Anton, a man with many different jackets.
The Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) never ceases to amaze by the decisions they continue to make when it comes to Trinidad and Tobago Football and anything that surrounds it.
Its latest controversy is the hiring of Anton Corneal, Jefferson George and Hutson Charles as the men who will sit beside new head coach Otto Pfister as his assistants to lead T&T national senior football team into qualification for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.
The main question on the minds of many diehard T&T football supporters is, what is the criteria for hiring assistant coaches in T&T?; As a matter of fact many may also asked what is the criteria for hiring anyone as far as the TTFF staff members go? But I digress, so we'll stick to the topic at hand.
Sometimes we the supporters of T&T football forget that the TTFF is a private enterprise and isn't obligated to anyone. They can hire and fire without warning or reason as they usually do.
I have no beef with Mr. Otto Pfister, since we have not kicked a ball as yet, with him at the helm. And, despite what TTFF Technical Advisor Mr. Keith Look Loy may sell in public, I know that Look Loy, Jack Warner, Anil Roberts, Jamal Shabaaz, Alvin Corneal or whoever else is making decisions at the Dundonald Street office may think that T&T supporters are gullible and will swallow everything that is thrown at them. Well, if that’s the case they have another thing coming.
When asked "What is the criteria for hiring an assistant coach" Mr. Keith Look Loy told the SWO "No comment Flex. The TTFF will issue an official statement in due course." At least Mr. Look Loy took the time to reply. The same can’t be said for Mr Jack Warner, who may have been busy. He normally does reply to my e-mails though, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. TTFF Technical Director Mr Lincoln Phillips (as expected) just didn't bother to comment on the matter.
In February 2011 new head coach Otto Pfister came to Trinidad and was briefly interviewed for the head coach position. He got the job in April, spent 3 days in T&T signing contracts and other related issues, before jetting off to the UK to scout potential 'Soca Warriors' with his UK based agent Damian Downey.
Now, to my understanding the little time he had spent in T&T Mr Pfister got to know 'all potential' assistant coaches and could have, a) decided to go with the above three on his 'own' will or, b) his new staff was handed to him on a silver platter, take it or leave it style. My guess would be option (b).
After all, Otto did accept the job under certain terms and one of them was agreeing to have a fully local staff. Now don't get me wrong, all three assistants may actually be very nice guys, but my question is, do they all possess the necessary expertise, qualifications, hunger and determination to progress at this level. Being nice guys and actually being the right men for the job are two different entities.
Otto's new staff
Let’s take a closer look at the 3 hired men, starting with the godson of T&T football, Mr. Anton "Tanner" Corneal. Since the days of the Strike Squad, Anton Corneal’s selection as a player was always a questionable one. He was a regular player on the team despite the fact that he did nothing special to warrant a place.
In 2005, Anton took charged of the T&T national under 20 team. The team failed in their bid to qualify for the World Youth Championships in the Netherlands; when they were beaten 6-1 by hosts United States, 2-1 by Costa Rica and 3-1 by Panama in Group A of the CONCACAF Final Round qualifiers in Los Angeles.
The former Malta Carib Alcons man was promoted for his troubles and was giving a position to be on Leo Beenhakker's technical staff alongside Wim Rijsbergen for the senior football team.
The Dutch master had qualified T&T’s senior team for its first ever World Cup appearance at the 2006 finals in Germany. Anton went along for the ride and supposedly got the necessary experience and exposure. Or did he? There is an old saying, you can lead the horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink."
Anton was then named consultant for the 2006 CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup tournament in Miami, where by T&T were knocked out 3-0 by Mexico and Anton was on his way to his next job.
Later that same year Anton was given another task, or shall I say title to lead T&T Under 17 team to South Korea. At one time during the team’s preparation camp in Tobago he invited former T&T head coach Bertille St Clair to help him fine tune his young squad. I admired him, for coming forward and asking for help. This was definitely a positive sign from Corneal.
Dutchman Wim Rijsbergen who was at the time the new head coach of the senior team after Leo Beenhakker departed also extended a helping hand to Corneal and his budding Warriors.
This is where Corneal had his best success to date as he managed to qualify the talented Under 17 team to the finals in South Korea.
To get there T&T were beaten 2-0 by Costa Rica and 3-0 by the United States respectively. And with the new CONCACAF format, despite 2 losses, T&T were still within reach of a World Cup birth.
However, this time they made no mistake when they got past Canada 2-1 to meet host Jamaica in the deciding qualifier. A tie would have been enough to see T&T through, but the Young Warriors prevailed 1-0 on a late winner from talented midfielder Kevin Molino.
