Trinidad and Tobago put old wine into new skins in Nassau on Saturday, but the brand new BOL kit designs failed to mask the deep problems in local football.
Instead, T&T football sank to a new low after an abysmal performance in a 0-0 draw against 201st-ranked Bahamas.
The shocking result ended the country’s 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign before it had really begun.
Assistant T&T coach Kelvin Jack buried his head in his hands at the final whistle, perhaps replicating what Soca Warriors fans had been doing throughout the 90 minutes of frustration by coach Terry Fenwick's team.
Bahamas certainly gave their all, showing pride and grit after conceding 15 goals unanswered in their previous three games.
In contrast, the Soca Warriors looked uninspired, discombobulated and without purpose, as Bahamas refused to roll over.
BOL, a Miami-based sports apparel company, is charging US$90 each for the new designs.
Coach Fenwick, after the game, blamed T&T's profligacy in front of the goal for the draw.
"We created about six, seven or eight chances and didn’t convert – and if you don’t score at this level, teams can come back and bite you, and I thought that’s what they did.”
T&T's shooting was certainly poor, but Fenwick hardly told the full story of a must-win encounter.
Errant passes from both sides were prevalent throughout the game and gave Bahamas belief, as the match grew on, that the Soca Warriors were perhaps at their level.
T&T players looked unsure about where they should be on the field or where their teammates were. The intent to score was there, but the approach to the end product was lacking.
National captain Khaleem Hyland's late arrival to the camp from Saudi Arabia, 24 hours before the game, meant he could only join in the second half – and his absence on the field showed.
But even so, T&T still should have had enough talent to take care of business against a very weak Bahamas team. Footage after the game showed the Bahamians, bottom of Group F, celebrating their point – their first in World Cup qualifying in over a decade.
Fenwick certainly has to take the majority of the blame for the campaign's abrupt end – although there was no mention of that in his post-match interview in the Bahamas. The Englishman, after over a year in charge, has yet to leave an imprint on the squad.
Off the field, meanwhile, there have been unnecessary distractions, including a confrontation with team media officer Shaun Fuentes over media personnel being invited to media conferences.
Against Bahamas, Fenwick was unable to effectively utilise AEK Athens' Levi Garcia down the right flank. On the left side, multiple MLS champion Joevin Jones struggled to make an impact and was forced backwards regularly.
A swap of flanks might have given Bahamas something different to think about. It never happened.
Instead, the minutes ticked away with T&T no closer to breaking the deadlock.
As T&T struggled to string together passes, it took them almost the duration of the game to try a more direct approach. Unsurprisingly, it was a free kick from the left, which Neveal Hackshaw headed onto the post, which almost rescued T&T.
Too little too late.
Accountability and transparency remain issues that keep T&T football stagnant.
How did T&T reach here, a Soca Warrior fan living under a rock might ask.
It was less than a year ago that FIFA threatened to throw T&T out of the World Cup campaign without a ball being kicked.
Football administrations continue to play the blame game so endemic to the country. The FIFA normalisation committee points fingers at United TTFA, United TTFA blames David John-Williams, and John-Williams says it is his predecessors’ fault – all while football deteriorates and each administration makes similar mistakes.
Just last week women's football director Jinelle James acknowledged not adhering to proper protocols, under the normalisation committee, in the appointment of two assistant coaches.
Fenwick's contract – US$20,000 a month – has been fraught with controversy, with ex-TTFA president Wallace refusing to accept the blame for signing a deal which was supposed to be for US$17,500 a month.
Former technical director Keith Look Loy said other perks in the contract were never brought to the technical committee or the board – a car, a phone and paying Fenwick’s taxes.
United TTFA had promised an open style of governance and to do things differently from John-Williams.
Local football is at a tipping point with the covid19 pandemic and its economic impact huge obstacles to its progress.
Sport Minister Shamfa Cudjoe recently hinted that the Pro League would not receive automatic support from the Government as she called for a proper business plan. Football remains the most popular sport locally, but investment without a proper plan and execution would be spinning top in mud.
T&T needs to be rebuilt properly from the ground up. Ex-T&T captain Kenwyne Jones, immediately after the game, began urging people to be proactive and get certified to get involved at all levels.
Super League and Pro League teams must engage their fan base to build support and rivalry. Women's football must not be an afterthought.
It's been 20 years since four stadiums were built for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. But the last time a football event drew a capacity crowd at one of the main stadiums was December 2, 2014, when Ecuador beat T&T’s women 1-0 for a spot in the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
It should be a reminder that infrastructure alone does not translate into sporting success.
On being elected TTFA president in November 2019, Wallace said, "When we start to play good football, the fans will come out.”
Judging from the latest performance under Fenwick and the normalisation committee, it's gonna be a while.
SOURCE: T&T Newsday