December 06, 2019, 05:05:24 PM

Author Topic: “It wasn’t about qualifying, it was about stability!” Shabazz shares T&T vision  (Read 644 times)

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“It wasn’t about qualifying, it was about stability!” Shabazz shares his vision for T&T’s women’s football
By Lasana Liburd (Wired868.com)


“For me it wasn’t about qualifying [when I accepted the job as women’s coach], it was about stability,” said Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Under-20 Team head coach Jamaal Shabazz.

“It was about creating what we created back then, which was a framework for players to go on scholarship and develop.

“[…] The public’s emphasis is they want the team to qualify and I want that too but laying the framework with this limited resources and building that foundation again so we can produce players is the kind of stability [I can offer].”

Trinidad and Tobago hosted the CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship in Couva last month but, despite home advantage and scoring first in each match, the hosts lost all three group games to Haiti (2-3), Canada (1-4) and Costa Rica (1-2).

In the first of a two-part series, head coach Jamaal Shabazz talks one on one with Wired868 about his role in developing Trinidad and Tobago women’s golden era and his current goals in the programme:

Wired868: So what are your thoughts on the just concluded tournament?

Jamaal Shabazz: The tournament has shown that the pendulum is swinging. I am impressed with where the women’s game has reached since my last outings in the game—especially with the way that Mexico and Haiti in particular have performed.

We have come to expect dominance from USA and Canada and even in the past Costa Rica was an emerging force. But now you see Haiti’s programme bearing fruit and Mexico, with their local league. When I look at the [Mexico] roster, all their players are with clubs and it is bearing fruit.

Maybe 15 years ago, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica were the forces in women’s football in the Caribbean with Haiti running a distant third. Now they have gone past us.

Wired868: What do you attribute that to?

Shabazz: I think it is emphasis. Even in the [Jack] Warner days, he would ensure participation in the women’s game. Back in 1991 when women’s football was relatively new to the region, Trinidad and Tobago would beat Mexico… From that time to now, Mexico have tried to move their programme from participation to competing and, in the last number of years, to qualifying.

That takes a certain level of commitment from not just players but administrators across the board. After Warner, we had [Raymond] Tim Kee who had a difficult economic period so the development aspect of the women’s game was absent.

Our revolution started in 2000 when we went to CONCACAF and were slaughtered by USA (0-11) and Brazil (0-11) and drew with Costa Rica (2-2). We saw then that there was need to develop a new cadre of players and we had screening sessions across the country. This was not the Federation; this was a group of concerned people for the women’s game…

Wired868: Who was in that group?

Shabazz: People like Abdul Rasheed in Madeleine; he is deceased now. And Marlon Charles, Kestor Lendore, Jinelle James, Izler Browne… We would go to the primary schools every year and recruited a bunch of players who we would train four days a week—outside of the federation [programme]—until they reached the under-15 bracket. So these players came through some kind of development programme.
This programme went on until about 2011/2012 [when I went to coach in Guyana]. So until the establishment of the TTFA’s Elite Development Programme [in 2017], there had not been a specific group doing technical development with female players. And remember with our female players we are already starting well behind North America because of the age that they start to play…

Wired868: When you say across the country, can you be more specific? Did we have someone in Tobago? How did we get a Kennya Cordner? And how was this funded?

Shabazz: We had Corbin Cooper in Tobago and Arnold Murphy in south. We had Slim Andelucio in Toco. We had point people across the country who had a common interest and a common desire to develop the women’s game. For six months in 2000, we trained four days a week just doing technical development.

The biggest problem was transport to get the children to come to training. We used to train at Carib ground and at UWI. We approached [former Director of Sport and Physical Education at UWI] Dr Iva Gloudon and she brought everybody together and made us develop a strategic plan and then she went and found the money for meals for the girls after training. Also some of the senior players like Izler would put money for transport and we would tell the girls if you don’t have the money for transport, borrow the money.

This is where we saw girls like Maylee Attin-Johnson, Tasha St Louis, Dernelle Mascall and Ahkeela Mollon emerge. They never missed a session. We trained four days a week from 4pm to 6pm and three months would pass and they would never miss a session.

Maylee was 13 years old then, some were 14. None were over 15. We contacted Bertille St Clair in Tobago and he put us in touch with Corbin Cooper. And this is how we get the Forbes sisters who came as two 12 year olds. They would come on a weekend and stay at my home. There were seven tobago players. There was Candice—I can’t remember her surname—Karyn Forbes, Kimika Forbes, Kennya Cordner and several others. One or two of them had a place to stay in Trinidad and the rest would stay be me.

