We are here talking with one of Trinidad and Tobago ’s best ever footballers. A man still acclaimed by many to be the best mid fielder playing for Trinidad and Tobago and I say still because he is still playing for Trinidad and Tobago.
He needs no introduction but I will still tell you his name for those of you who don’t know who it is as yet. He is of course known as the “Little Magician”; He is Russell Latapy.
Andre Baptiste: Let me welcome him – Russell welcome
RL: Thanks Andre
AB: Russell, now that you have come back on the Trinidad and Tobago team how does it feel?
RL: Well I am always delighted to be around and to be involved in Trinidad football. At this particular instance, it’s good to come back at my particular age and be influential and productive and help the team to achieve its goal.
AB: Russell, what does the future look like for you in terms of Falkirk ? In terms of your playing days and coaching? What will things be like in 2009 for Russell Latapy and Falkirk ?
RL: It’s difficult to say. I mean I have created a fantastic working relationship with the people in Falkirk for over the past 5 years and I know that there is a situation that they want me to stay around and be part of the whole coaching set up here and be around the club which I’m flattered that they would make that type of offer to me. So it’s a question that I will have to wait and see how things go before I make that decision.
AB: Russell, you were recently honoured by Falkirk . How does it feel to be honoured so much and to be so well loved by the people of Falkirk and Scotland ?
RL: Fantastic. You know it’s not one of those situations that really happens everyday. Normally here in the UK you play for 10 years and then you get a testimonial and it’s that type of celebration. that I was afforded over the weekend I am delighted that they realized my contribution over the past 5 seasons and my induction into the hall of fame also of Falkirk football club and I am delighted with how things went over the weekend.
AB: Russell, speaking about club football let’s talk a little about Falkirk . What makes this club so special to you because many of us believe that since you have been with Falkirk your career has improved; your career has grown and you seem to be excelling. Age doesn’t seem to be a number. What makes Falkirk so special; this club make it so strong for Russell Latapy?
RL: Well I would think there isn’t one particular reason for that. It’s a combination of things. One of them is that it is a small family club and they pay a lot of attention to the way they treat people and people family and everybody at the club so that is one thing. I think one of the other things is that it afforded me the opportunity as well while still playing to gain experience in coaching and that has opened my eyes to different aspects of football and continued my love affair with the game so I would think that is one of the reasons as well why I keep going and why I am fortunate that things have gone well enough for me.
AB: Well, let’s talk a little bit of Trinidad and Tobago football. You made the return to Trinidad and TobagoTrinidad and Tobago against the USA and we won. How does it feel to be back for Trinidad and Tobago ? ; a dream comeback. In your second game back, you scored a goal for
RL: I’m delighted. I’m always delighted. I joke about this quite a lot but I normally get a call when things are not going very well. So I got that call and I came back and as I said earlier on, I am always happy when I can contribute to the team and its objectives and I think with scoring that goal and being part of that whole set up again we qualified for the final phase here and let’s see if we can take it forward.
AB: Russell, when you got the call up to play for Trinidad and Tobago . Tell us about it; tell us what happened. What went through your mind and how it all transpired?
RL: Well I mean in fairness, I speak to Dwight quite a lot and I know the thing with Dwight and I is that we see football in a similar way. Our ideas and philosophies about the game are very similar. So once I got a call from Dwight and he was saying well we need a bit of creativity and I know that we can’t afford you and whatever but come and give it one shot because it’s only two games and if we don’t get a result then you know I mean same like what happened last time. He coached me into coming back for two games and if we didn’t get a result then it wouldn’t make a difference and I think it is the same sort of situation but because I trust Dwight’s way of seeing football I know that if he is saying to me that okay I could make a positive contribution then I decided and we came to the family and all of that. Well, okay it’s going to be 2-3 games and then we will see what happens from there and that is exactly what happened.
AB: Russell, tell us about the reception for you from the younger guys on the Trinidad and Tobago team?
RL: Tremendous. Tremendous. I think a lot of players have been away a long time and I don’t really know these players very well so I’m now developing relationships with these players. What I can say is that a lot of these boys, from my first impression, is that they want to learn football they want to do well and they have a really strong desire to do well for themselves and for the country. So in saying that, you know they listen very well and they try to take things on board and they have a good attitude towards the game so I am really impressed with the younger players.
