LATAPY FOR AIA
Trinidad and Tobago national player/ assistant coach and icon, Russell "the Little Magician" Latapy, looks set to close his playing career with local Pro League outfit, Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA, in a move that is expected to have far reaching implications for the financially strapped club.
It is unusual for a professional club to expect much return from a 40-year-old recruit but then Latapy has never been an ordinary player.
Last October, Latapy ended his two-year retirement from the international game and marked his competitive return on home soil with the opening goal as the Warriors pulled off an unprecedented World Cup qualifying win over the United States with a 2-1 triumph at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
Shabazz, according to a source close to the coach, is thrilled at capturing Latapy and is convinced the gifted player can have a similar effect on not just the club but the community as well.
"Latapy's move gives our community an opportunity to beat its chest with pride," said the source. "Caledonia was his first club and, although we will not say that we made him, we had a role to play and it is wonderful he decided to come back to us.
"There are many talented players from our community who, when they reach a certain age or level, are taken away by bigger, richer clubs. This is an icon who identifies with his roots."
Latapy was 10-years-old when the newly formed Caledonia AIA heard about the scrawny but talented player who practiced with friend, Vaughn Hart, by the Angostura playing field near to the impoverished Beetham Estate.
Caledonia invited the pair to join their under-16 team that played in the Eddie Hart League in Tacarigua. Latapy scored on his debut, with his mother Dawn Latapy among the supporters, although the "Eastern Stallions" were hammered 7-1 by the Eddie Hart Upstarts.
Caledonia improved quickly as they added the likes of John John residents Hutson "Barber" Charles-Latapy's future "Strike Squad" teammate-and Andy Haynes to their roster although the pint-sized Latapy was occasionally relegated to the bench.
Latapy spent two years with Caledonia before moving on to bigger things. But, on his return to Trinidad this month, he contacted the club and revealed his wish to represent them as he strives to maintain his fitness for the present World Cup qualifying campaign.
Caledonia, who were Pro League runners-up in 2007 and finished fourth last year, hope that Latapy helps them to surpass the likes of defending champions, Clico San Juan Jabloteh, and heavyweights W. Connection and Bmobile Joe Public, and secure their first national league title.
"It is definitely a big boost to the possibility (of the Pro League crown)," said the source. "The motivation within the team will be high and the fan participation would be high. So our neighbours would have to watch out."
Latapy is expected to play up front while Caledonia will adjust their system to better suit the veteran and co-captain Densill Theobald. While Latapy is set for a roving role off a lone striker, Theobald will organise the midfield from a deeper vantage point alongside a holding player. It is a position that Theobald, another 2006 World Cup player, hopes to occupy at international level too between Latapy and national captain, Yorke.
Latapy's influence is likely to extend well beyond Caledonia's senior team as the former Portugal and Scotland league champion allegedly expressed a desire in setting up a youth academy for Caledonia similar to the model at his former Scotland Premier League employer, Falkirk.
Caledonia, who are believed to be renegotiating their sponsorship deal with Neal & Massy, are anxious to make full use of Latapy's know-how.
"Instead of Latapy coming down to our level," said the source, "Caledonia wants up to come up to his level. But we know we will need improved sponsorship to make it happen."
Latapy's presence, the club hopes, can also aid their efforts in squashing the violent, borderline feuds that plague the Morvant/ Laventille community.
"Latapy is originally from Doratha Street, which is where the Gambinos are from," said the source. "He could be an important symbol in the club's stance against the borderline thing."
Caledonia, who captured their first national trophies last season in the form of the Pro Bowl and TTFF FA Trophy, hope that their new number 10 brings even more prestige to their club. Both parties are expected to formally announce Latapy's move to Caledonia next month.