I remember to get them to come the former head of the THA, Orville London—he was a journalist then—went and spoke to their parents because they didn’t want to send them to Trinidad at first.

Wired868: Did the THA pick up the costs?


Shabazz: Dr Gloudon would find the money. (Laughs). She was a phenomenal person in terms of getting things done. After about a year, the TTFA started to get involved with the team. In 2001, [Brazilian coach Rene] Simoes came and took over the whole men’s programme. When I asked Mr Warner if they would help us he said they didn’t come for women’s football. But then we played the Men’s Under-17 team a practice game on the Hasely Crawford Stadium training ground and lost 5-1. After that they asked for a meeting with our staff and Simoes suggested that Professor Leal be put over us to take over the women’s programme because it had potential. So that was the first time I had to bow to the master. (Laughs)

Wired868: That is how you saw it? ‘Bow to the master’? (Shabazz laughs again) What do you think Leal brought to the team?

Shabazz: He brought a tremendous amount of knowledge and know-how. I had been trained in [courses in] Brazil in 88 and 89 but what they brought was the practical application of how to do a programme—on and off the field. Things like nutrition and how the staff should operate as a group rather than one man and his dog kinda thing.

Leal was phenomenal. That’s why I say he was the first master because we really really learned. It was funny. People would pass and say ‘Jamaal, you’re licking the Brazilian’s bottom.’ (Laughs again) But it was a real eye opener. I remember Dr Gloudon talking to me and encouraging me to submit because if I submit the other coaches [on the staff] would submit.

Wired868: So there was friction?

Shabazz:
Well, there were coaches who felt that these people now come and why are we giving them the programme. But they showed us how to build. They spent about a year with the team and then they left not long after. The girls had a nice CONCACAF Under-20 under Leal, which excited the nation and was the first tournament for Maylee and the likes of Avian Douglas.

Before they left, Leal told Marlon and myself that what we did in training those girls for four days a week and focusing on technical development laid a tremendous foundation and these girls one day will go to the World Cup.

And we knew because when we started them in 4v2 and 5v2, they couldn’t even warm up properly. And then when we went in the middle—Marlon and myself—we couldn’t even keep up with them. And we brought in people like Denzil [Theobald] and the Caledonia players. We would make them play two touch or one touch against the girls and they would help and this is where we saw the improvement. and when we put guys in there with them, they would keep the ball.

[…] Then we went to the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the first game was against Panama and we had a player sent off—Leslie James—and they outscored us 4-2. The second game was against USA and everybody expected us to be slaughtered but we parked the bus and, at the end of the first half, they were leading 1-0 which was unheard of in CONCACAF. We lost 3-0 in the end and we got three chances.

(Editor’s note: USA defeated Panama 9-0 and Costa Rica 7-0 in their other group matches).

Our goalkeeper at the time, Lisa-Jo Ramkissoon, was so excited after the game in the press conference that, when they asked her how she felt, she said, ‘Well it is a tremendous feeling to win this game.’ I had to kick her under the table to remind her that we lost. (Laughs)

But to lose 3-0 after scores of 12 and 17 over the years, it was a great feeling for all of us. But I had made a pledge that never again would a Trinidad and Tobago team get double figures against the US and these teams.

Wired868: How did you feel two years ago then when we lost 22-0 with our Under-15 team, coached by [your current assistant] Marlon Charles?

Shabazz:
I felt if even Pep Guardiola coached that team, the scoreline would remain the same. Those players were not ready to play teams like the USA and Costa Rica. When the administrators entered the team, they didn’t understand that most of those players had started playing three and four months (earlier). But then they said that the TTFA would have gotten a fine if they didn’t carry a team…

People blamed the coach but, if that team had any of the ten top coaches from Europe, the score would be the same; they were not developed. Most of that team was used at U-17 level in Haiti [last year] and there is so much to teach because they are beginner players.

Wired868: What happened to the developmental programme when you left to coach Guyana in 2011?

Shabazz:
This was immediate post-Warner and there wasn’t much funding. Tony Harford came in under Lennox Watson and started to get things going but then, after Watson left, the Tim Kee Administration was forced to make priorities and the senior men’s team became the priority. You needed a drive too because I picked up where Dr Gloudon left off. Her attitude was ‘You can find a way.. I think that the others just didn’t continue to do it on their own and it fell by the wayside and here we are today.

[…] I remember I was in Haiti in 2013 with [Pro League team] Caledonia AIA and at 5am in the morning I went to walk and I saw these little girls jogging […] and I found that they were Haiti’s Under-13 team. They were living in this Goal project centre, which had 80 girls and 120 boys and they would train in the morning, have breakfast, go to school and come back and train in the evening.

