Sidebar

21
Sat, Oct

Typography
Flying Kenwyne JonesMagical conundrum.

Neither Trinidad and Tobago national head coach Francisco Maturana nor his assistant/playmaker Russell "the Little Magician" Latapy can be entirely pleased with their present work specifications.
The "Soca Warriors" are ostensibly plotting the downfall of El Salvador and four other CONCACAF rivals as they attempt to become the first Caribbean team to qualify for successive World Cup tournaments.

But, as they prepare in Argentina for the final South Africa 2010 qualifying round, it must have dawned on both parties the importance that their relationship will play in giving the Warriors their best shot at success.

Latapy is openly touted as the coach-in-waiting and was promised "a very authoritative role in the team" by FIFA vice-president and Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) special adviser Jack Warner.

It cannot be an easy situation for Maturana to deal with and the Colombian continues to sidestep questions on Latapy's role within the technical staff while insisting that he is primarily a player.

By all reports, the two have so far made the most of their shotgun wedding. Both men are charming and personable and there are no reports of blank stares or cold shoulders when they occupy each other's personal space.

Maturana has played the 40-year-old Latapy from the start in the six games that the veteran has been involved-including two outings against club teams in Argentina. It is left for conspiracy theorists to muse about whether the two-time Colombia World Cup coach sees Latapy as an automatic pick on merit or is trying to keep Latapy as far from the technical bench as possible and/or to appease Warner and, to a lesser extent, the playmaker's loyal fans.

But what is surely indisputable is that Latapy, arguably the most gifted player produced by Trinidad and Tobago, is no longer the focal point of the national side and has not been for some time.

If the Warriors are to strike fear into the likes of Mexico and the United States, it is the tall, athletic Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones who must be on song.

So, obvious political reasons aside, what good can there be in building a team to compensate for the ageing legs of 37-year-old team captain Dwight Yorke and his older midfield counterpart, Latapy, rather than one set up to maximise Jones' youthful energy?

If Maturana is best staffed up front where, Jones apart, he is spoilt for choice between the likes of Jason Scotland, Cornell Glen, Errol McFarlane and Stern John-not to mention discarded talents such as Darryl Roberts, Devon Jorsling, Jerol Forbes and Andre Toussaint-then why persist with starting just one striker?

Jones, who was recently valued in excess of 12 million pounds by his employers, likes the ball played to him as quickly as possible so he can use his pace to get behind an advanced defence.

Glen, who is Maturana's most productive attacker thus far with ten goals from 16 international appearances, similarly thrives on a quick transition to offence.

Neither man needs a midfield conductor. Two battling central midfielders capable of spotting an early pass-take your pick between Yorke, Chris Birchall, Trent Noel, Densill Theobald, Clyde Leon and Khaleem Hyland-and attack-minded wingers like Carlos Edwards, Keon Daniel, Kendall Jagdeosingh and Collin Samuel are all that is required.

It might be a devastating attacking line-up if Maturana is brave enough.

Scotland deserves a chance too. His dinked England FA Cup penalty past Portsmouth and England goalkeeper David James epitomised his soaring form and confidence at the moment and his clever link-up play and disguised runs might be the perfect foil for the more direct Jones.

They will be pushed hard by the towering McFarlane, who has seven goals from 14 internationals and three from two under the present regime, and John.

The latter is going through a lean spell at Bristol City but a record 69 goals from 106 internationals is not easily overlooked, particularly when John still plays in the demanding England Championship Division.

Any one of those equations leaves Latapy on the sidelines but far from marginalised.

As assistant coach, Latapy will continue to play a major role in the preparation of the team where his experience and personality should make him a major asset. He can still be used off the bench to help the team keep the ball under pressure and hold on to a positive result.

If Maturana was without his more mobile frontmen, Latapy could be a tremendous benefit as the Warriors would need to build slower and be more careful with possession. But team politics should not strip the Warriors of their balance and one feels the ingredients are there for further football glory.

Maturana and Latapy have some difficult decisions to make before they travel to El Salvador. They both certainly know much more about the game than any football scribe.

Hopefully, their judgment will be based on the good of Trinidad and Tobago and not the advancement of either man's personal campaign.