I TRY TO MAKE this column a forum for supporting our sport. I know that I confine it mostly to football and cricket, and even when I have criticised our now woeful Windies, I try to be constructive, even if this means calling for a break-up of the last vestige of the West Indies Federation into constituent international teams.
Or do we have to wait until after this tour of New Zealand, where captain Chris Gayle has already boasted about his team’s plans for victory?
I, for one, am ready to support Trinidad and Tobago on the world stage of cricket, not just in regional competition. And as you know, I am a fervent supporter of TT Football, both on the regional and the world stage. As such, I try to avoid condemnation when our teams do not live up to expectations, and my expectations are never unreasonably higher than any true supporter.
However, the results coming out of the Digicel Caribbean Cup in Jamaica demand more now than just support. For the first time in my memory, and that goes back much further than the Caribbean Football Union Championships of the 1970s, TT has failed to get into the semi-finals of the regional tournament.
I accept that, in CFU matches, we are able to get our European-based players to join the team, but even so, we have managed to reach the semi finals, and move on to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, in the past.
In 2007, with a squad divided by the World Cup payment dispute, as well as the lack of our “Europeans”, we dominated all teams except Haiti, and came second to them.
And we were already having difficulties with then coach Wim Rijsberg’s selections and methods. Back in 2005, when our full squad was struggling to get past St Kitts and St Vincent in World Cup Qualifying, we still made it to the Digicel Cup Final Round. On both occasions we went on to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, even though we did not impress there. Our current squad, under coach Francisco Maturana, has been far too unsettled for far too long. From selection to tactics, we always seem to be unsure who will play or how we will play. Even without our European based players available, our team should be able to beat the likes of Grenada and Barbados without desperation. We experienced no difficulty in qualifying for this final round in Jamaica, yet we went there looking unprepared, and with several changes to the squad which had just taken us there.
We have a well-deserved reputation for coming on to the field “cold” and for going to sleep in the last minutes of any game. How can this readily acknowledged condition be allowed to continue?
It has come to the state where everyone we play starts out in a frenzied attack against us because it is well known that we are vulnerable immediately after kick-off. And everyone also knows that we are even more vulnerable in the closing minutes, especially if we are defending a lead, or clinging to a draw.
Yet strangely, if we are a goal down in the closing minutes, we know how to pick up our game and go on to win at the death. It is this enduring inconsistency which has now become a dominant, and regrettable feature of our play. And quite frankly, it seems to get worse rather than better. And it is not only that we have this inconsistency within any given match, but it seems to haunt us from match to match.
We struggle to get past the likes of Bermuda in World Cup qualifying, then sail past Cuba, only to collapse against the United States. Granted that the Americans are a top team in the region, but the manner in which we surrendered to them in Chicago was pathetic, and we did it under questionable selection, and with two substitutes still unused.
I have defended Coach Maturana in this column, claiming that he was able to get the victories, or the draw in Guatemala, when these were truly needed. But his inconsistencies, in selection, in performance, and most recently, in results, make it difficult to continue this support.
Our full World Cup Squad, facing a difficult 2009, and without being able to participate in the Gold Cup, cannot afford this inconsistency.
The loss in Jamaica is going to hurt our psyche, and we need to know what plans are being made to overcome this.