[…] That (sort of developmental work) is what we did with Maylee and them. When (American) Randy Waldrum was the coach, he got a bunch of players that were well formed. We took all the beating because the pioneers does get the snake bite and the nail jook and the mosquito bites but the future generation of coaches who worked with Maylee and St Louis and them got players who can play and with an insight into the game. If you listen to Maylee, she knows too much. (Laughs) Listen to Mollon, she knows everything.

Wired868: So administrators let down the women’s programme?

Shabazz:
I’d say over the years, yes. But to be fair to Jack Warner, he always ensured the team participated. I remember Lincoln Phillips brought in Randy Waldrum to coach a youth team […] and we had to lose by six goals or less against USA in the last game for a play-off spot and we get nine. And Jack Warner rewarded that team by sending the staff and the girls to Tobago for a week. And I said ‘What is that one? When we come back from tournaments we never got any of that.’

And you know what he said? He said ‘If it was a local coach, they would have gotten 10!’ (Laughs)

Waldrum came within one point of qualifying [for the 2015 Canada World Cup] although we forget that team got four bites of the cherry and still didn’t qualify. We felt that [relative success] was off of our backs.

Wired868: Apart from Leal and Waldrum, Norwegian Even Pellerud was the other foreign coach in the women’s programme. What did he bring?

Shabazz:
Pellerud was here from 2008 to 2011. The first thing Pellerud brought was the colour of respect.

Wired868: The ‘colour of respect?’

Shabazz:
Yes. I remember before his first meeting with the parents, he told me he wanted to train six days a week and every third week he wanted to do seven. I found him to be naive at the time. I told him with Maylee and their team, I tried to get them to train five days a week and the parents kicked up against it so we ended up with four. And lo and behold, the first meeting he had with the parents he asked them for six and there was not a single dissenting voice. (Laughs). And I am talking about people coming from La Brea, Guayaguayare… This was the next master. He got total support.

I was then the assistant director of the women’s game and I was there at every session, learning from him. His emphasis was purely on fitness and pressing. He didn’t spend a lot of time on technical development. His philosophy was intensity (slaps hand) and running the opponent out of the park by intelligent pressing movement. His methods were based on aggression in training. He got the girls to respond very well but they were not a team to make five (consecutive) passes; they were a team to work hard and get behind the opposing defence.

Wired868: How much of that aggression remains or did you try to keep in our sessions?

Shabazz:
Coming back into the women’s game last August, there were three weeks before the Under-17 qualifying tournament. I was looking for a coach because I was brought in to coach the seniors and U-20s. We spoke to Richard Hood and basically he and the (TTFA) didn’t agree on financial terms. So (technical director Muhammad) Isa suggested that I hold the team.

I did more technical work with the team. I believe this is football and, while you need to be aggressive, I think if I have to choose in developing an aspect, I would go with technique. So the period we had, we tried to focus on technique. In the small-sided games, we encouraged them to squeeze and press but it was alien to them. Even with the Under-20s, the time they spent with the Italians was more technical-oriented.

In the football world now, we see people use more football training for fitness training. So with limited guidance, we tried this for six weeks with the Under-20 girls but we learned afterwards that the intensity wasn’t there (in the sessions).

After one week together, we played Jamaica but we had hoped to get three games against Chile in December, which the Federation didn’t get because they didn’t have funding for it. We felt if we had gotten these games, it would have better schooled us as to where we were in terms of our ability to compete in January.

Wired868: And where did we fall short in January?

Shabazz:
I think our inability to do repeated football actions. We scored all the time but we were not able to keep that action—to stay compact as a team, to be able to squeeze and press them, to be able to just keep our legs…

Wired868: How could a team that was together for months be unfit?

Shabazz:
Well, I think they were together from March and then they had a three-week break just around July/August. And then that was the time I was with the U-17s and there was also school football. So there wasn’t that emphasis.

I was focusing on the Under-17s at the time, so we had them under some coaches like Ayanna Russell and Dernelle Mascall who had C licences. Marlon Charles would take them occasionally and Anton Corneal but the emphasis was on teaching them aspects of the game (like) possession, closing the ball down; the emphasis was not on the conventional running, fitness…

Wired868: Was there a clear philosophy during the time they were under so many different coaches?

Shabazz:
Yeah. We focused on keeping the ball and trying to play the ball over the top to the flanks because we recognised we had quick strikers. We knew that (Dennecia) Prince would be a force, the big one. But she is anaemic and that is something that affects the women’s programme. We did tests and we found that six of the best players on the Under-17 Team were anaemic and three on the Under-20 Team. They have to focus on building up their iron and on their diet but, according to Dr Zaida Hassanali, it would take about three months (for us to see results from that).

