Is Trinidad and Tobago ready for CONCACAF?
Given the improved performances of the three (Costa Rica, Mexico and USA) most powerful nations within CONCACAF at the World Cup, several burning questions have to be answered as I am sure they are already oscillating in the minds of many especially those in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU).
Firstly, are CFU members including regional power houses such as T&T and Jamaica prepared to match horns with showings of the likes of Mexico, Costa Rica, USA along with Canada, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and the improving Panamanians? Secondly, is there a widening gulf between the teams from North and Central America and the CFU? Thirdly, do CFU and its members have all the resources (funding, administrative and technical) to seriously compete with the other proven footballing members of CONCACAF?
Can Caribbean countries seriously challenge for the Gold Cup and or consistently perform with satisfaction at this event? T&T has participated in eight of 12 Gold Cup’s with a best performance of third in 2000, whilst Jamaica’s best performance came in 1993 when they placed third. Fourthly, and more importantly how realistic is it to qualify for upcoming World Cups, starting with Russia 2018?
Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States have exceeded all expectations and have represented the CONCACAF region with great determination, commitment and pride during the group stage of 20th FIFA World Cup, Brazil 2014. This is the first time that three CONCACAF teams have advanced out of the group stage. The best performance by a CONCACAF team at a World Cup has been the United States who placed third at the inaugural World Cup in 1930.
These teams did not just also ran but competed fiercely to qualify for the round of 16 and beyond. By the time this column is published both Mexico and Costa Rica second round matches would have been completed. Victory for both of them would set up a quarter final match on Friday.
Costa Rica stands out from the lot as they came out of the ‘group of death’ which featured three former World Cup winners and traditional power houses in world football: Italy, England and Uruguay. They won their group unbeaten, scoring four goals and conceding one. Mexico also played unbeaten and were able to dent all aspirations of Brazil prevailing over them. The United States although they lost to Germany 1-0, demonstrated they are a force to be reckoned with a victory over Ghana and narrowly being deprived of a much deserving victory against Portugal who scored in the virtual last attack of the game to steal a draw.
As much as the region celebrates the performances of the CONCACAF representatives at Brazil 2014, the underlying message is that if T&T is to become a serious consistent contender in CONCACAF it cannot be business as usual. There is an urgent need to focus at all levels at the same time- age groups and senior national teams- men and women. The talk has to be backed by action. For instance, has the much touted benefits of developing youth football from hosting the FIFA Under- 17 World Cup for boys in 2001 and girls in 2010 been realised?
Is the local premier league producing the standard of play required to compete regionally and internationally? Is there an integrated system which allows for early talent identification locally and internationally of the best players regardless of where they ply their trade? Are our coaches and technical staffs across all levels on par with each other and connected to an end goal. For instance, Jurgen Klinsmann has overriding control of all football in the US.
As the president of the TTFA and his executive cull over the structure and organization of football at the back of their mind, the question of funding will continue to trouble them. Long term development cannot take place without funding. The state can only contribute so much monies to football development as there are other competing sporting disciplines seeking funding.
The TTFA has to find ways to attract private sponsorship. One way this can happen is by top performances especially against top-ranked teams. The respective national teams have to perform at a standard that would command the attention of the private sector. Additionally, the TTFA has to get the public re-interested in supporting football. One cannot forget the nationalistic euphoria that was exhibited on the ‘road’ to Italy and Germany, where the national team played to packed houses. The crowd was definitely the 12th player.
There is no denying that T&T will have to lift its overall standards in order to compete successfully in CONCACAF. However, with the right leadership, effective integrated strategies, funding (state and private sector) and public support, there is no reason why this country cannot perform consistently within CONCACAF and on the world stage. Germany 2006 must always remind us our potential.