Interview conducted by Shaun Fuentes, TTFF Media Officer, at the Riande Aeropuerto Hotel on Saturday October 8, 2005 on the morning of Trinidad and Tobago’s 2006 World Cup Qualifier against Panama.
1. What’s your most memorable moment or match, whether for country or Club?
In a positive way, it would be the 1-0 win over Mexico at home when I scored the winner in 85th minute. Obviously from a negative point, what happened on November 19, 1989. The situation was that at 21, with your whole career in front of you, you have the opportunity to go to the World Cup and then anything could happen, and then you wake up the next morning and realize that all the dreams were dashed away. What the World Cup does is put you on the world stage and if you are lucky enough to do what you can do, then the whole world is at large for you. After the disappointment of not qualifying, I then had to use a different route which is through club football and you then do that until you can qualify for a World Cup.
2. Name two persons, whether relative or not who have been an inspiration to you.
One would definitely be my Mom. She has always supported me with all the decisions and I have had some hard ones to make. I had the opportunity to go to University (FIU) when I was 19. And the at the time I was offered a professional contract and she said she would leave it up to me, which is a difficult thing for parents. Normally they would say forget the football, especially at the time when I was growing up when there were not much professional footballers coming out of the Caribbean. I made the decision to play football and fortunately it didn’t turn out to be such a bad one. (laughs).
The other influential person would be Jean Lillywhite. He definitely is one of the most influential persons in my career from that young stage. I’ve had a lot of other positive influence but he saw my potential at a young age and because he did, he worked with me from the age of 12 on my technical game. I remembered it used to be just be me and him on the (Queen’s Park) Savannah, helping me to use the right and the left foot. It’s something I will never forget because kids at that stage of their lives, especially now, probably would be thinking about Carnival. For me it was going to the grounds and playing with a football. Even he as an older person didn’t think about Carnival. He was with me right through on Carnival Monday and Tuesday in the Savannah.
3. Any favourite player or team?
The team I like the most is FC Porto and a lot of it has to do with me passing through the club. It’s just one of those things. It’s just the way I was treated there, the spirit and history of the club. The player is also one of my best friends and it’s not just because of that. I’ve had the chance to train and play with him and we’ve been in close quarters. The best player I’ve played against is Roberto Mancini of Sampdoria. He was just frightening in the two games we played against them. I was also fortunate to also play against Javier Zinetti of Inter Milan.
4. What would be your preferred other profession?
It would have to be football. I definitely want to get into management. I think beside being a player, it must be the next best job in the world.
5. Who’s been among your most admired coaches and why?
I would definitely have to say Bobby Robson. And a lot of coaches are not really recognized but Victor Manuel is also one I admire. He was my coach when I was at Academica in Portugal. At 21 this guy realized what I could do and changed the system of play in the team to suit how I was playing and I had that free role to develop. Another massive influence because I’m still playing at 37, has to be the one I’m playing for at the moment in Scotland. That’s John Hughes. He’s still young but I think what is good about him is being able to get the best out of me at age 37. His management ways have been good. Just a quick example, before we played Hearts I wanted to come in and train as usual before the Sunday game and he told me to take Friday and Saturday off and just come in on Sunday for the match. What he's doing in that sense is just making sure that I don’t really need to do all the hard work once I can produce on matchday, which is perfect for me at the club level.
6. What do you think of T&T’s chances of making it to the 2006 World Cup?
It’s just one of them situations that once I retired from international football when I was 32 or 33, I thought that was going to be the last chance as a player. But now having come out of retirement and seeing the bunch of players we have around, I see that we have a good chance. We should have picked up more points in the early part of the campaign but that’s football. It’s not impossible now. If we get a favorable result tonight (against Panama) it takes us ten points and hopefully Mexico can beat Guatemala and that means it would then come down to the last game. If we get into the playoffs it means too that anything can happen so we definitely have to fancy our chances.
When asked to reflect on what should be done to ensure the team does give a better attempt in these late stages, he replied: I think when you are playing football at a high level, the most important thing would be to be able to pass the ball and you cannot get flustered in possession. Once you do that and maintain that composure then the rest just happens for you. What happens a lot in international football is you play a lot of teams who play behind the ball and if you give the ball away cheaply then you end up putting yourself under unnecessary pressure. The other thing is something which we won’t need if we qualify for the World Cup which is for the players to be motivated and have the right mental attitude.
The game tonight obviously is a must win one but Mexico is a more difficult one in terms of the quality of the opposition. It’s a situation whereby, like all other games, we need to ensure that we don’t concede goals and of course we must convert. We need to play like the home team against Panama and take the game to them. We have to attack and play the ball forward as much as we can and get at them from the word go. We don’t have a choice really. We are kind of depending on other teams too but the reality is that if we win tonight’s game it might be enough to send us through because Guatemala could also lose their next two games or we can be hoping that Guatemala get only one point or even three which means we just have to beat Mexico at home.
7. Any instances or plays that you always reflect on?
I think, I know a lot of people say it’s not enough, but one of the major factors which has kept me going is the understanding and love for the game. The game doesn’t owe us anything but we might be owing it more because when having come out of a humble background, now everything you have is due to the game. You have to always play with the hunger and passion to succeed.
