Sat, Jul

JACK WARNER is regarded as one of the most controversial figures in football. He recently spoke to Newsday correspondent ANDRE E BAPTISTE in a wide ranging interview on i95.5FM Radio. Following is the first part of the frank and revealing exchange.

AB: Thank you very much for the time for this interview. Maybe the first question I should ask you is who is Jack Warner?

JW: Sometimes it is hard even for me to answer that question, and the best way for me to describe myself is simply to refer to me as an enigma. I’m the person who people love and also hate. I’m also the person who try to represent the country abroad, in football particularly, but also sports in general. I am CONCACAF President, FIFA Vice President, President of the Caribbean Football Union, and that’s about it.

AB: Why would you believe that people would like you and dislike you?
JW: In this country one has to do what one believes is right. And what is right is not always what is popular. And therefore in that situation, you have to expect these two extremes, love and hate. I hasten to add that it does not bother me in the least.

AB: Is it sometimes, you believe, justified or never justified?

JW: From where you are and from where I am, it may or may not be. It all depends on where you sit and in whose shoes you are and I am not at all angry or critical at anyone who believes that his or her criticism of me is justified or not.
From where I sit, I always believe that if one were in my shoes, one would understand. But in this country one finds that one hastens to make judgments on other, mainly and primarily without understanding the facts first of all. This for me is a tragedy of immense proportions, because the people who do that are people who are intelligent and who are able to understand otherwise.

AB: When you say “without the facts,” are you in any way pointing to certain people or certain incidents which may have led the people of Trinidad and Tobago not to have positive thoughts about Jack Warner?

JW: I am not referring to anything specifically but if you ask me the question now I will tell you that it is almost 14 years to the date that I have not had a chance to even explain about 1989. People have said every single thing about me in the book and I repeat, it doesn’t bother me in the least. And I repeat for the third time, it does not bother me in the least.

AB: But may I interject here —  at times it has not been easy to get into contact with you.

JW: Well, you could contact me if your hours are like mine. For example, this morning I asked you to come here for 5 pm  and you reached here for half past four, and here we are —  but people want to stay in their Ivory Tower and expect me to conform to their timings which I can’t.

AB: 1989 — Regrets?

JW: In retrospect, no.

AB: What went wrong?.

JW: What went wrong? So many things went wrong that it is difficult for me to say.

AB: But what were the major facts in your opinion that made us not go to the World Cup?

JW: I think the occasion overcame many of us, particularly our technical staff had made some wrong technical decisions which in hindsight should not have been made. And that is why I am particularly vigilant on this occasion to ensure that those same mistakes are not made again. For example, I repeat, the game should not have been played in the National Stadium but in The Oval.

AB: But whose decision was it to play in the stadium?

JW: That was the decision of the technical staff, and against my decision. And I repeat, the team should not have stayed in Forest Reserve, they should have stayed where they had been staying all the time.

AB: So that was not your decision?

JW: No, that was not mine either. I deliberately stay away from the technical decisions, which of course now have come to haunt us, and I say in this interview that I am not doing that again, ever, as long as I have some kind of say and investment in the team. I will be more pro-active, as against being reactive.

AB: Gally Cummings, your thought on him?

JW: He is a good coach. I think that he is a good motivator. There are times, like Jack Warner, that he can be hardheaded and sometimes Gally and I will pay a price for our pig-headedness. As a person I have no quarrel with him.

AB: Do you see a future for him in Trinidad and Tobago football?

JW: I think he should be working with youths and kids particularly in the rural areas as he can be a motivator. He can teach and lead by example. Nobody can say that Gally Cummings had led a life that was not disciplined and as such that can be emulated by others. Therefore he should be involved particularly with the youths who do not know actually where they should be heading. And this to me is a tragedy that he has been under-utilised so far.

AB: You are mentioning him and young people, but what about the senior national team?