AB: In terms of the game against Cuba , Trinidad and Tobago seemed to fall asleep in the first half; they seem to get life in the second half. What awoke the Trinidad and Tobago team? What did you guys talk about at half time? What got this Trinidad and Tobago team to suddenly start to play football in the second half, Russell?
RL: Well, it is different and I think in football and you see it in a lot of the competitions as well there is always a bit of a danger situation when all you need is a draw because for some reason you are playing in a different way. You play not really wanting to expose yourself too much and defending a bit and what happens in fact you give the other team the opportunity to play for really and come at you I think that is what happens in the first half I think obviously once you get into the dressing room every man jack realize that that was unacceptable; that performance and we realize that we knew it already but once playing on the field we realized that okay we are a better team than these guys here so let’s go and play football the way that we can play and if we do that we’ll definitely get results and I think the boys showed that in the second part.
AB: Crowd support Russell - that was a mammoth crowd against Cuba . What does that mean to the players?
RL: Yes definitely; especially in this final stage of the world cup qualifying competition. We need the support of the entire country. As much ability as we have and desire or whatever, this needs to be an effort from everyone. I don’t think that the players alone can do it I think sometimes it would take sharing and as you say here it is the twelfth man that puts the other team on the back foot sometimes and I think if we can get that support coming here and we can do well in our home games then I am quite confident that our chances of qualifying is a lot greater.
AB: Russell, when you look at 2009 and our campaign next year for the last round of world cup qualifications, there is talk that the Trinidad and Tobago team would play some matches in the Queens ’ Park Oval or the Hasley Crawford Stadium. From the players’ perspective, which one would they prefer?
RL: I think it will depend on who we are playing against. I think if we go on a play for example against the states who are really methodical and organized I think and who would get back behind the ball quickly I would think we would need a faster pitch to play them on because we are skilful and we go at people one on one and we don’t want to give them time to come back so we need a faster pitch. I would suppose though that if we going to play against somebody like Mexico who are technically as good as we are or possibly a bit better and are used to playing at that level a lot more we would probably need to play them on a slower pitch that way it would give us time to get back and be organized and defend. I think it just depends on your opponent.
AB: In terms of the Hasley Crawford venue as against the Queens ’ Park Oval from the players’ perspective – the venue itself?
RL: Well, I would think that one is a football stadium and one is a cricket stadium but I would suppose if we can full them both and whoever we playing against and get the total support of the fans it really wouldn’t make a difference.
AB: Now to ask you about Russell’s goal as a coaching assistant how is that progressing?
RL: That is something I really prefer not to say too much about until I speak to a lot of people who are involved in the whole set up. The thing is that once I came back I gave my word that I would come back for two or three games and I was told that it will be in the capacity of player coach. My influence was more on the pitch and not in the decision making process. But now that 2 or 3 games are out of the way, I prefer not to say too much until I speak to Mr. Warner concerning the whole situation and then I will be able to comment more on it.
AB: Russell, in terms of Francisco Maturana, you have worked with many coaches. What are your early thoughts about him?
RL: I can only give you my first impression. My first impression is that he understands football – definitely. I’ve only been around the team for I would think in this period maybe 2 or 3 weeks which it’s difficult for me to make an accurate judgment and say too much and I don’t want to do that until I am absolutely certain what I am saying is the way I feel. So, what I would say at this time is that in speaking to him one on one concerning football - he understands football.
AB: As we look forward Russell to next year February 11th Trinidad and Tobago ’s first game against El Salvador is it fair to say that Russell Latapy will be available for Trinidad for February 11th next year?
RL: I think that is an impossible question to answer at this present time. Now, if u asking me if I want to be involved and help the team I will say definitely because I have a lot to contribute in both aspects; in a coaching aspect and also in a playing aspect if called upon. So I would say yes I would like to be involved. If you asking me if I am going to be involved I would say that is a question that I will only be able answer as long as I have spoken to a lot of people who are involved in the decision making process in our football.
AB: Russell, before you go you know people say 40 years old, why you still playing this game at forty years old?