Wired868: If the Italian contingent got about US$24,000 or US$27,000 a month, why could the TTFA not agree personal terms with Richard Hood?

Shabazz:
Well, that is a question you will have to ask the administration; I can’t answer that.

Wired868: You understand that the public might feel the interest in this team and the investment from the TTFA seemed to fall away as soon as the Italians left?

Shabazz:
The financial aspect of the TTFA’s dealings is not (within) my purview. I recommended Hood and he outlined some stuff and it didn’t materialise…

If we were able to get those friendly matches in December, I think the reality of the team would have been better served.

Wired868: You’d say your expectations when you accepted the job were not met?

Shabazz:
I felt we would have gotten more resources but I was told the resources just were not there. So we continued to work. This is the difference between the local coach and maybe the foreign coach. I felt one of the reasons Morace left—this is my opinion; this may not be the fact—is that when they looked at the pool and the players they sidelined and the resources they needed (to succeed), I don’t think they were seeing it.

For me, it wasn’t about qualifying [when I accepted the job as women’s coach], it was about stability. It was about creating what we created back then, which was a framework for players to go on scholarship and develop.

[…] The public’s emphasis is they want the team to qualify. And I want that too but laying the framework with these limited resources and building that foundation again so we can produce players is the kind of stability [I can offer], getting coaches working together and, more importantly, developing a cadre of female coaches from among the ex-players who understand the passion and commitment.

Wired868: You mention developing a new cadre of coaches but I am seeing the same old names on your staff, like Marlon Charles…

Shabazz:
Well, when a coach goes to work, he brings the people who he feels he is comfortable  working with. I didn’t hear anybody say anything when Simoes brought his people or Morace brought her people…

Wired868: But you spoke about developing new coaches…

Shabazz:
Well, I can show you. We have Ayanna Russell, Dernelle Mascall, Janelle Noel, Ahkeela Mollon, who are working as developmental coaches within the elite programme. So there are a cadre of female coaches being developed and I have evidence of that.

I don’t see how we could question Marlon’s credentials as a coach. Are we basing it on the fact that he took a team that got 21 and 22 when any coach that took that team would have gotten the same results?

Wired868: Well, I am referring to your comment about bringing through fresh blood. But, as you mentioned Marlon, how do you think you complement each other and what does each of you bring to the team?

Shabazz:
I think Marlon’s patience and his ability to improve technique is one of the pluses with the drills he uses and his insight into the game. I think I complement him by bringing a bit more aggression and animation in the exercise…

This is the relationship we have since 1984 when we travelled as players and shared a room together with ASL and the Alvin Corneal Coaching School. I marvel at what people say about him without seeing him work; it is hilarious for me.

[…] I think Marlon Charles has been ill-treated and disrespected by the former TTFA Administration but he showed resilience. He has not uttered a negative word and he shows a kind of patience that is admirable. I don’t have that kind of patience. I like working with him and I think we work very well together.

If people are going to judge us on the Under-20 and Under-17 teams not qualifying, that’s fine; they are entitled to that. But I am here to provide stability and that stability is to build the programme.

Wired868: So what should we judge you on? What would you consider success?

Shabazz:
I think people could form their own…

Wired868: (Interrupts) No, what do YOU think is a fair way to gauge the success of your work?

Shabazz:
The way to judge my work is (to see if we can) produce players that can play with A1 schools in the US and can get into professional teams in two or three years’ time. How we are able to narrow and deal with the deficiencies we see now and how it is addressed over that period of time before the next Under-17 and Under-20 tournaments.

I would judge myself and my work if we go to the next U-17 and U-20 tournament and are slaughtered. And also how many youth players now can go in the Senior Team and hold their place.

Everybody is saying now that (the France 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifiers) is another bite of the cherry. I am not saying that. I am saying the Maylees and Tasha St Louis and that crew are on the last of their legs. When Izler Brown and Ricarda Nelson and them were on the last of their legs in 2002, we injected Maylee and them and got a lot of criticism for bringing seven or eight youth players into the senior team and going to CONCACAF. I see this as a similar period here.

Wired868: Wasn’t the priority always to qualify for the France World Cup when we brought in Carolina Morace? We came within a whisker under Randy Waldrum, so isn’t the priority now to qualify?

Shabazz:
The priority was that under Carolina but, under me, my priority is stability. I’ve to think beyond a foreigner. I’ve got to think about what happens when the tournament is finished.

Wired868: You talk a lot about development, would it have been better for you then to stick to the developmental side rather than to be head coach? You said before that you were not interested in coaching anymore, so what made you go back?