JW: I think that we have passed in some ways the Gally Cummings era for the senior national team. And why? Because many of our senior national players are playing overseas. They now come with a different background. Gally Cummings therefore would have little or no interaction with them as he would have had in the days with the strike squad. He built that, they lived here and they lived with him 24/7. That no longer exists today. It is a whole different era so to speak.

AB: Is it more difficult now to be national coach than in 1989?

JW: Believe it to God, it is! A national coach today, in many ways, is a person who can bring together the different facets of different players from overseas. One can almost predict with a degree of certainty the team that will commence on  February 9. I am certain that more than 50 percent of the players will be coming from overseas. Now, this is not of course unfair, but this is the reality of the situation. And therefore, in this situation, a national coach today has a more difficult task than in a previous era.

AB: What does that mean then for Trinidad and Tobago’s chances?

JW: It means that the national coach has to make sure that he has people outside there who can look out after his interests on a 24-hour basis. As we have with a Graham Taylor for example in England and as we have Alvin Corneal in the US. And as we have with others from time to time.

AB: But it has been reported that Graham Taylor was going to be residing in Trinidad and Tobago soon and to be working with the team. How true is that?

JW: Absolutely untrue. But again, we have made it clear that he will be here to assist from time to time, like he will be here next week. To live with the team in Antigua and St Vincent. He said he would look at the players in England to check if their forms are up to date.

AB: Some people will try to interpret that as this would mean that Bertille St Clair is on his way out and that you have just brought in Graham Taylor in the wings, waiting.

JW: This is a country of humour and rumour. And of course, Bertille St Clair’s case is no different. All I can say to you is thanks to God that Bertille St Clair thinks otherwise.

AB: How do you rate Bertille St Clair?

JW: I think that Bertille St Clair, just like all of us, has his strengths and his weaknesses.

AB: What are his weaknesses?

JW: I think that his weakness is that he should more embrace other points of view if indeed they are different from his. From time to time he should also be somewhat more receptive to technical advice. Having said so, his strength, his major strength to me is his level of discipline. Andre, even if nothing else is achieved by this team, this team is the most disciplined team we have ever had. All those days where the players would go to their rooms with their girlfriends, that seemed to be the norm for two or three players. That was also our demise in the last occasion with Ian Porterfield because there were some prima donnas in the team who felt they should be treated otherwise. With Bertille St Clair this is not the case and I repeat, if there is something that he has achieved is a level of discipline to those teams that no other coach has done to date.

AB: You may not be alluding to, but as you say prima donnas, Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy have said that they are no longer interested in playing for Trinidad and Tobago right now because of Jack Warner. What are your thoughts on that?

JW: I have heard that being said in many quarters and have even read some articles alluding to Dwight Yorke. I of course have the greatest pity for Dwight Yorke. If ever a player deserves pity, Dwight Yorke does. Here is a player that is a walking monument for everything that Bertille St Clair has stood for, a player who came through the ranks with Bertille St Clair, a player who has a stadium named after him in Tobago and a player who has stumped his nose at the very country and institutions who have put him on the world. Having said so, if you have a dislike for Jack Warner, so be it. You don’t have to eat with Jack Warner, you don’t have to live with Jack Warner.

AB: But at one time he had been living with you, didn’t he?

JW: Yes, but at that time he had not been exposed to the world as he is now. And therefore he had a greater level of discipline and understanding. Having been exposed now, well — it happens! But I repeat, Dwight Yorke, for me, deserves pity for what he has done to his country and also to Bertille St Clair.

AB: Did you ever try to speak with him?

JW: I haven’t and I do not intend to either because I do not think it would serve any useful purpose at this stage.

AB: Do you feel Trinidad and Tobago needs him to be able to qualify?

JW: I don’t think so, I really do not think so. I think that what we have to do is to play with what we have and use players who want to play for their country. Players who want to play for their country must have a commitment, they must have a desire to do so, it mustn’t be an imposition from outside, it must come as a desire from within. Dwight Yorke does not have a desire from within.

(To be continued)