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Wed, Aug

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New Trinidad and Tobago coach Leo Beenhakker already observed most of his country's active international players and might have read dossiers on the others as he prepares for a crucial World Cup qualifier at home to Panama on June 4.


With seven days left before his first competitive fixture, Beenhakker may be reasonably confident of knowing the best players for the job. If so, then the former Real Madrid and Dutch national coach, in my humble opinion, is wrong.

Not until he looks at Dundee United attacker Collin Samuel.

Samuel, who turns 24 in August, was ignored by ex-coach Bertille St Clair and discarded early in the tenure of his predecessors Stuart Charles-Fevrier and Hannibal Najjar. Even United have struggled to facilitate the speedy, industrious and versatile player.

Crucially, though, St Clair, Charles-Fevrier and United manager Gordon Chisholm used 3-5-2 systems that did not utilise orthodox wingers. But, when a coach-like Beenhakker-uses four across the midfield supported by full backs, Samuel should not be dismissed outright.

Competent with either foot, Samuel rose to prominence as a dynamic left sided midfielder for CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh. He was 18 years old when then national coach Rene Simoes gave him his first cap away to Grenada.

Simoes also played with wing backs rather than wingers and facilitated Samuel by using him up front.

The ex-Mayaro Composite utility player responded with a hat-trick on his debut. He did not know then that he had fashioned a rod for his own back.

Samuel played in both matches at the United States-based 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament and was subsequently capped three times by interim coach Clayton Morris and Najjar, while Charles-Fevrier used him in one full international. He did not score once.

His last appearance was in a 1-1 draw away to Kenya, two years ago, and Samuel is still bewildered about his rapid fall from grace.

"I feel a bit disappointed (about being left out)," Samuel told the Trinidad Express. "Most of the coaches know who I am and I don't know how they select their players. I made my debut at 18 years and scored a hat-trick. I don't know if anyone ever did that.

"In my heart, I really feel left out."

Samuel scored 16 times in his debut season in Scotland with First Division club Falkirk, but could not reproduce his scoring form in the top flight with a United team that does not use wingers.

On the rare occasion that United swapped to a 4-5-1 system, which they are prone to do on tricky away fixtures, Samuel is guaranteed a starting shirt and responded with impressive performances in a 1-0 win away to Glasgow Rangers and a 1-0 loss at Celtic this season.

United manager Gordon Chisholm hinted in midweek that Samuel would play from the start today in the Scottish FA Cup final against Celtic at Hampden Park.

On the eve of the Cup final, though, Chisholm opted for a more adventurous 3-5-2 system. Samuel's teammate and compatriot, Jason Scotland, starts up front but he misses out again and will be among the substitutes.

It is these subtle shifts in philosophy that have made such a huge difference in Samuel's career.

He praised his Trinidad teammate and hopes that United get the best out of Scotland's talent today.

"Scottie scored in the semi-final so everybody is looking for a big game from him," said Samuel. "He will be a marked man. I think he is on top of his game now I think if we put the ball down on the pitch and play it into his feet, we have a chance of beating (Celtic).

"What helps them is their tall guys at the back but, if we play to our strength, we have a chance."

Samuel almost left United for newly-promoted League One club, Scunthorpe, in January but was denied a work permit. He is aware that he needs to find a more suitable club although he is excited about United playing in Europe next season-they are guaranteed a place in the UEFA Cup as Celtic already qualified for the UEFA Champions League via their league placement.

"I think it is a little different for me now (since new United manager Chisholm took charge)," he said. "I think I need a change but, at the end of the day, I am contracted for another year so I will just wait until the end of next season. But I really look forward to playing in Europe next season for the experience and to prove myself."

He also looks forward to linking up with Beenhakker and is anxious to stake his claim for a place on the left flank.

"I am excited to go back," said Samuel. "I don't know if he will have the same squad of players already in training or if he will be including me and Scotland. I think I am good enough to play.

"In a 4-4-2, I would like to play either left or right. I think I am capable of playing on the left side because that is where I played at Jabloteh... My game is based on running at defenders with pace and making things happen and I hope I get the chance to show what I can do."

Real Salt Lake midfielder Leslie "Tiger" Fitzpatrick apart, the Trinidad and Tobago team cries out for left sided players. Samuel deserves a good look.