CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh coach Terry Fenwick yesterday defended his employers against insinuations of sabotage by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) and countered with his own claim of persecution.
Last week, the T&TFF threatened to ban any player who failed to accept an invitation to join the national team after Jabloteh refused to send their players to a 41-man training session called by coach Wim Rijsbergen.
The T&TFF followed up its threat with a late call-up for Jabloteh midfielder Kerry Baptiste and left back Nigel Daniel, who both accepted. Baptiste and Daniel trained with the national squad yesterday and are expected to feature in the Digicel Caribbean Cup tournament, which kicks off on Friday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
But Fenwick insisted that Jabloteh is interested in the state of Trinidad and Tobago's international side and countered that his club was regularly penalised for its policy of using a "totally Trinidadian" side.
He pointed to last August when the Pro League refused to postpone two Jabloteh fixtures although seven of its players were in Japan with the national team. The club managed one point from a possible six without their star players. Jabloteh ended the 2006 Pro League season three points adrift of champions, Joe Public.
Fenwick said that he only wanted an even playing field for his club and more respect for the Pro League in general.
"We want to assist the national side as much as we have done," said the controversial ex-England international defender. "However, we cannot and will not allow our season to be decimated as we have done last year. We have made a club policy that we will go totally Trinidadian but we may have to change that.
"When there is a friendly match or sponsorship launches or whatever other function, our players are pulled away because they are convenient when the Yorkes and Stern Johns cannot come back.
"As much as we would like to give our players exposure and realise Jabloteh is a stepping stone to bigger and better things, they have an obligation to play football for us because we still need to be competitive in the games we are playing in."
Fenwick claimed Jabloteh made the largest contribution to the Soca Warriors with two Pro League starters, Cyd Gray and Aurtis Whitley, and five former members and fellow World Cup stars, Cornell Glen, Collin Samuel, Kelvin Jack, Brent Sancho and Collin Samuel. Past and present Jabloteh strikers Jason Scotland and Anthony Wolfe were also in the 2006 Germany squad.
Fenwick criticised ex-national coach Leo Beenhakker for failing to appreciate the input of the Pro League and suggested that his boys were seen as inferior replacements when the overseas players were unavailable.
"Every single opportunity they have, they take our players away," said Fenwick, "and they are just discarded when the most serious games come along which are Fifa recognised.
"It is unfair on the players and is badly communicated to them. It knocks their confidence and we are the ones who have to pick up the pieces."
Jabloteh chairman Jerry Hospedales voiced his disapproval over the T&TFF allegedly contacting Baptiste and Daniel directly rather than through their employers. He also wondered whether the decision to select the pair ahead of World Cup stars Gray and Whitley had anything to do with the looming court action by the Warriors against the T&TFF.
Caledonia AIA midfielder Densill Theobald is the only World Cup player in the present training squad although he might be ruled out by an ankle injury.
Fenwick and Hospedales insisted that Jabloteh was a victim and not the antagonist.
"The thing started with a failure (by the CFU) to meet their obligations properly, which was to conclude the CFU club tournament before December 31," said Hospedales.
There is hope for an improvement in future fixtures, however, as the T&TFF recently scheduled a meeting with the aim of harmonising the 2007 football calendar. Hospedales, who claimed to have made similar requests without success in the past, was not surprised.
Hospedales explained that Jabloteh was twice forced to play League and FA Cup matches within 48 hours so as to facilitate the CFU fixtures. In a thinly veiled referenceÂ to new Pro League champions, Joe Public, he suggested that he did not expect such problems this year.
"The CFU Champions Cup in 2007 will be the best run ever," said Hospedales. "Who came first in the (2006) Pro League? I bet there will be no conflict between the (CFU) fixtures and the Pro League fixtures this time."
Trinidad and Tobago kick off the 2007 Caribbean Cup at 6 p.m. on Friday. The Warriors face Barbados at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in the first game of a double-header.