A former Trinidad and Tobago national team manager swears that the return of Dwight Yorke to international duty is the greatest thing to happen to Trinidad and Tobago's football. Richard Brathwaite makes no bones of the fact that he's a Dwight Yorke fan, even going so far as to write a report in the Review magazine in defence of the Tobago-born footballer. Brathwaite is among a lot of people in the twin-island republic now commending the decision to bring back Yorke back to international action.
Once known as a cavalier playboy, who many sensed would come back to party as much as to play football for his country, Yorke now seems to have a developed a new commitment to the national team following a four-year absence after quitting international football in the middle of T&T's last World Cup campaign.
Among the significant things Yorke has done is to encourage his "partner in crime" (for want of a better phrase), Russell Latapy, to also come out of a four-year exile to serve the national team.
Yorke also seems to be working his pants off in training and on the field, sliding in for tackles, falling back in the defence to actually defend-something he never did before-and urging the players around him to lift their game. In Connecticut, USA, when T&T were under the gun against the United States, Yorke was almost on the verge of vexation as he urged his teammates to improve their play. In Costa Rica, Carlos Edwards especially, got an admonishing to lift his game. That is a far cry from the the old Yorke, who turned up late for training sessions, among other things.
"I think Dwight has been magnificent," Brathwaite declares. "I am pleased to see that he has come back to play for the country. I think that he is showing a lot of leadership qualities and skill. The skill was always there, but now, he is a genuine team leader on the field."
The decision to bring back Yorke took place under Brathwaite's charge, when Tobago-born national coach Bertille St Clair was still at the helm. Brathwaite says the effort to bring back Yorke was difficult, but he always felt it was the correct decision.
"I went to Blackburn to see him play a game, and when I returned I remember saying that anyone who felt that Dwight Yorke 'gone through', was mad. I could see that Dwight still had a lot of football in him and a lot to offer Trinidad and Tobago."
Brathwaite also believes that Yorke has been given a bad rap over the years. Brathwaite refers to his Review article in which he wrote: "Let me state from the outset that I am, and have always been, a Dwight Yorke fan; not only because I enjoyed watching his goal scoring skills at the highest levels of the game, but more so because I have always admired his capacity for hard work and his determination to succeed. Make no mistake about it, for a footballer from a small island like Tobago to rise to the top of the heap in Europe requires formidable resolve and tenacity. Undoubtedly, Lady Luck would have also played a part, but there is no way Dwight Yorke could have raised his market value from £12,000 to £12 million without an outstanding work ethic.
"Even today, when some may argue that he has 'passed his best', his level of fitness remains high, prompting the Birmingham City manager to grudgingly admit that 'Dwight Yorke is one of the fittest players at the club'. Therein lies the paradox. On the one hand, there is the popular image of the playboy, driving expensive cars at break-neck speeds and partying until the wee hours of the morning. Then there is the completely opposite image of the uncompromising, dedicated professional, working tirelessly to keep his body in shape for the game he loves.
"I can say little about the former image, although I have seen the torrid newspaper headlines and I have heard numerous rumours about the 'fun-loving' side of Dwight Yorke. I suspect some of it is the usual sensationalism that surrounds modern-day 'celebrities' and Dwight's early naivete may have added fuel to the fire. However, I have encountered the latter image on several occasions, and unfortunately it has always been away from the media spotlight.
"Two occasions come readily to mind. The first occurred when I was the manager of the Caribbean All Star Football Team in 1998 which was selected to play an exhibition game against the 'Reggae Boyz' in New Jersey, USA. Jamaica had recently qualified for the France World Cup and the stadium was packed to capacity. The All-Stars won 2-1 and Dwight Yorke scored both goals (I think), but it was later that the surprise came. The game was played at the end of the English season and many of the players were in a 'holiday' mood. After the game, the All-Stars returned to the hotel where a large crowd had gathered to celebrate. I looked around the crowded lobby searching for Dwight because I had an urgent matter to discuss with him.
"Someone shouted that he had gone up to his room and you could not help noticing the wry smiles and knowing winks. As far as the fans were concerned, if Dwight Yorke had slipped away quietly to his room after a friendly game and during the off
Yorke had slipped away quietly to his room after a friendly game and during the off season at that, then it had to be for one thing and one thing only. As the matter was urgent, I still went up to his room and knocked on the door, hoping that he would come out into the hallway and we could chat. Instead I heard Dwight's panting, breathless voice, 'Come in, it's open'.
"I stepped nervously into the room, only to see him alone on the floor, sweating profusely, doing push-ups. I waited and watched him complete 200 push-ups before we were able to talk. I remember telling him how surprised I was to see him doing push-ups after such a tough game. His simple reply was, 'Braffo, I am a professional. I have to keep in shape'. While the rest of his teammates were downstairs enjoying the impromptu party, Dwight Yorke was all alone in his room, away from the media and the fans doing push-ups.
"The other incident occurred just last year in Tobago. The Trinidad and Tobago national team was in the sister isle to play against North Ireland. Two days before the game, the national team was returning from a training session in Tobago, when the bus drove by a lonely figure running along the side of the road under a blazing midday sun. It was only after the bus pulled alongside that we saw it was Dwight Yorke himself, all alone, pounding the asphalt, but with no 'paparazzi' around to capture the moment. Perhaps it is a picture that would never appear on the front pages of newspapers around the world, but it is still 'worth a thousand words'."
Muhammad Isa, a former national coach under whom the former Manchester United striker would have served, held similar commendation for Yorke.
"I think what we are seeing now is what people always wanted to see of Dwight Yorke. I think it was a true moment of inspiration to bring him back."
St Lucian Stuart Charles Fevrier, another former T&T national coach, feels Yorke may finally have realised that this is his last chance to play in a World Cup finals and with Trinidad and Tobago having a realistic shot at qualifying, Yorke is giving everything.
"I think Dwight is playing some of the best football he has ever played for the national team. The fact that he has been made captain is giving him lots of confidence. He is really playing for the team."