One of the things is you draw strength from people just being around you like friends and family. You may not be having the best of times but then you tend to think about the good times and you talk to your family and so on and it keeps you strong.
8. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
In my particular situation, the best piece of advice ever given was to keep working hard and keep your feet on the ground. In my case it was good to me and I have always played a lot of football and fortunately I had a bit of talent to go with it. I came from a very sporty family with uncles, brothers and cousins always involved in some way or the other. I used to play other sports as well but I think just having a knack for football made it for me. For some reason I always seemed to be better at football and other persons were always wanting me in their team and protecting me.
9. What do you do to relax away from the game?
Normal stuff like hanging out with friends and family
10. What’s your favorite dish?
The thing is, because I’ve lived in so many other places I’ve had no choice but get used to the different cultures. But there’s nothing like home food. A typical Trinidad Sunday lunch is best thing ever like some stew chicken and beef, nice red fish and calaloo. That is the real thing self.
11. Favourite drink?
Depends on what mood I’m in. If it’s alcohol then I definitely would want some bitters in there.
12. What’s been the high and low points in the past six months?
High points definitely is getting promoted to the Scottish Premier League because its kind of fulfilling ambitions not as a player in that sense but as a coach being involved with my team and helping out around the club and giving my input about my philosophy in the game and unlocking heads with the manager and giving solutions. Other high points is just being in a position now to help give other kids the opportunity to do something with their lives. There have been Portuguese players who I was influential in getting to Scotland and if the situation with Densill works well and it seems it should too, it gives me a buzz.
13. Favourite type of music?
A lot of people said to me when I was younger that it would just be whatever kind of music. But the reality is that I’m a bit older now and when you are away from your homeland you tend to appreciate things more from home. So I’ll tell you that in my CD player in my car (Black X5) right now is some old school Sparrow like Jean and Dinah and Congo man.
14. Favorite time of year?
I Wish it was carnival (laughs) The thing is I really enjoy my holidays but the other thing is after 3 weeks I need to get back to work and football. I really love the summers but I really love my job, I live a stress-free life at the momentt. It’s like me liking the summer but also the winter too.
15. Most comfortable football boot?
Right now and older players like it as well as you tend to go back to it if you don’t have sponsorship deal. That’s the Copa Mundial boots. Over the span of 18 years as a player, I have had deals with Reebok in Portugal and then Mitre. At one stage I was with FILA at Hibernian and at (Glasgow)Rangers I was with Nike. But now I can basically play with anything and I like that. But of course if we stay longer in the Premier League then some sort of deal may come through again.
16. Name one thing about yourself you would change if given the chance? Even if it meant going back in time.
I have always been the type to do things my way. I’m a bit stubborn and maybe it would be changing that. But also because of that way, it made me always determine to do what I set out to do and that’s a good thing.
17. Preferred Wear?
Jeans, T-shirt, a pair of trainers, slippers or shorts.
18. Ay advice for others aspiring to make something of themselves?
To give kids advice I would have to say to just keep focused on whatever your objectives are in life. Don’t get sidetracked. Even if it means wanting to be a doctor, before you get there it might mean you would have to work in a store to up some cash to do to school. But don’t get sidetracked when you are working in the store. Keep working really hard at whatever you want and always keep your foot on the ground.
19. What’s the biggest Impact you have had at a club?
That is difficult to say but what I can is that you tend to feel a certain sense of pride when you go back to clubs and places and people treat you with respect. It’s easier to describe it in that way. The fans were unhappy when I left these clubs but when I go back now and the people who I’ve worked with the end up becoming good friends and they treat you with respect and show appreciation for what you did at the club.
20. Tell us a bit about your early days in Portugal as a professional footballer. Was it a struggle?
It's always a struggle. if anyone says to me it’s different then I won’t take them on. If you go to Inter Milan, AC Milan, Manchester United or Porto, the early days are always a bit of a struggle for one reason or the other. You always have to adapt to football and to life. At smaller clubs you have to do the same as well because there’s a financial difference obviously.
21. What is your ultimate goal let’s say next 5, ten or 15 years?
Obviously because I want to go into management, it would be to win big things as a manager. The biggest club trophy is obviously the World Club championship just like it is for national teams. But if I’m coaching in Europe it’s just a dream come true just as you have to start dreaming to reach a high level before you start playing professionally.
22. We remember you with the Afro-hairstyle in your younger days. What’s up with the dreadlocks now?
To be honest, growing up, a lot of the people who had influence on me and I used to be around were those of the Rastafarian background. Then I also played in Jamaica for a while and I always wanted that dreads from since then. But at the time, I was starting to play professionally and back then it was a statement about what cultural beliefs you had and it depended on what managers may think of it and so on. It may have been a wrong choice especially as it was already hard coming from Laventille and being black. Nowadays though, people don’t really care if it’s about religion or cultural beliefs. They see it as a hairstyle. But then you get to a stage where you have already crossed that stepping stone and you can now make these kind of decisions based on what you believe. I have always sympathized with the people with these beliefs when I was back home in the early days. I like the kind of righteousness that it stands for. For me it’s not just a fashion statement.
23. Does Russell have any superstitious doings before he takes the field?
My superstition has always been taking a good pass off in the toilet before going to a match, (he says with an even bigger laugh). I tell myself that if I do “my shit” off the field then I won’t do it on the field and I have been doing this since the age of 14.