Shabazz:
We need to provide that stability. There was a lot of uncertainty with the leaving of Ms Morace. And I felt my presence on the field would help because these—in particular the senior girls—were our girls. Of course I have no problem in being judged by the results. People like to say coaches need time but when a coach accepts a job he understands fully the implications.

[…] Time is important but the courage to start a process to me is more important always.

Wired868: Hood coached a lot of these women before and the women once mentioned Angus Eve as a coach they would like to have. You don’t think anyone else could have brought stability to the women’s programme and done the job?

Shabazz:
Those questions are questions for the administrators. I was approached and I had to make a judgment call based on the scenario and I accepted. They didn’t choose to approach anyone else. So I think that question would be better for them…

Editor’s Note: See Wired868 on Friday 9 February for Part Two of this interview as Trinidad and Tobago women’s coach Jamaal Shabazz speaks more on the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship and the country’s upcoming France 2019 World Cup campaign.

« Last Edit: February 09, 2018, 05:00:53 AM by Flex »

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This dude could talk boy. So much of what he say is just a damn lie. He's been involved with the women's game the longest and still talking about stability. These fellas real Jokey yes.
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/blUSVALW_Z4" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/blUSVALW_Z4</a>

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Shabazz talks women’s football and Pro League/Super League debate.
By Lasana Liburd (Wired868.com).


“Swords are drawn and the venom is clear!”

“For me, it is always about finding a way for our people to work together and not be so divisive. Football has become like the streets: swords are drawn and the only thing that has not happened is bloodshed because the venom is so clear and you can see people drawing lines of division between the Pro League and Super League.

“[…] So who is a Lasana Liburd to decide we should just pack it up?”

Wired868 talks to Jamaal Shabazz—a Women’s National Senior Team, Under-20 Team and Under-17 coach as well as co-founder and technical director of Pro League club Morvant Caledonia United—in the second and final part of our wide-ranging interview on local football in general and the women’s game in particular:

Wired868: What do you see as the positives and negatives for Trinidad and Tobago from the recent CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship?

Jamaal Shabazz:
I think the negative is that, had we been exposed to [practice] matches, especially at home, it would have prepared the team better—had we had the resources to have these matches.

I think the positive is that, out of this, the players recognise more as individuals what they bring to the table. I think the awareness of the [women’s] game is heightened throughout the country. Some of the rhetoric I used before the tournament about the squad made up of Sat Maharaj children, Sabga children, that type of rhetoric was a marketing strategy and I think it helped heighten the interest.

I think being able to keep touch with where the game is… I think we showed that we can compete. Now we have got to put more special emphasis on getting the intellect into the squad with regards to fitness training in the modern way, where a football trainer uses football training and not just exercise science.

We talked to the TTFA about bringing in somebody and I spoke to [former USA women’s coach] April Hendricks and she is willing to expose us to that. All the teams are using this method and not the old method of getting in twos and running. This is where we want to go.

While we are disappointed that we didn’t do better, I think you can see some water in the glass.

Wired868: We led in every match. What do you attribute our fast starts to?

Shabazz:
I think we surprised our opponents with our speed off the mark and with balls played over the top. It is something we deliberately worked on—and the dead ball situations.

We saw success in the amount of times that [Dennecia] Prince and them were able to get behind the [opposing] defence but the support [from their teammates] was not there. We scored two goals from corners, which was what [assistant coach] Marlon Charles worked on.

Wired868: Did we make adjustments tactically once ahead or did we try to stay on the front foot?

Shabazz:
Recognising that we wouldn’t be able to hold them out, we tried to get [our team] to be more compact and that was a big problem after 30 minutes to get our defence to come out and [push] up. So what started to happen was a big gap between the people up top and the back four, with the midfield having to cover that [space] and being put under more pressure.

[Ranae] Ward and Shenieka Paul and Kedie Johnson were reasonably fit—not all of our players were unfit. We had some players who took the training more seriously so to speak but a lot of pressure was placed on them [in the tournament]. When your forwards are not coming back in time and your defence is not coming to join, your midfield will be really, really overworked.

There was another factor we have got to consider when we are hosting tournaments and that is becoming accustomed to playing at home. Because the burden is psychological—the players all felt stressed. They all felt like they had people to please and, talking to them before the Costa Rica game, it came out that stress also took energy from them.

I watched every game in the tournament and I felt that, had we been a fitter team, we could have made the final four.

Wired868: We must have had some sort of plan to get them fit. What went wrong?

Shabazz:
Well, we used football training as the fitness training. But I think what went wrong was [only] some girls produced the [necessary] level of intensity in training—because when you use small-sided games, there is this ability for some people to hide. [But] we continued with it because of the time.

