Lasana Liburd traces a string of broken TTFF relationships.
On Dundonald Street in Port of Spain, there is a notorious den of one-way love. A string of cheery gentlemen with a spring in their step enter the well known quarters in this part of the capital city only to leave feeling slightly inadequate and humiliated.
Far more hearts may have been broken in other homes of ill repute than in the head office of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) but nowhere does it happen as consistently and as predictably as there.
And, judging from the public pronouncements by Special Adviser Jack Warner and Sports Minister Anil Roberts, current national coach Russell Latapy might soon be suffering with a large dose of tabanca.
The TTFF tend to get creative when it is time to say goodbye; they have had plenty of practice.
Over the last ten years, Warner and company saw the back of 13 coaches—including four interim appointees—but only Netherlander Leo Beenhakker left of his own accord. And since November 19, 1989, no single coach has been afforded the opportunity to lead the T&T national team through an entire qualifying campaign.
Coaches have come and gone at a rapid rate with the TTFF turning hirings and firings into a sort of sport. Everald “Gally” Cummings built the “Strike Squad” from scratch and came within a point of reaching Italia 1990 before an infamous 1-0 home defeat against the United States ended local World Cup dreams.
Still, well in advance of the 1994 campaign in which Trinidad and Tobago failed even to get out of the Caribbean phase, Cummings was replaced by Alvin Corneal.
Bertille St Clair, the most successful local coach since “Gally”, learned of his dismissal through a radio announcement while Scotsman Ian Porterfield, now deceased, was aboard a flight to Port of Spain when news of his fate was faxed to the media.
Perhaps Latapy’s fate is to be remembered as the coach who was fired three months before he finally left the job. The 2010 Digicel Caribbean Cup final is scheduled for December 5 in Martinique but Minister Roberts’ recent public mutterings about the coach’s tenure have already diminished his authority. If Roberts was well meaning, he would have opted to share a private word with the national icon.
Instead, his unhelpful comments last month set off a chain reaction which began before the region’s top two teams met on the weekend in a game which Jamaica won 1-0. Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) President Horace Burrell subjected the T&T coach to some gallows humour and, in the wake of yet another defeat, his players are now doubtless discussing his fate as well.
Coaches like Sir Alex Ferguson, Sven Goran Eriksson and Rafa Benitez, much more seasoned and celebrated than Latapy, struggled to motivate their players under similar circumstances. Latapy can hardly be expected to do better. But then, perhaps, having clashed with the TTFF throughout his international career, he should have known just what he was getting into.
Latapy was a key player when St Clair, the then national coach with two Caribbean Cup titles under his belt and a reputation for not suffering fools gladly, managed to push the national team into the 2000 Concacaf Gold semifinals. The TTFF still dumped him.
An inspired 4-2 win over Guatemala without injured striker Stern John, goalkeeper Shaka Hislop and midfielder Ronnie Maugé earned an unprecedented place for T&T in the Gold Cup knockout rounds. But the TTFF sent Yorke back to Manchester United for a club tie in the middle of the FIFA-sanctioned tournament, thus ensuring that he was absent for quarterfinal duty against Costa Rica.
“I could never know what they (TTFF) had in their minds,” said national captain David Nakhid then. “I can’t think of any precedent that I could refer to where you will see a team going into the quarterfinals of what undoubtedly is the most important regional tournament and having a player going back to his club.”
T&T edged out Costa Rica on the back of a golden goal from the late Mickey Trotman but, on the eve of their semifinal, the players and technical staff were provoked by the leaking of their salaries to the press.
In a further twist, the national team doctor ruled Yorke unfit to play and he looked on from the sidelines as Nakhid missed a penalty and T&T lost 1-0 to Canada. The striker represented United three days later, by which time St Clair was already gone.
“One of the conditions (of St Clair’s) contract,” Warner explained at the time, “was that if he won the Gold Cup, we would look at (renewal) positively.”
Ten years later, St Clair remains the only coach to take the national squad past the Gold Cup group stages.
Enter Porterfield who stormed through the 2002 World Cup semi-final rounds. Two successive away defeats in the final round, though, and the TTFF forcibly altered his technical staff and then blocked him from disciplining players before finally firing the Scotsman after a 2-0 qualifying loss away to the US.
Brazilian René Simoes was next. After nine uneventful months in charge, he spent four months without being paid before the TTFF put him too out to pasture.
Interim coach Clayton Morris lasted two months before he revealed that his first pay cheque was abnormally late. The axe fell promptly. Jamaal Shabazz replaced him as interim coach with Stuart Charles-Février as Technical Director.
The TTFF, however, had a change of heart before their first training session and hired Hannibal Najjar—their fourth appointment in that calendar year.
Handicapped by a blacklist of more than a dozen local players, Najjar lasted six months before his side failed to qualify for the Gold Cup. On April 1, he got his marching orders from Warner but it was no April Fools’ joke.
Yugoslavia-born Zoran Vranes and Shabazz acted in an interim role, followed by a brief stint by Charles-Février. Then, St Clair was back. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the TTFF made the announcement of St Clair’s return without troubling to first inform Charles-Février that he was now surplus to requirements.
The Tobagonian lured Yorke out of international retirement and helped the “Soca Warriors” climb eight places in the FIFA rankings. But a 5-1 qualifying defeat away to Guatemala set off alarm bells. St Clair hoped a subsequent goalless draw against Costa Rica might have convinced the TTFF that he had turned things around.
A radio bulletin informed him otherwise. Beenhakker came in and led the Warriors to an historic World Cup place before promptly retiring to greener pastures.
