Sat, Jul


Russell Latapy and his team in training.It looks like Russell Latapy, now 40, is finally ready to hang up his boots.

Trinidad and Tobago's grand old man scored a crucial goal against the USA in November of last year that saw the Soca Warriors through to the final round of qualifying, but for the upcoming games with Costa Rica and Mexico the former Porto and Rangers star is focussed squarely on his new role as head coach.

Taking over from Francisco 'Pacho' Maturana in April, the task of reviving T&T's qualifying campaign falls squarely to the man they call Latas. And though he won't tell for sure whether or not his famous name will appear in the squad list, it is clear the player-coach's main focus is now on his duties in the dugout. How are preparations going for your first games in charge of the Soca Warriors?
Russell Latapy:
I'm pretty satisfied with the way things are going at the moment. I've had a good bit of time to work with the local players, and I have to applaud the coaches from the pro league here, who have allowed me access to their players for two full weeks of camp. So, as far as I'm concerned, things are going well and I couldn't be more pleased.

You begin your tenure with a pair of tough matches in the final phase of South Africa 2010 qualifying, against powerhouses Costa Rica and Mexico.
It's nothing to get too worried about, really. At this level of international football there are no easy games to speak of, so we're not getting too caught up in things like that. I don't know of any managerial job that is easy, but I would have liked a little more time to have had the whole team together and to get across my philosophy a little clearer to all the players. But we've done well so far and, with a bit of luck, things could go our way.

What is coach Russell Latapy's style of football?
Well, the style I'd want the lads to play would be the style that helps us get results [laughs]. I want the players to know their strengths and weaknesses as individuals and also as a team, and tailor the way they play after taking that into account. It's a pretty pragmatic approach.

What does it mean to be named coach of your national team?
It's a tremendous honour for me. When I started coaching around five or six years ago [Latapy was player-coach at Falkirk in the Scottish Premier League] I always had the hope of being able to lead my national team someday. Now that day is here. I've been an assistant before and interim manager, but this is a different story. Just like every player wants to pull on the national team jersey and represent their country, it's the same for a coach.

You recently scored a goal against the USA that helped T&T reach the final round of qualifying, after coming out of international retirement for a second time. Now, as head coach and at 40 years of age, will you still put your name in the squad list?
It really depends. I can still play in the training sessions, but I must admit that at this level it is extremely difficult to do both the playing and the coaching. Right now I think I need to focus on the coaching side of things, but I can't rule anything out either. With a little more time and a little better physical preparation, sure, I might still have some minutes left in me.

On that note, you've played with all of the lads in the squad. What does it mean to have so little distance between you, the manager, and your players?
It's true, there's not a lot of distance there. I was a player, and now I'm the coach. I think it might help me in the long run, because it gives me two points of view. I can see the game in training like a player and then from a different perspective as the coach on the sidelines. I think it's a positive thing.

Who is your biggest coaching influence?
I've been blessed to have had many great coaches in my life. When I was a young man, Jean Lillywhite taught me the basics of the game and, for that, he would have to be a great influence. But, later, as a professional I must say that Bobby Robson had a massive influence on me. At the top pro level, he is the one for me - a true legend

What was the biggest challenge you faced after taking up the post?
There are quite a few challenges when you talk about Caribbean football. But I know that I was put in charge with the task of helping the team to reach the World Cup in South Africa, and this is a serious task, especially considering that we are currently second-bottom in the final six-team group. Trinidad and Tobago is a football-mad place, and there's pressure from there too. Aside from the expectation, there's the challenge of getting the players together and getting them to work in your way and play well.

Is it a complicated task to bring the local-based and overseas lads together and get them working as a unit?
That's a very tough job. It's my responsibility to get the best team out there on the pitch - not just the best players. This is the real trick; finding the proper balance.

How important is your old teammate Dwight Yorke to you as coach, and the team as a whole?
It's extremely important to have Dwight out there. He's the most successful player Trinidad and Tobago has ever produced and he's an example to the younger lads. He makes all the difference in the world as a team leader.