RL: Well, I mean I love the game and I can say to you that I will play the game for the rest of my life. I just wouldn’t play at this level and I think most ex-players or players who would tell you that you fall in love with the game and you’d always play. As far as playing at this age goes, there is a saying out there and in my philosophy in coaching I think that way as well, I think that if your good enough your old enough. So in saying that we have a player that is 16 or 17 years old and he is capable of doing the job that is required I think that he needs to play. In my particular situation, I’m 40 and obviously that is the coach’s decision to make but if he thinks that I’m still capable of doing the job then I think that would be the right decision.
AB: Russell, how does it feel coming back into the Trinidad Tobago team at 40 and many people say despite your age the public still want you to play. Some say this old man some say old man or no old man they want Russell Latapy to play for Trinidad and Tobago . How it feels?
RL: Delight that you have the support of the fans and also really happy that you still contributing in a positive way. But in saying that because I’m coaching as well I need to be fair and then I know there are situations for example Guatemala where then I had to be off the field. I mean I am forty years old and I can play going forward but if we playing with ten players then you know you need the younger legs who can do the chasing. So I am realistic in knowing that there are a lot of situations that I will have to be used in terms of benefiting the team more in terms than me just wanting to be on the mark.
AB: Russell, let’s talk about the young players on the team. Are there enough young players you feel coming through and to represent Trinidad and Tobago right now or you feel there is a lack of development in terms of young players coming through the Trinidad and Tobago system in football?
RL: I can only really speak from what I have seen with the national team because I haven’t had time to be home to analyze what has been happening with our football and see the professional league. I have seen one college league game which was Mucurapo and I was really impressed with them
AB: They are the champion team now.
RL: They are really impressive. In my opinion, I must say congrats to the “fellas”. They playing football they way that I think football should be played. But in answering your question, the young players that I see on the national team, I am really impressed with some of these young guys. I think all they need is possibly a bit of experience and then they will be alright. But again, they don’t give the ball away cheaply and they attack at the right times, they fill gaps at the right times. So yes I think it is getting them to understand what their role is in whatever system you playing and I think they will do well.
AB: Next year we come up against teams like Costa Rica , Mexico , Honduras , El Salvador and the USA . What do you think about our chances?
RL: I think we are definitely capable of qualifying for the world cup in the first stream. I think again we need to pick up points at home; we need to win our home game and then pick up points away. I think we are really strong in different areas. We are a big physical team; we’ve got Dennis Lawrence we’ve got Dwight and we’ve got Kenwyne. It’s not typical of our type of football but we need to use our strengths and that is one of our strengths and I think if we can do that properly especially in an away game and be really tight at the back and possibly rely a bit, not totally, but I’m just saying a bit on what we have which is big boys and dead ball situations, good delivery and good attacking of the ball and I am sure that we can pick up points away as well.
AB: Russell, our first game is against El Salvador . Some say it is a game that is ideally poised for us in terms of being our first match. Some are saying that we can get a draw or we could get a win. A draw would be good for us. What are your thoughts?
RL: Any point is a good point especially away but I would like to think without having seen El Salvador and I’m basing what I’m going to say to you strictly on me knowing our team I think we are good enough to really beat anybody. I think again if we organize enough and we play to certain strengths that we have then I am sure that we can go there and don’t give away silly goals and make something and possibly walk away with the three points.
AB: A message Russell to the people of Trinidad and Tobago about next year. What they should expect?
RL: Just stay away from the violence. Keep loving each other and have a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year.
AB: Russell, on behalf of I95.5FM and all of Trinidad and Tobago we want to thank you for inspiring the team Trinidad and Tobago so well for being there for Trinidad and Tobago for always being ready for Trinidad and Tobago . Three years ago you did it. You’ve come back and done it again. We’ve just got one more round to go and Russell Latapy is always available for Trinidad and Tobago . We owe you a lot. A lot of people love you in Trinidad and Tobago . A lot of us believe you are the best footballer ever. We thank you for everything and we wish you and your family all the best for Christmas and for the New Year. Let’s hope in 2009 we will see more of Russell Latapy and with more goals Russell Latapy, more wins for Trinidad and Tobago.
RL: Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot Andre. Same to you.