The Dutchman had not been the TTFF’s first choice—Warner wanted controversial Englishman Ron Atkinson—and there were rumours that Beenhakker’s autocratic style was unpopular with his employers.
Wim Rijsbergen, Beenhakker’s former assistant, faced another blacklist in the wake of the still unresolved World Cup bonus dispute but it was only when he came to blows with Technical Director Lincoln Phillips that he was suspended.
And he had still not been officially fired when Colombian Francisco Maturana got the job. Considering Rijsbergen’s notorious temper, perhaps it was just as well that the news of his sacking was conveyed via fax.
Anton Corneal had a two month spell as interim boss between Rijsbergen’s dismissal and Maturana’s appointment. Interestingly, Corneal’s dad, Alvin Corneal, recommended the Colombian—his colleague on a FIFA coaching committee—to the TTFF.
After an impressive beginning, Maturana struggled with the internal politics, once going so far as to claim that a national team had been selected without his input. He became the first national coach to falter in the group stage of the Caribbean Cup.
At his inevitable dismissal, he alleged that the man who had been named his assistant and whom he hadn’t wanted on his staff in the first place was a disruptive element. That man’s name was Russell Latapy.
Latapy was hired, initially on an interim basis, and made an encouraging start. But he could not maintain the early euphoria while his stated preference for away games has not helped his team to build an emotional connection with the local fans.
Later this month, barring catastrophe in a straightforward qualifying group, Latapy will head for Martinique knowing that anything short of Caribbean Cup victory could lead to a heart-wrenching conclusion on his return to Dundonald Street.
If that happens, the staff up the street at the Copa Cabana can be forgiven for feeling that they cannot hold a candle to their TTFF neighbours where the sport of coming and going rapidly is concerned.
Warner’s black book.
Lasana Liburd ploughs through a list of jilted coaches since 2000
Bertille St Clair
(May 1997 – March 2000)
St Clair lasted 35 months and won two Caribbean Cup titles and steered T&T to the Concacaf Gold Cup semifinals before being sacked for supposedly not winning the competition.
(Stats tabulated as Played-Won-Drawn-Lost-Goals For-Goals Against)
T&T Record: 38-19-4-15-77-59
(March 2000 – June 2001)
Porterfield lasted 16 months. He paired Marvin Andrews and Dennis Lawrence in central defence for the first time, won a Caribbean Cup and managed four successive W/Cup qualifying wins in the semi-final stage including a 1-0 triumph over Mexico in Port of Spain. He tried unsuccessfully to drop Russell Latapy, Dwight Yorke and Anthony Rougier for missing a practice game.
T&T Record: 35-19-6-10-68-40
(June 2001 – May 2002)
Simoes survived 12 months. He dropped Latapy and Yorke for indiscipline before his first game but failed to manage a single victory at home and was eliminated in the Gold Cup group stage.
T&T Record: 10-2-2-6-7-15
(July 2002 – August 2002)
His interim appointment lasted two months during which his only action was a hastily arranged series in St Kitts. He failed to win a game.
T&T Record: 3-0-1-2-1-3
(September 2002 – October 2002)
He was appointed interim coach but had not yet convened a training session before being relieved of the position.
(October 2002 – April 2003)
Najjar had six eventful months during which time he called up 91 players for a single training session, faced a player strike and then was sacked after failing to qualify for the Gold Cup.
T&T Record: 6-3-0-3-7-6
Zoran Vranes/ Jamaal Shabazz
They shared the post for one month as T&T were eliminated from the Gold Cup Play Off round.
T&T Record: 3-0-0-3-2-8
(May 2003 – January 2004)
Charles-Fevrier lasted eight months. He was told to face Cuba without foreign-based players won but was still sacked two months later—although no-one told him. He was unbeaten at home after facing Cuba and Venezuela.
T&T Record: 8-2-3-3-8-11
Bertille St Clair
(January 2004 – March 2005)
St Clair lasted 14 months in his second spell and failed to win silverware. But he did coax Yorke out of retirement and played him in central midfield for the first time as an international since the “Strike Squad”.
T&T Record: 35-18-3-14-59-45
(March 2005 – June 2006)
Beenhakker gave T&T 16 glorious months that culminated in a historic appearance at the Germany 2006 World Cup. He extracted a few decisive performances from then unheralded local midfielder Aurtis Whitley. He never lost a game on home soil.
T&T Record: 21-8-5-8-23-27
(August 2006 – October 2007)
He managed 29 tumultuous months in which he criticized everyone from Pro League clubs to the media and was eventually suspended for attacking technical director Lincoln Phillips. He faced the infamous blacklist arising from the 2006 World Cup bonus dispute.
T&T Record: 18-6-4-8-28-29
(December 2007 – January 2008)
He led out national team in two scrimmages against Puerto Rica and Grenada respectively but neither game was recorded as a full international. Still, Corneal was undefeated in his stint and stayed on to assist Francisco Maturana.
(February 2008 – April 2009)
He lasted 15 months and extracted stirring performances from youngsters like Khaleem Hyland, Keon Daniel and Marvin Phillip. But he is the first coach to falter in the group stage of the Caribbean Cup.
T&T Record: 32-17-9-6-57-30
(April 2009 - ?)
After 19 months, Latapy already has the worse home record since Najjar while he managed just one win from seven competitive outings. He might have unearthed a new scoring machine in Devon Jorsling but success in the Caribbean Cup is crucial to his survival at the helm.
T&T Record: 17-4-3-10-17-30