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At the heart of T&T’s new football ethic — Part two

Today we continue our three-part series on T&T’s football which was started in yesterday’s Guardian. The final part will be carried in tomorrow’s edition.

Local football fans may be pleased at the current form of T&T’s senior national men’s team, but there are dozens of friendly and competitive matches in the next four years, before the Soca Warriors can secure its second berth in a Fifa World Cup.

After several years at the helm of Canadian football, Stephen Hart, now six months in as head coach of T&T’s senior team, knows that a sustainable structure is of prime importance to see this country, the smallest national to qualify for a World Cup, make it to Russia in 2018.

Given a balance is found following another consistent slate of international matches, is it realistic for T&T to expect its national team to strive much further than what was achieved in the previous World Cup qualifying campaign?

“If collectively we do not have that belief, then what are we doing? The answer is definitely!” said Hart in a beat. Hart believes that raw talent in this country is by no means lacking, and there is not a single position, be it from the goalkeeper to striker, that is not in demand.

Approximately three months separate today and the next Fifa international window, which is expected to attract a tough, quality opponent, but there is the obvious factor of cost, Hart noted.

However, between January and February two friendly international matches are planned for the use of local-based players and those on winter breaks. Those who haven’t represented the country before, or have not done so for some time may not worry.

“If they (uncapped players) warrant selection, then yes (they will be picked),” said Hart, who said he does have the impression that many talents are yearning and fighting for a place among the Soca Warriors.

“The senior team is about players playing consistently for their respective clubs and playing in the best competitions possible.”

The Warriors have not lost in five matches, and in contrast to their form earlier this year, scored in four of those five matches.

But, Hart won’t get ahead of himself. While results have been positive as of late, he remains mindful and wary of his team’s lack of consistency in certain elements. “We are under no illusions where the performances are concerned.

We know we have a long way to go. During periods of the game, we have had good spells of possession, attacking play and showed some good response in the transition. However, we were far from consistent in this respect.”

He added, “This is about belief and showing confidence. It’s mental, really. The staff and I work very specifically on various aspects of performance. Every camp has a theme and collectively we strive for a buy-in from all involved. The players have the abilities.”

“At times some players will be in better form than others, so there are good moments and not so good moments. After all, we only have three to four sessions before matches. I am the first to admit consistency is a long way off. Time and patience are key factors in the process- there are no instant remedies. I am confident we can achieve consistency in our delivery.”

Hart also sought to focus on holistic development, essentially shaping individuals for a functioning society. “It’s not just about creating footballers,” he said.

“Development is a measurable, long term, pathway objective. At a youth level the emphasis should not be placed on any one coach, myself included. There should be a system and structure in place.

“All partners involved (should be) working together to achieve a common goal. A long term vision, planning with measurable outcomes, strong financial and human resource investment, nurtured and natural player development pathways, strong coaching bonds working in harmony off the field, yet competing on it, etcetera.”

“It is amazing what can be achieved if no one wants the credit.”

What about the top tier football league and the players required to choose from locally? Is the league at a satisfactory level, and why are most clubs struggling to attract a fan base? Hart’s response was: “This is a massive question and can take an entire interview. Let me state from the onset that I do not in any way believe I have the answers. I can only offer an honest objective opinion.”

He continued, “Satisfactory level? In most instances, yes! Firstly, give credit and respect to the owners who understand the value of sport to the people and how it contributes to our society. They put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, with very little in return. They are doing this for the love of the game.”

“Secondly, I honestly believe coaches are doing their best with what they are given. Let’s face it, there is a certain reality surrounding pro football in T&T. It provides an alternative revenue stream for many who appreciate the opportunity to earn while playing the game they love. It keeps them visible in the game and may just lead to bigger and better opportunities in football. However, we also lose many quality players because they cannot survive on the present salaries. It’s a double-edged sword.”

What is a potential solution? “The quality can be vastly improved upon the access to consistent training facilities and better playing surfaces that are match-day prepared. We also have to pace scientifically with all aspects of player preparation and recovery. Players have to also contribute to this by studying the game, paying attention to their off the field lifestyle, diet, rest, recovery, strength and conditioning, etcetera,” he said.

Hart also alluded to T&T’s after-work recreational lifestyle as a hindrance for a lack of support at football matches. “Support in any sport in T&T is fickle,” he said.

“The Friday (Pro League) match days may not be the best choice due to the T&T Friday after-work culture. Many see community-based as the way to go. However, in order to move in this direction, many things need to be put into place. People have to feel comfortable attending matches, especially if you want to attract families.

This means (added or improved) rest room facilities, seating, concessions, safety, etcetera. Consideration may be given to the fact that in most countries, the club has supporter groups that manage and rally support, orchestrate match-day activities and urge the vocal support at games.”