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Fri, Oct

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Russell LatapyMaturana Limits Latapy.

Trinidad and Tobago football icon and Falkirk midfielder Russell Latapy arrived at Piarco International Airport yesterday and will train with the "Soca Warriors" today for the first time under present head coach Francisco Maturana.
But it might not be in the capacity that he hoped.

Latapy was appointed, on September 21, as a player/coach by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) for crucial upcoming 2010 World Cup qualifiers away to Guatemala on October 11 and at home to the United States on October 15.

But Maturana, a two-time Colombia World Cup coach, told the Express the Scotland-based playmaker would only join his team as a player.

Maturana, when questioned on Latapy's role within his technical staff, smiled and said--through translator Ancil Glod--that he would also like to know.

He then pointed to each of his staff members, including assistant coach Anton Corneal, who huddled around after yesterday evening's training session for the national team at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

"This is my staff here," said Maturana. "I want to see Latapy on the field."

Latapy, who turned 40 this year, made his coaching ambitions clear on several occasions, but is yet to convince the TTFF he is ready for the top post.

In 2005, FIFA vice-president and TTFF special adviser Jack Warner appointed Latapy as a player/coach under Dutchman Leo Beenhakker, but the former Real Madrid coach refused to allow him on his technical staff.

At the time, Latapy refused to join the national squad unless he was also allowed to coach, but eventually returned as a player--after pleading from his close friend and team captain Dwight Yorke--to dramatic effect as he inspired a 3-2 win over Guatemala in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.

Maturana suggested that Latapy might again have the opportunity to cast a spell on Guatemala on Saturday, but only as a player.

"The doors of the national team are always open," said Maturana. "He is a good player."

The Warriors trained without several foreign-based players yesterday, including Yorke, Latapy, Carlos Edwards, Chris Birchall, Jason Scotland and Dennis Lawrence.

Walsall goalkeeper Clayton Ince and Southampton striker Stern John were the only England-based players who returned on time to train, while United States-based defender Avery John was also present.

Another familiar face at the session was Sunderland star Kenwyne Jones, who came home to attend the funeral of a family member and was allowed to train with the national squad by his club manager Roy Keane.

Jones had company. Sunderland physiotherapist Craig Tears was sent to Trinidad to ensure that Jones "followed his rehabilitation programme" and did not "over-extend himself".

Tears, who was dressed in his club's kit, kept a watchful eye on the T&T team session from the sidelines.

"Everyone (at Sunderland) wanted my assignment," said Tears, with a laugh.

While Jones trained with the squad, John (S) worked out on his own. The national record goal-scorer is recovering from a slight hamstring tear but is desperate to play and said the Southampton medical staff expected him to be ready for action by Thursday.

"It is fantastic to be back," said John, who has 69 international goals from 104 appearances. "Wednesday's game (against the Dominican Republic) is definitely out but I am just trying to get myself fit for Saturday... It is always a pleasure to score goals but, whether I play for just five minutes, this is bigger than Stern John.

"It is about Trinidad and Tobago."

John cannot wait to be reunited with his former heroes and teammates, Yorke and Latapy, who, he feels, can still assist the national squad.

"It is always great to have the likes of Russell and Dwight in the team," he said. "They might not have the legs as before but they can always lift the guys."

Maturana insisted he is happy to have Latapy, too. But perhaps not in the role that everyone expected.