ALL HAIL LATAPY
Former Trinidad and Tobago national football team stand-out Everald "Gally" Cummings yesterday applauded the return of iconic player Russell "Little Magician" Latapy, but only if the 40-year-old Scotland-based midfielder plans to help the "Soca Warriors" as a coach.
"Who wouldn't be happy to have the Little Magician?" asked Cummings, who is a sport director at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). "I don't know the logistics of the whole situation and if he is coming more as a player or as a coach.
"If he is coming more as a coach, then yes."
Retired national goalkeeper and Football Players Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) president Shaka Hislop, who was Latapy's teammate at the 2006 World Cup, also congratulated the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) on their choice.
"I think it is an appointment that is not only inevitable but long overdue," said Hislop, who works as an ESPN football analyst. "For the first time, we have players who played abroad at the highest level and have the opportunity to go into coaching and we have to make the most of that."
CLICO San Juan Jabloteh assistant coach and Trinidad and Tobago's most capped international player, Angus Eve, feels that Latapy could lift the country's 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, as he did for the 2006 series.
"I think the guys always look up to 'Latas' and the Trinidad public love him to be in and around the team," said Eve. "He is always a 'pick me up' and he was definitely a lift for the guys in the last campaign."
FIFA technical adviser Alvin Corneal, a former national player and coach, sounded a word of caution, though.
Corneal pointed out that Latapy's record as assistant coach for unheralded Scotland Premier League team, Falkirk FC, offered little clues as to whether he could succeed.
"If the TTFF think he is good enough and want to use him then, he is entitled to a chance," said Corneal. "It is hard to judge him because Falkirk is not a big club and I can't say he did anything substantial there...
"A good player does not necessarily make a good coach... It is a whole different profession.
"I am not going to challenge Russell's ability to coach because I don't know it. But a lot of people will be saying that he was a great player so he would be a great appointment. I disagree with it on that basis."
Corneal, whose son Anton is assistant to present T&T head coach, Colombian Francisco Maturana, and was understudy to Dutchmen Leo Beenhakker and Wim Rijsbergen, believes Latapy will return primarily as a player. And he think it appears to be a panicked decision.
"There is no doubt that quality is quality and, if he is fit, he can always produce something special," said Corneal. "But to bring in a 40-year-old to replace a 19-year-old or 20-year-old is tough and quite an indictment on the talented players today like Ataullah Guerra who are aspiring to play at the highest level.
"I cannot comment on Latapy's form now because Falkirk is struggling and he has not played much for them this season. But maybe someone in the TTFF is more aware of his present condition."
Cummings also felt that Latapy's best role was not as a player.
"He would be interfering with the development of our programme, providing there is a programme," he said. "We need to start to develop other Latapys and not have the same person playing until he is 50 years."
It is still unclear how Latapy would fit into the present coaching set-up.
Eve explained that coaches usually select their own assistants to be sure there is a mutual philosophy. He does not know how Maturana would handle Latapy's inclusion if he did not request it in the first place.
"I cannot comment on Russell as a coach because I do not know what he brings as a coach," said Eve. "If Maturana handles the structure of the team and Latapy brings the flair, it can be a good combination if they mesh together."
Cummings and Hislop, both local sporting Hall of Famers, cannot wait for Latapy to inherit the top coaching post, though.
"With no disrespect to Anton (Corneal), I feel Russell has better credentials to eventually take over on a full-time basis," said Hislop. "Time will tell how the staff relationship works with Russell's inclusion, but I think it is time Russell is given the opportunity to impart his experience both in the short-term and in the long-term.
"I think Russell has a long-term future in coaching and I think Trinidad and Tobago is in a great position to capitalise on that. I can only hope that the powers-that-be share my enthusiasm."