Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean's most celebrated football player, Dwight Yorke, yesterday announced his retirement from the international game in a release to his British Championship Division employers, Sunderland Football Club.
Yorke, 35, earlier indicated his availability for the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup and was set to represent the "Soca Warriors" in a friendly away to Chile on March 24. The Chile fixture was officially scrapped on Tuesday when the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) announced the suspension of all national football team activity "due to a lack of financial support". The T&TFF also declared that the Warriors' Gold Cup participation was now doubtful.
Within 24 hours, Yorke made his own proclamation by calling time on an international career that began 19 years ago in Port of Spain, just three weeks after his 17th birthday. The Tobago-born player, who commanded just under $183 million in transfer fees during his 18-year professional career, explained that he would now focus on Sunderland's bid for promotion to the English Premier League.
"I believe the time is now right for me to concentrate on my career at Sunderland and hopefully win promotion to the Premiership," Yorke told the club website. "I would like to thank all my fellow teammates from Trinidad and Tobago who have given me such support and our fantastic fans who are unique in the world."
It is the second time that Yorke quit the national team although, almost certainly, it will be the last.
Six years ago, the classy attacker retired alongside gifted teammate and close friend, Russell Latapy, after then national coach Rene Simoes dropped the pair for skipping practice on the eve of a crucial World Cup qualifier at home to Jamaica and four years passed before Yorke made an unlikely return under his former mentor, Bertille St Clair.
Yorke silenced skeptics with his committed leadership as the Warriors clinched a historic spot at the 2006 Germany FIFA World Cup. As a striker-cum-midfield anchor, Yorke did not manage a single competitive goal in the two-year period but won international and local acclaim for his work rate and perceptive reading of the game.
In Germany, he tallied just one shot-and it was wide-but won more tackles (21) than any other player who left the tournament at the group stage, while he was ranked 18th at the completion of the event.
The T&TFF honoured his efforts by naming him their Player of the Year for 2005 and 2006, which, ironically, they failed to do in his pomp.
On the global stage, though, Yorke is best remembered in a Manchester United shirt after his sizzling debut season for the Premiership giants in 1998/99, which ended with an unprecedented treble of European Champions League and English Premiership and FA Cup triumphs.
Yorke, who signed for a then club record 12.6 million pounds, was the Premiership's top scorer that season with 29 goals and was the first "Red Devil" to break the 20-goal barrier in more than a decade and only the second to do so since the legendary George Best.
He lasted another two and a half years at United before a fall out with esteemed manager Sir Alex Ferguson meant that he was offloaded to Blackburn Rovers for two million pounds in 2002. But his club record was an enviable 47 goals from 95 appearances while his capture of domestic and European titles saw him celebrated as the club's 47th most famous player of all time.
Yorke remains the most prolific non-European player and the ninth highest scorer in Premiership history with 134 goals. His club honours include two Premiership crowns and a FA, Champions League and Intercontinental trophy for United, while he won the English League Cup once each with Aston Villa and Blackburn, as well as the Australian A' League title in a one-year stint with Sydney FC.
At international level, he led T&T to the Portugal 1991 FIFA Under-19 World Cup and matched this achievement at senior level in 2006-which he referred to as his "greatest moment"-while he won 59 caps with 26 goals during his international career.
Yorke's time in the red, white and black strip was often plagued by controversy and he made only 36 full international appearances with 23 goals in his first 13 years as a professional.
A year after his debut in a goalless draw against Honduras, Yorke infuriated national coach Everald "Gally" Cummings by leaving for trials with Villa, just weeks before the infamous home qualifier against the United States on November 19, 1989, which saw the "Strike Squad" fall one point short of the 1990 World Cup.
Signed by Villa, he returned home sparingly thereafter as his British bosses were reluctant to release him for international duty. His relationship with the local football body deteriorated further in 1993 when Yorke suffered a broken leg at the Caribbean Cup and felt neglected by his country during his slow recovery.
Yorke played just four times in the 1998 World Cup qualifying effort and scored once-in an 8-0 rout of the Dominican Republic. He did better in the 2002 campaign where he chipped in five goals from 11 outings but still left in acrimonious circumstances and FIFA vice-president and T&TFF special adviser Jack Warner called him "a cancer to the game" for his failure to abide by team rules.
The 2006 campaign was the making of Yorke, though, as he finally won the adulation of his compatriots-a full seven years after he conquered Europe.
His relationship with the T&TFF again appeared strained last October when he was among 13 players who threatened to quit the team in a bonus dispute although Yorke broke ranks with most of his teammates when they opted to seek legal action against the local body.
His last international outing was on October 7 and Yorke curled home a free kick for T&T in a 5-0 win against St Vincent in front of less than 10,000 supporters at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.
From now on, Yorke's goals will be the property of Sunderland Football Club.