Like a true magician, Trinidad and Tobago head coach Russell Latapy has set the stage with suspense over the composition of the 29-man home-grown squad who will begin training today at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.
Only last week it was announced that Latapy was offered a two-year contract for his second stint in charge, his first a ’corbeau sweat’ of sorts when he took the reins from Colombian Francisco Maturana during T&T’s struggling 2010 South Africa World Cup final round qualifying campaign.
On Monday, the T&T Football Federation (TTFF) announced that sessions will run at least twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Mucurapo stadium, from today.
On Latapy’s first try, the team were in dire straits and even full points from then on would not have guaranteed them a spot on the world stage. Now, as TTFF special adviser Jack Warner put it, Latapy will have the chance to prove himself, at least until the next round of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil comes around.
Latapy has also been given the power to choose his assistants, foreign or local, according to Warner, within budget.
His long-time pal and former T&T teammate Dwight Yorke seemed keen on the idea of staying on as assistant coach when he stood as Latapy’s deputy upon hanging up his boots at the end of the 2009 campaign.
Odds are he will accept the post, which Latapy hinted he would offer to Yorke.
Guessing the rest of the coaching staff, to fill the position previously held by Anton Corneal, will be a bit more tricky. So will the core of 29 players who will audition before Latapy and company today for a shot at the Soca Warriors’ training squad.
Judging by his past selection tendencies, and in line with what the ’Little Magician’ said at last week’s media conference to announce his new contract, Latapy will be aiming for ’young and talented’ in his screening sessions. To be more precise, he has indicated a preference for players between ages 20-25, but has left the door open for the older players, saying: ’If you’re good enough, you’re young enough’.
There are a number of young names who immediately stand out, some of whom have impressed Latapy during the last campaign, or at the Under-20 World Cup.
These include speedy Joe Public winger Hayden Tinto, who has time and again impressed Latapy; Defence Force striker Devon Jorsling, and Eastern Lions’ midfield dynamo Trent Noel.
Caledonia AIA duo, left midfielder Keon Daniel and striker Keyon Edwards (who was second only to Kerry Baptiste in Pro League goals last year), may have done themselves harm by being placed on the Pro League transfer list for ’repeated [disciplinary] infractions’.
Daniel was also released from United Petrotrin in 2008 for disciplinary reasons.
Baptiste is as close to a sure pick as you can get, but having just returned from a trial with Ipswich Town in the UK and with another trip to that club planned for May, he is uncertain to be locally-based for much longer.
Goalkeepers, W Connection’s Jan Michael Williams and Marvin Phillip (on loan to Joe Public from Connection), have both been virtual fixtures in T&T training squads and could be joined by T&T Under-20 keeper Glenroy Samuel and possibly San Juan Jabloteh custodian Cleon John.
Defenders Aklie Edwards (Defence Force) and Samuel’s Under-20 teammate Robert Primus have been shown interest by Latapy before, while Connection midfielders Hughtun Hector and Clyde Leon could also get another look-in.
Lester Peltier and Elton John-who moved from Jabloteh to Ma Pau-along with Ataullah Guerra, another Jabloteh player with a lot of promise, may have caught Latapy’s eye.
The former Falkirk player/assistant coach also invited Naparima College and W Connection striker Shahdon Winchester to training sessions in the past and could be inclined to do so again.
There are a number of other interesting prospects in the local leagues, but with Latapy’s emphasis on youth, a feature that has been lacking in recent selection policy, it will certainly be fascinating to see what the new face of the ’Soca Warriors’ looks like.
More importantly, it is what the Magician does off the field in the next few months that could determine his level of success the second time around.