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Offline Tallman

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After the ecstasy...future trouble
« on: September 07, 2005, 11:37:55 PM »
After the ecstasy...future trouble
By Lasana Liburd (Trinidad Express)


Thirty-seven-year-old playmaker Russell "The Little Magician" Latapy was up to his old tricks on the weekend as Trinidad and Tobago sneaked past Guatemala 3-2 in 2006 World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.

Latapy further enhanced his reputation in CONCACAF with a goal and an assist, which helped seal a crucial win for Trinidad and Tobago. If his brilliance reminded local fans what they were missing, it had the dual effect of showing up the mundane offerings of those tipped to follow him.

So the Little Magician is still handy with his wand. But spare a thought for the vanishing acts from a string of would-be successors.

Four years ago, when Latapy bid an abrupt farewell to the international game, few could anticipate that his presence would be so crucial in the subsequent qualifying campaign.

The T&T Pro League, by then, was up and running while Trinidad and Tobago regularly staged CONCACAF youth tournaments and were preparing to host and play in the 2001 FIFA World Youth Cup.

To date, only Southampton striker Kenwyne Jones has emerged from the second T&T squad to participate in a FIFA tournament. Jones already has 20 senior caps in his locker. Vibe CT 105 W Connection goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams has three but none of the other 16 squad members has even earned a call-up.

"I can't say what happened or went wrong with the others," said Jones. "But I always knew where I wanted to be and I worked hard at it and here I am I haven't been able to catch up with (my old teammates). I know a few of them are playing in the Pro League and, a few, I don't know what they are doing."

Jones started his second season as an England-based professional in the summer and already has three goals for Southampton in the League Championship.

Just 20 years old, his resume includes stints in three divisions of English football- Premiership, Championship and League One-while he contributed goals for every employer, Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke City and Southampton.

He has also played in every position for the senior squad barring between the uprights.

So is Jones the best of an ordinary bunch or simply ahead of his time? Are the expectations on the past youth internationals unrealistic?

At the 2001 Under-17 World Championship, Argentine technical director Jose Pekerman explained that, at such tender ages, it is impossible to tell who will go on to succeed as a senior player. Yet, on Saturday, Argentina fielded five players who represented their youth teams in 2001-four under-20s and one under-17-while two more 20-year-old players that would normally figure, Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez, were rested.

The United States used five such youth nationals, with a sixth product, Bobby Convey, suspended, and Costa Rica fielded two players, Christian Bolanos and Roy Miller, who competed at the 2001 Under-17 World Championship.

In contrast, Trinidad and Tobago, who have much smaller playing resources than the aforementioned nations, did not field a single starter from their recent youth teams against Guatemala, although United States-based forward Scott Sealy did play off the bench, while Jones and Collin Samuel missed out through injury.

The failure or slow progression of promising youngsters like Kerwin Jemmott, Kwame Wiltshire, Travis Sobers, Devin Jordan and Lee Haynes

has already impacted on the 2006 World Cup campaign.

Latapy and team captain Dwight Yorke are exceptional talents. But, at their age, they should at least be pushed hard for their place, as is the case with the country's most successful goalkeeping export, 36-year-old West Ham custodian Shaka Hislop, who has struggled to dislodge 29-year-old counterpart, Kelvin Jack.

Latapy and Yorke will retire for good soon and the loss would be immense as the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) attempt to build on the work of coaches Leo Beenhakker and Bertille St Clair during this campaign.

It would take more learned men than myself to get to the root of the problem affecting the transition of Trinidad and Tobago's talented young players, but it cannot be convincingly argued that our standards remain.

W Connection coach and ex-national boss Stuart Charles-Fevrier noted a few years ago that there was a shortage of players with the skills honed from playing in the streets or on uneven surfaces.

Ironically, the switch from amateur to professional football and the subsequent grab for young talent by local clubs may be responsible for the drop in natural flair. Children are possibly having their natural instincts curbed too early or are being "over-coached".

Administrative progress and the dodgy work permit issue might also limit the opportunity for young talent to be groomed.

FIFA's harmonised international calendar means that Trinidad and Tobago can always select a full-strength team, which makes it more difficult for upcoming players to earn caps than in the past. Coaches generally lean towards the experience of their British-based professionals and, in the process, create a bottleneck situation.

Locally-based players cannot move to Britain-nobody goes anywhere else in Europe-unless they play in more than 75 per cent of the international fixtures, but they struggle to win a place ahead of the established overseas pros.

It should be remembered that Jones did not win his first cap until after he joined Southampton through a two-year working holiday visa rather than on a work permit.

He once featured for coach Hannibal Najjar but was replaced after coming on as a substitute against Finland and, therefore, not credited with an official appearance.

Jones never looked back. Strong and agile, the six-foot-three defender was initially used as a utility player by St Clair before he forced his way into contention as a striker on the back of some impressive performances in England.

He has no regrets about changing his position, despite losing his starting place as a result.

"I think I am getting better and more tuned into being a striker again," said Jones. "I have been mixed up in several positions but this is always where I wanted to play and I know I will do much better this year.

"I will work hard and press for a starting place, but whether or not I get it is up to the coach. Remember, I am only 20 years old and this is my first World Cup campaign. There will be more World Cup campaigns to come."

Jones has one goal from seven appearances as a striker so far for Trinidad and Tobago-just two of his outings were from the start.

He has not cemented a first team place but the signs are encouraging. The same cannot be said for his contemporaries just yet.

And it is left to be seen what transpires in the aftermath of the golden era that produced the likes of Yorke, Hislop, Angus Eve and, of course, Latapy.
The Conquering Lion of Judah shall break every chain.

 

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