Former National Team goalkeeper and current ESPN analyst Shaka Hislop has given thumbs up towards the appointment of ex-teammate Russell Latapy as head coach of the Trinidad and Tobago Senior Team.
Hislop, who played alongside Latapy in T&T colours between 1999 and 2006, said though that he was initially surprised over Francisco Maturana’s exit and while he is backing Latapy in his efforts to lead the country forward, he believes T&T’s chances of qualifying for South Africa 2010 are a bit less than he would have liked at this stage of the campaign.
“Initially I was a little surprised as you always tend to be when someone gets the sack. I wasn't expecting Maturana to resign or be replaced before the end of this qualifying campaign. Once the seat was vacant it came as no real surprise that Russell was asked to fill in,” Hislop told TTFF Media.
”I felt Russell should have been given the job after (Wim) Rijsbergen. I always felt that we were coming to a crucial stage in our footballing development, players who had played abroad for long periods and had been successful in some of the toughest leagues around the world,namely Russell, Dwight and don't forget Leonsen Lewis, were coming to the ends of their careers and were serious about coaching. It was the perfect opportunity to blend the internationally gained professionalism with a true understanding of our country's footballing traditions.
“Russell for me is not only one of the greatest players T&T has ever produced, but easily one of the greatest footballing brains we have ever produced. My only concern was that there wasn't a lot of room between Russell as a player and this current squad and Russell as a head coach, those concerns of course still remain today,” the former West Ham standout continued.
Hislop was part of the ESPN commentary team for T&T’s 3-0 loss to USA in the semifinal stage last year and was also part of the pre-match show for the recent defeat in Nashville. For him, there wasn’t much difference in the way things turned out.
“The game against the US in Nashville was Exactly the game against the US in Chicago! It seemed we had learned nothing from our first encounter! That for me was the most disappointing thing, not so much that we lost or by how much, or that we hardly seemed to put up a fight, I can even accept being technically inferior, but to stagnate tactically and to emotionally don't seem to care is simply unacceptable,” he said.
As to what he thinks of the “Soca Warriors” going to South Africa, the chances are still alive but it will take a greater effort than what occurred in 2005.
“Our chances of qualifying for SA 2010 are worse than they were 4 years ago. I say that for a number of reasons. I don't think Russell will play again, he probably will, and probably should concentrate his efforts on coaching the team now.
Dwight is four years older than he was last time around, and we haven't successfully replaced those two players in our starting line-up. Honduras is stronger than Guatemala was four years ago, on the other side of the coin though Mexico is far weaker. And of course the fourth placed finishers play against the fifth placed finishers in South America, a much tougher proposition than Bahrain could ever be.
Hislop believes though that as little as two points in the upcoming matches against Costa Rica and Mexico will keep T&T in the race.
”Russell's initial challenges are simple, to steady a rocky ship and to get at least 2 points from the games against Costa Rica at home and Mexico away. Not to give Russell a 'get out of jail free' card, but if we don't do that South Africa 2010 dreams are all but over, and Russell shouldn't shoulder the blame for that. Russell's mandate has to be a more long term one, he has to be given till 2014 at least.”
The ex-Portsmouth and Reading custodian also touched on the qualification of the T&T U-20 team for the FIFA World Youth Cup in Egypt later this year. He thinks their qualification indicates that T&T’s football future looks bright.
“The Under-20's qualification for the Youth World Cup in Egypt, following on the heels of the under-17's participation in Korea in '07 says our footballing future looks bright.
“ That final step to full internationals is a very tough one though, but we seem to have a great team in the making, and hopefully among them players with enough talent and personalities with enough steel to fill the void left, or about to be left, by Russell's and Dwight's impending departures. No small shoes to fill though,” concluded Hislop who recently took up a part time job as assistant coach of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.