I take responsibility for that because I wanted to use football training as the basis to develop the fitness. In doing so, the conventional running and other methods were bypassed and clearly you can see we came up short in that regard.

Wired868: Up next is the Cyprus Cup. Has your coaching of all three women’s teams impacted on their preparations?

(Editor’s Note: Citing financial reasons, a week after the interview, Trinidad and Tobago pulled out of the Cyprus Cup).

Shabazz: [TTFA technical director] Anton Corneal is more taking the lead role with the senior team from a coaching standing point. He has been with the seniors more than myself [due to my working with the youth teams and] I more or less take an assistant role to him in this team given how it has evolved.

I think that it is a matter still of using tournaments like those to help build the thing and help expose players. We have brought about seven of the U-20 players to join the senior squad. Really and truly, we only have about 10 senior players in the country [and] the rest of them are foreign-based. But Anton will take the lead role for that tournament and I will assist him.

Wired868: And do we have any practice games before that tournament?

Shabazz:
The seniors have a year-round programme because they have contracted players.

Wired868: So that did not stop when [former head coach] Carolina Morace left?

Shabazz:
It stopped for a few weeks but it continued under us. They train four days a week [and] they are doing strength training in the gym now. Again, more football-specific methods are being used in their preparation but, because of the smaller numbers, it is easier to monitor who is doing what.

I think it is also an important time to integrate younger players into the squad and build a squad for the future.

Going forward with the seniors, nothing is cast in stone. Maybe Anton will stay with them or maybe we will bring in a coach from among the names you discussed [like Richard Hood and Angus Eve]. But for now, both himself and myself are here holding it and trying to plot a pathway forward.

For me, it is never about exclusion. (He gives examples of his support for outspoken coaches like Terry Fenwick and Angus Eve when, according to Shabazz, they supposedly were not in favour at Pro League or TTFA level).

For me, it is always about finding a way for our people to work together and not be so divisive. Football has become like the streets: swords are drawn and the only thing that has not happened is bloodshed because the venom is so clear and you can see people drawing lines of division between the Pro League and Super League.

How does that affect sponsorship and fans looking on and even the players when you have to defend why there is a Pro League? You don’t get that kind of public spat in other professions. I think we need to create an avenue to deal with our difference of opinion in a more productive manner.

Wired868: With Pro League salaries as low as TT$3,000 a month and players not even receiving that at times, how can we justify continuing to operate in this manner when the clubs cannot keep their promises to the players?

Shabazz:
Well I think what happened last year has happened for the first time. All the other years, the clubs kept their commitment to the players. What happened last season is, after three or four months into the year, the TT$50,000 that we’re depending on in a budget of TT$120,00 or TT$150,000 was out and you’re forced to improvise. So it is the first year [that happened] and I’ve heard from players who played [abroad] and were not paid too. Aubrey David was playing in Kazakhstan and was not paid for some months.

People have financial troubles. The challenge is for Pro League clubs to find a pathway forward to meet their bills and we are up for it. Some of us have said we are going to take on the challenge.

So who is a Lasana Liburd to decide we should just pack it up? We have made our investment and we are entitled to try and to dialogue with our players and our stakeholders and find a way forward instead of just throwing in the towel and saying the thing dead.

There is a social implication to the thing too. People only like to talk social thing when a gun is to their head. When Nikki Crosby was accosted, none of my players from the Beetham was there pelting bricks. None of the players from Beetham who play for Rangers or Jabloteh or any of those teams were there.

So that is a positive from a social side. There are people like Angus Eve and Derek King and so on who made their living from playing in the local leagues.

Wired868: But in the Super League, coaches like Ron La Forest are paid and some players get stipends. So if the Pro League folds, it doesn’t mean nobody will be able to earn a living from football. Won’t it just mean clubs will be able to be more honest with players about what they can and can’t do?

Shabazz:
Yeah but who give you guys that right…?

Wired868: (Interrupts) To voice an opinion?

Shabazz:
No, no, no, no, no, [the right] to suggest that we should just pack it up without a fight. I think we have earned the right—based on what we have put in collectively over the years—to try to find a way to make this work. And anybody who wants to deny me that right, I have to look at them and say ‘Wow!’

I can understand if people say ‘Why don’t you try this or try that?’ But I find a lot of the comments are just spurious remarks… It is a whole bunch of sour grapes. On two occasions, [T&T Super League president and FC Santa Rosa owner] Keith Look Loy tried to get into the Pro League. I think people want to play at the highest level but they don’t want to put out the cost.

