Nothing divides opinion like team selections. Should the coach go for experience or fresh enthusiasm? Loyalty or new blood?
It is impossible to please everyone and there are pros and cons for almost every choice.
And, no, I was not pleased with the 18-man squad selected by joint head coaches Hutson “Barber” Charles and Jamaal Shabazz for Trinidad and Tobago’s upcoming friendly internationals away to Belize and Peru on March 22 and 26 respectively.
As a sport writer and one who never played or coached at the highest level, it is important to be respectful to those who have dedicated their lives to the finer details of the sport.
Thankfully, a more knowledgeable football mind than mine supports me in this instance and I will let him put forward my argument.
So, newly-minted 2012 Caribbean Cup-bound national coach Jamaal Shabazz, please put the 2013 Gold Cup-bound national coach Jamaal Shabazz in his place.
I found the selection of 21-year-old Point Fortin Civic Centre midfielder Marcus Joseph to be particularly bizarre.
Joseph, a former Joe Public and Ma Pau employee, inexplicably quit the Pro League over a year ago and dropped two divisions to play amateur football in the Southern Football Association (SFA) instead.
The 2012 Shabazz would understand as he too was once tempted by a SFA player, Sylvester Teesdale, and put his foot down.
“(Sylvester) Teesdale is not playing in the Pro League but in the zone,” Shabazz told Wired868, on 3 December 2012. “He is a good player but what kind of intensity is he facing there as opposed to Richard Roy (in the Pro League)? We have to make this a lot more scientific and transparent. A player must know that there is a pathway to the national team whether he is playing in the zone or secondary schools. So it will improve his ambition.
“If a guy is a good player and he wants to become a national player, he knows what he has to do and it makes for fairness.”
The post-Caribbean Cup finals Shabazz is more open-minded.
“Marcus (Joseph) worked with us for the Peru game and he is following a fitness programme we set out for him,” said Shabazz, on 12 March 2013. “For now, he is the exception to the rule that we talked about. This game will help determine what the future holds for players like him.”
So whose philosophy is better for the immediate future of the national team?
The old Shabazz wanted players operating at the highest possible level as he felt they had a better chance of making the step up to international football. He believed that a player’s ambition offered a clue as to whether he deserved the national shirt and understood that one dodgy call-up could taint the selection press and negatively impact on squad morale.
Teesdale had been a key member of the T&TEC team that finishing second in the 2011/12 Pro League but, with the club in disarray during the 2012/13 pre-season, he was too slow to jump ship to another top flight club.
By the time T&TEC decided to stay in the Pro League, the 29-year-old attacker had already registered with a SFA club.
Teesdale was a member of both Caribbean Cup qualifying tournaments. He scored once, managed five assists and had been marooned in St Kitts during Tropical Storm Rafael along with his teammates.
He had already agreed to rejoin T&TEC as soon as the transfer window re-opened in January too.
Regardless, Shabazz did not allow him to train with the team before the Caribbean Cup finals.
A talented midfielder with an impressive left foot, he was a member of two youth World Cup teams but never made an impact in adult football and dropped out of the top flight of his own volition. When Pro League teams like Central FC, Police FC and St Ann’s Rangers scoured the country for fresh talent in January, he did not put himself forward.
Why bother? The new Shabazz allowed Joseph to train with the Warriors in early February although the young man was not even playing competitive football since the SFA season closed in the middle of January.
Civic Centre failed to qualify for the Super League qualifying tournament and will again play in the SFA next season, which is unlikely to start before May.
So, after Joseph’s trip to Belize and Peru, he will put his feet up for the next two months or so.
The Warriors only have four international matches carded before the July 2013 Gold Cup tournament and Joseph will be in the squad for at least half of them, even though he will still be a SFA player this summer as the Pro League does not re-open for business until August.
Zonal football is not what it used to be; it cannot be. The best local players gravitate towards the Pro League where they can earn a living, attract scouts and hopefully earn a move abroad.
There are eight Pro League teams with a roster of at least 25 players each. At a minimum, there are probably 160 Trinidad and Tobago players campaigning at this level.
The Super League has 12 teams and, if we allow for a18-man roster, that means another 216 players.
So subtract about 80 Trinidad and Tobago players on scholarship in the United States or playing in various leagues around the world and then minus a further 376 players from the top and second tier of the domestic game.
And, after you have removed over 400 of the country’s best players, you are left with the guys that Joseph comes up against every weekend.
So, without wanting to be an unkind to a young, promising player, can someone explain why he is being accommodated in a team that has just over three months to prepare for its most demanding tournament in six years?
What made his position so different to Teesdale’s?
What individual fitness program is Joseph on that compensates for virtual no senior team experience at a passable level? And why did Warriors captain Jan-Michael Williams not get a chance to follow that program too since he was blacklisted, after his fall-out with W Connnection, despite training every day with national goalkeeping coach, Jefferson George?
What message are the selectors sending to the chosen and overlooked Trinidad and Tobago football players?
“The selection of the final squad is based on the coach’s determination but I think being called up to a training squad should require definite criteria,” the old Shabazz told Wired868, last November. “What is the reward for a player who is doing well in the Pro League on a weekly basis or season in and season out? We need to develop policy and guidelines regarding that.”
How, then, will the new Shabazz explain to Central FC winger Jason Marcano why he was omitted again despite being the Pro League’s on-form winger for the past month or so?
“Foreign based players often come home and are not active or training with anybody,” said the old Shabazz. “Do they deserve a place in the national team? How does their inactivity impact on their fitness?”
World Cup 2006 midfielder Chris Birchall, who was selected ahead of the likes of Connection captain Clyde Leon, has played roughly 20 minutes of football in the last five months. Is he in any form to do justice to his ability let alone his selection?
And what about Keon Daniel who walked out on the “Soca Warriors” for two qualifying tournaments but returns to the squad with a minimum of fuss?
“He explained that it was a difficult time for him and that he didn’t deal with it in the best manner,” said Shabazz. “We didn’t delve too much into it… He said he is sorry about how he dealt with it and he didn’t mean to disrespect anybody.”
Even Trinidad and Tobago football legend Dwight Yorke issue a public apology after he missed an international friendly due to an illness in his family but was then spotted at a local nightclub. So how does Daniel return without, at the very least, an unreserved apology to all Trinidad and Tobago football fans, let alone his teammates?
The national coaches boasted to anyone who would listen about the desire and grit of the 2012 Warriors who ignored low match fees, no stipends, insufficient preparation and even a tropical storm to force their way into the upcoming Gold Cup.
But, arguably, dressing room unity is at stake when a settled squad is dismantled for the sake of amateur, inactive and non-committal players. It set my alarm bells off and I am probably not the only one.
The old Shabazz would surely have been the new Shabazz’s biggest critic.