring Latapy while St. Clair was still at the helm, instead of haggling over his role until he got back here, so that he himself would assess the need to play while acting as assistant coach. Typically, the best had to be saved for the European.
And not to mention the desperation of seeing, with ongoing failure, this as the last chance for public relations gimmickry that would bring thousands to the stadium (thousands we wouldn’t even be truthful about on our balance sheet).
Anyway, the point is that if everything now rests on Latapy, TnT would have to hope he is having a good day going into the remaining fixtures against Costa Rica in San Jose, Panama in Panama City and Mexico in Port of Spain.
Either of these fixtures can spell the end, but none more so than the one midweek that immediately follows Saturday’s success.
We would all agree that a repeat performance would make TnT more competitive than in any of the previous seven matches that, admittedly, had not been too hard to win.
Yet two factors must be taken into consideration.
The first is the result pattern. TnT was at its highest point when beating Panama at home, only to follow up with defeat in Mexico that was shocking not for the opposition’s pedigree but for TnT’s wavering form (again, this could be traced to the immediate mood of the key figures then, Dwight Yorke and Stern John).
After this came the Gold Cup fiasco which proved the team was not improving under Beenhakker.
Secondly, if I were an opposition coach and found that one man made such a difference, I would get someone to mark out that man, as Brent Sancho did Carlos Ruiz on Saturday at Hasely Crawford Stadium.
By extension, since Latapy is so significant to TnT having a good game, it goes without saying that he would be the target for Costa Rica, or any other opposition.
And who could forget the cruel foot injury Costa Rica delved on Latapy at the start of the 1998 semi-final round campaign on September 1, 1996?
Latapy had to be replaced by Dwarika and was not the same for the rest of the series.
TnT finished last with one draw and five losses, behind USA, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
Costa Rica had come to the collective decision that it was not as strong as the 1990 campaign, therefore the imperative was to put Latapy out to stand a chance.
This is the danger facing TnT who is even more dependent on the one said “expect no miracles”.
My personal wish, though, is that Latapy does not again get injured and upset his own career and life in Scotland for the sake of those who gnaw at him the moment he has an off game; or who would again be mindlessly led to the belief that he is not patriotic, the moment he, inevitably, again comes head-to-head with football’s real magician.
I am pleased that he is here to help TnT win.
Or, if not, then at least we don’t look stupid losing.
Whichever way it goes, he needs to use his experience of some 25 years in TnT shirts (from junior to senior) and exposure in Europe, to help all players to come together in the form of setting up a Players’ Association.
Win, lose or draw, our football needs this to progress. He would notice that for every campaign, coaches change, players change, the format changes and even fans change.
So, too, uniform designs and kit sponsors.
But some things remain constant: for example, Jack Warner, the administration, supposed non-profitability and World Cup failure.
A Players’ Association can fast-forward everything.
That’s my view.