I have always advocated that they find a way to bring in teams with less [resources] by letting them pay in instalments, right, but we all paid. Caledonia found TT$100,000 [to join the Pro League]. You know what is TT$100,000 in the hood?! (Laughs) And we paid that to join the League and we survived.

(Editor’s Note: The franchise fee to join the Pro League is now TT$450,000).

Wired868: So you believe the Pro League is still financially viable and makes commercial sense?

Shabazz:
I think until the owners decide—when we look at every angle—that it is not possible. Look, we spoke in the last [Pro League] meeting about rebranding the name [of the League], about playing [all our games] in two venues. We are talking to television. Those are three big steps that we intend to talk about more. So we are looking for a way.

So away with those who feel we should just lie down and dead; my life has never been about lying down to dead.

Wired868: The Pro League made decisions to salvage its future before, like moving to community fields. I was there when Morvant played its first home game with about 2,000 fans. But then suddenly Caledonia were not playing there anymore. Can you understand why people, looking from the outside, would wonder if the Pro League is really serious about change?

Shabazz:
Well, there is a reason for that. The League is not in charge of the fields in the communities, it is the politicians who are in charge of those fields. But you see in Morvant, there will be a difference. You will see! (Laughs) We will take the field. We are going to make it happen.

But the Pro League doesn’t own the fields and, whereas the Super League is content to play on fields that are not the best, credit to them. I have no problem with that. I am not going to bad-talk the Super League to advance the cause of the Pro League. That’s what I am talking about.

Why would somebody want to bad-talk the Pro League to help the Super League? The truth doesn’t need nothing to stand on, the truth does stand by itself. You know why they call it the naked truth?

Wired868: Tell me…

Shabazz:
Truth was a man used to real dress up and he and Lie went to the sea to bathe; but Lie had old clothes. And Truth went out far and showing off on Lie. And Lie ran out the ocean and thief Truth’s clothes and gone. And when Truth come out and realise that Lie gone with his clothes, he said, as a form of protest, ‘I’m going naked!’ And that is how they come to talk about the naked Truth. (Laughs)

If your product good in the Super League, why you have to bad-talk the Pro League to advance your product? That come like coaches who bad-talk other coaches to advance their career; that’s not making sense.

The Super League has problems of their own and the Pro League coaches don’t get involved in that because we take a position that let we support them fellahs.

(He spoke at length about Pro League clubs loaning their players to Super League teams for them to ‘cut their teeth’).

The two products can survive and right now the owners are saying we will find a way to survive. Look at what we do [so far]. It is not Government funding alone carry this thing, Lasana. Government funding came in about six or seven years ago. We used to carry it and we will carry it.

Wired868: You said you wanted to raise other issues outside of women’s football…

Shabazz:
For me, the divisiveness in the football was the main thing I wanted to raise—and not just in the Pro League and Super League. I think in the present economic climate we have got to get creative but there are still companies who are making profit and the business community should not turn their backs on football.

For me and Caledonia, the social side of the thing has always been a key factor. I lose some men to the gang violence but we win some battles too and we were able to see some men become something. For me, outside of the financial and economic side, there is a social responsibility that leagues like the Pro League and the Super League help with and I will encourage the business community to support teams from both leagues. There are things I can say about those brothers and them [in the Super League] but I don’t want to be like them.

Wired868: You think criticism of the Women’s Under-20 team and the national teams in general is unfair considering that Trinidad and Tobago has had a particular level within the Caribbean and even within CONCACAF?

Shabazz:
I think fans have to be fans; people are entitled to criticise. [National Senior Team coach] Dennis Lawrence said something some time ago that is instructive. He said if your work has some direction and you strong enough to deal with the criticism, then that is what is important.

What is necessary, though, is the collective effort from the leadership. We have seen in football where one man and his dog took us to somewhere and how it was able to degenerate because of the lack of collective spirit and participation from more stakeholders. I think we need to strive to see more participation, even at the board level in the TTFA. Instead of people being a leak for Wired868 and trying to make a bacchanal, let your presence be felt in the board meeting and fight for your point like how we do in the Pro League.

(Editor’s Note: A detailed list of probing questions from Look Loy to TTFA president David John-Williams, general secretary Justin Latapy-George, referee’s department head Wayne Caesar and Technical Committee members Anton Corneal and Muhammad Isa was published in Wired868 last month. The questions were not answered by any of the recipients).

Wired868: You know, what one person calls transparency, somebody else calls a leak, snitching or bacchanal. [Former US president Richard] Nixon probably thought the same thing…

Shabazz:
Well, again, it is what generates interest. But for me, I think the issues in football that divide us publicly a lot of times could be dealt with and addressed—even with your presence—with dialogue. What we want to bring to the public is not an industry that is embattled [but] people working together, facing challenges, having diverse opinions but trying to find a pathway forward. That might be wishful thinking but under the dictatorship it had that!

