GERMAN coach Otto Pfister has put a lot of faith in veteran striker Stern John, who seems a certain starter for the friendly international football match against India, which takes place on Sunday from 5.30 p.m. at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, in Port of Spain.
John, Trinidad and Tobago's record scorer of 69 international goals, was ever-present during a team scrimmage yesterday morning at the Crawford Stadium. During the inter-team match, former Youth striker Akeem Adams (left-back) and Anthony Wolfe (right-back) filled the wide defensive positions, linking with central defenders Carlyle Mitchell and Seon Power. The midfield quartet consisted of captain Densill Theobald and Houghton Hector in the centre, with the left-footed Andrei Pacheco and Hayden Tinto out wide. Marvin Phillip looked to be the starting goalkeeper.
Pfister made some changes to what seemed his starting line-up, rotating strikers Andre Toussaint, Juma Clarence and former Holland-based marksman Darryl Roberts. John, though, was the one constant. A little bit chunkier than in his prime, John still displayed good finishing touches, and was pleased to be back in the national team.
"It's fantastic when a manager comes in and shows you that you are a key component of his programme. The managers I have played under, Leo (Beenhakker) and this present manager, they know what I can do," John said. "They see me in training everyday, so I just have to continue maintaining my fitness and do what I do best, which is score goals for Trinidad and Tobago and do well. And as long as I do that, I will be a fixture in this team, no matter what the critics say."
Former Birmingham City striker John has not played club football in T&T for a decade, but is now contracted to local Pro League club North East Stars. He will be 38 by the time the Brazil 2014 World Cup kicks off, but believes he has a role in the team. Having recovered from a serious injury, John is happy to be playing football.
"I am here to represent my country. If they need me, I am here. If they don't, then I will still support the team. I don't think we have that luxury in Trinidad and Tobago to discard older players or senior players. We're still a small country. Our last campaign, we brought back Dwight (Yorke) and Russell Latapy. They were in the twilight of their careers, but they still made a big contribution. If we start producing better players, and bring in youths, I might be able to retire. But until then, I will continue to play."
Yesterday, Pfister's team worked at full pace, in extremely hot conditions. The German worked on several practical things, such as taking and defending free-kicks. The team played one-touch football going forward, and also worked on defence. Pfister and assistant coach Anton Corneal took turns controlling the session.
Sunday's captain, Densill Theobald said Pfister has pushed the players in ways many former coaches did not.
"Every coach has their own style of play, but this coach seems to be hard on us every second of every training. It makes us work harder and makes us stay mentally focussed."
Meanwhile, former FC Rotterdam striker Roberts is currently home-based and eager to return to the national lineup. Roberts was a key member of the team that went to Bermuda and won 2-0 in 2008, after losing the opening home World Cup qualifier of the last campaign 2-1 against the same opposition. Ironically, T&T will meet Bermuda on September 2 to begin their 2014 World Cup campaign.
"Hopefully, this time around I will regain my spot in the team, and we will come out and play as a unit," Roberts said. "We are urging everybody to come out as one, and hopefully we can get it started on a positive note in the first game."
Corneal said the attitude of the home-based players and their intensity in training is nothing short of fantastic.
"It's the beginning of a campaign. For the local players I think its a perfect opportunity to show the coach who is at what level and who is ready to play at the higher level. If this was an international date you might not have gotten so many local players in the team. It's a blessing in disguise.".