It was a good week for left-wingers. It may have been Joe Cole who attracted most of the attention, dispelling memories of his days as a performing seal with a fine display against Uruguay, but 24 hours earlier another maligned 24-year-old had highlighted his claims for a place at the World Cup with a stellar display in west London.
Almost as much as in England, football in Trinidad and Tobago has been tormented by a strange dearth of left-footers. Right-footers have been coerced into the position, formations have been mangled, but in the 2-0 victory over Iceland at Loftus Road, Dundee United's Collin Samuel, a bona fide left-footer, did every-thing he could to suggest he should fill the vacancy at the World Cup finals. He set up the first goal for Dwight Yorke with a rapid burst and fine cross, and then it was in chasing his deftly flighted ball that Stern John was bundled over, resulting in the penalty from which Yorke scored his second.
"We played well and we were delighted with the result," Samuel said. "There's a real shortage of players with a left foot, so that's good for me. I could be selected, but there are other players. I've been called into squads before and then been left out. I was only on stand-by for the play-off against Bahrain, so I'm just praying I get my chance. I've had injuries, which has opened the door for others."
It is not just the injuries. Although he scored a hat-trick on his debut for the Soca Warriors when just 18, Samuel was never a regular under Rene Simoes, largely because of the Brazilian's preference for a 3-5-2 system. Subsequent coaches proved similarly unsure as he struggled to add to his goals tally. He was ignored by Bertille St Clair and discarded early by both Stuart Charles-Fevrier and Hannibal Najjar, and even the present coach, Leo Beenhakker, admitted he had his doubts when he first saw Samuel. "I invited him two or three times in qualification matches," he said. "At that time I didn't have a good impression of him, but he is doing much better. I had that information already from the guys working for me in Britain."
What was striking was not just his pace and his delivery, but the intelligence of his movement. Although Samuel spent most of his time wide, giving an option to Yorke, who, at 34, continues to pull the strings, he would also dart infield, creating space for the surges of the full-back Avery John. That perhaps spoke of a growing maturity, but it is also probably indicative of his comfort in the role after years of being shunted from wing to wing or used as a central striker.
"In a 4-4-2, I would like to play either left or right," said Samuel. "I am happy playing on the left side because that is where I played at Jabloteh. My game is based on running at defenders with pace and making things happen, and I hope I get the chance to show what I can do."
Samuel's attacking abilities were first recognised as a teenager at Mayaro Composite, earning him a move to second- division Doc's Khelwalaas, but it was after Terry Fenwick, the former QPR defender, had signed him for CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh that he really shot to prominence. Fenwick arranged a trial at Falkirk and, after a long wrangle over a work permit, Samuel joined in 2001. His first full season brought 16 goals, including back-to-back hat-tricks against Arbroath and Hearts, and then a £100,000 move to Dundee United. There too he was hampered by changes of coach and formation, but now, under Craig Brewster, he is estab-lished as a first-team regular.
Samuel admits, though, that he finds the adjustment to inter-national football difficult. "The style is different," he said. "There is a more defensive way of playing. It's more based on patience and possession. At the World Cup, if we lose possession it will be very hard for us to get the ball back."
The key to success in Germany, he believes, has little to do with tactics, or plugging gaps on the left side. "We just have to work our balls off," he said.