It had Wired under the dictatorship? How men suddenly get voice? (Laughs).

Wired868: You are not seriously questioning what I was doing while Jack Warner was there?

Shabazz:
No, I don’t have to ask you. I had to call and ask you to temper down many times. For me, I will find a way to work with Pharaoh and I am not Moses. The time will come when you have to come against Pharaoh and I accept that. I know what it is to pick up the thing and fight. And I know when the time comes, you have to do what is necessary. But I also know the importance of dialogue and the collective approach.

When I see Derek and Angus and so on have to come out to defend having a Pro League, I mean, wow! Suppose the three ideas that [we are discussing] like rebranding the league, playing in two venues so your fixtures are credible and the TV thing, suppose that works? What would those people come and say after?

Wired868: Congrats?

Shabazz:
Well, some people. Not some of the haters you’re starting to develop.

Wired868: (Laughs) I’m developing haters?

Shabazz:
There are some men like Nigel something. Nigel Scott. Sometimes I want to get in a discussion but, when I start, everybody just backs off. To me, if there is a meaningful dialogue you can benefit.

I’ve seen [former stand-out national goalkeeper and San Juan Jabloteh coach] Earl Carter comment and he should come out more. There are times I want to take on Earl. You see, men who went to live in America, they feel they have all the answers. But when Earl come and coach at Jabloteh, what happened? What happened?

You could only catch the ball if you are on the field, you know. The experience I gained from running a club is invaluable.

Wired868: You spoke earlier about the developmental programme you helped put in place before. Are you confident that we are locating the talented players from every nook and cranny?

Shabazz:
I can talk about the women and I think we have a nice pool from all over the country. Right now, we have at least nine players from Tobago; Tobago generally have the best athletes but they are not always as technical.

But if I had the last word, I would not enter that team in the CONCACAF Under-15 tournament this year and here’s why. Based on our [ranking], they will put us in a group with the big dogs and I cannot see that Under-14 team being ready to play the big dogs in July.

So if we know that and we know we don’t have a chance, let us continue to develop and let us go to the US and play opponents who are still a little better than them but (who will be) giving them a chance to be able to play. Those are some of the harsh decisions that we have to make in the football. Don’t go and demoralise the girls.
[…] If you lose 5-0, okay. All over the world, sometimes a team has a bad day and they get five or six goals. But when you start to get double figures, I think the administrators need to take stock and say maybe competition is something this group is not ready for.

Wired868: So how long do you think we should wait before we enter these girls in competition? An extra year?

Shabazz:
Anton Corneal, may Allah bless his soul, has advocated that in April we should bring some Caribbean teams for us to play. To me, how we do there is the kind of indication [we need]. But right now, I think the staff collectively have enough knowledge about what obtains with the four or five top teams in CONCACAF to say if they use that same ranking system, we’re not ready.

If we are going to play our Caribbean peers, then fine. But if we go and play USA, Canada or Mexico…

Wired868: And what is our approach for the Women’s National Senior Team and their France 2019 World Cup campaign, which starts in May?

Shabazz:
Well, as I said, Anton Corneal is the one taking the leading role. But, for me, I say let’s take this opportunity to build for the future.

We have Maylee Attin-Johnson who’s looking to start to coach and is not sure of her knees. We have Tasha St Louis, who is a key player on the squad but is 33 or 34. We have Dernelle Mascall, who is starting to coach and she’s pregnant. Ayanna Russell is starting to coach, Ahkeela Mollon is falling in love now with coaching more than playing.

[…] To me, the pool is not as flattering as we think. We are going on past understanding of those players. But if Karyn Forbes gets an injury and Janine Francois gets an injury, the team will look worrisome.

I think realistically we have to say let’s integrate U-20’s into this team; expose them at CONCACAF level and give our best. The final decision will be Anton Corneal’s but for sure I will fight for that to happen because I didn’t come in the women’s game yesterday.

I know when it is time to bring in players like Dennecia Prince, Kedie Johnson, Laurelle Theodore, Natisha John, K’lil Keshwar, Alexis Fortune and Amaya Ellis and integrate them with the seniors and get caps for them.

Wired868: Anything you want to say in summary?

Shabazz:
Again, there are those who feel—and this is talking from a Pro League standpoint—that, to advance their cause, they must see the closure of the Pro League. I am saying as one of the owners of a club in the Pro League that we will try to find a way.

If it means retracing our steps, rebranding, trying new things, then we are open to that. But we are not going to lie down until we are dead.

The real measure of a man's character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.