The successful 2007 Under-17 crop won two matches, lost two and qualified with a minus-three goal differential.
On the eve of its first game in South Korea, Corneal told FIFA.COM that "We want to make history" and so said, so done. His team made history when they were outclassed and out coached in every area. They fell to Ghana (4-1), Colombia (5-0) and Germany (5-0) respectively. Those results must have had a positive effect on Corneal.
Subsequently, Anton was again named the head coach of the 2009 Trinidad and Tobago National Under 17 team that was about to start its journey for a place at the FIFA Under 17 World Championship in Nigeria. The team of course got through the Caribbean minnows and was sailing into the final stage before being hit with a dose of reality as they were beaten 7-0 by hosts Mexico and 3-0 by Costa Rica and Guatemala, respectively, in Tijuana. Anton’s father, popular sports personality Alvin Corneal is usually quick to highlight T&T football failures in his T&T Guardian column, but was mysteriously incognito during his son’s aforementioned football fiasco.
The blame game
Upon returning home from Mexico, Mr. Anton Corneal took no blame whatsoever for his team’s terrible display and decided to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the young players instead. Anton said in a public interview with the T&T Press that poor results was attributed to the attitude of his players and the fact that he had two years, rather than four, to prepare the squad.
One distraught parent of Anton’s U-17 players was quoted saying ""My son wanted to come home after the first game.
"Imagine the coaches were throwing words for some boys and saying, “all yuh feel you are big players because you went on trials to England or Portugal”.
"Instead of talking to them and building up their confidence they came and tore them down. I was the one trying to lift my son and asked him how many games he felt Dwight (Yorke) and (Russell) Latapy lost."
Another parent felt the technical staff placed too much blame on the shoulders of 16 year olds.
After they collected seven from Mexico, Anton told the players, “all yuh would have to live with that for the rest of all yuh life" said the parent.
"I can understand that you have to be tough after a loss, but the players were crushed and my son felt like a failure. How come it was only the players to blame and not the coaches.” ended another parent.
Anton did not have to explain himself to the concerned parents or the T&T supporters anyway, because his job with the TTFF in any capacity was a secured one. Based on his prolonged tenure with the TTFF Anton knew despite any results he could rely on his employers through thick or thin. It was a marriage made in heaven.
Jumping on the bandwagon
With only three months to go before the start of the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Egypt, Anton was given yet another job. This time he jumped on the bandwagon as assistant coach to the Zoran Vranes Under 20 World Cup bound team. Ironically, current senior team assistant coaches Hutson Charles and Jefferson George were also on the under 20 staff. As the Trini saying goes, "all ah we is one family."
After Egypt, Anton was all smiles when he was introduced as technical director of the National Youth programs in Trinidad and Tobago. I remember a supporter saying "South and Tobago footballers dead, is only Fatima and St Mary's old boy men getting pick now."
Most recently in 2011, he was the assistant coach to Shawn Cooper's Under 17 team in its quest to qualify for the 2011 FIFA Under 17 World Cup finals in Mexico. Despite doing relatively well to qualify for the final stage, T&T World Cup hopes were dashed when Canada got the better of them in a do or die game that ended 2-0.
After continued failure coaching at the youth level Anton "Tanner" Corneal has has always been rewarded. This time the prodigal son has emerged as one of the official senior team assistant head coaches.
Maybe there is some relation, T&T new head coach Otto Pfister is of German origin and according to WIKI Tanner is a surname of either English or German origin.
The Anglo-saxon Tanner was an occupational surname while the German form, also spelled Danner, is likely topographic from German 'tan', meaning forest. At least Tanner represents his name to the fullest as he does have a forest of experience. One can’t help but wonder though if he actually puts that experience to use or has he really learnt anything.
Only in T&T you would find that it’s not job performance, but rather nepotism that will take you high up the employment ladder. Just ask Jamal Shabaaz, he is probably one of T&T's longest serving coaches who fits the aforementioned description well.
Introducing Jefferson George
Now let’s focus our attention to Mr. Jefferson George. He is now the new assistant goalkeeper coach for the T&T senior team and also holds the same position for the current National Under 23 Olympic team. George is taking over from former Strike Squad goalkeeper Michael Maurice who held said position for over a decade.
Despite having never played for T&T senior team, one of George's proudest moments in the red, white and black must have been in 2000, when the T&T Olympic team defeated Denmark's Under-23 (1-0) in a friendly showdown in Macoya. George was the man between the sticks who ensured T&T kept a clean sheet and exacted its revenge for the lost against the same team two days earlier by the same margin.
In 2007, George had the opportunity to take in the experience of a coaching symposium held by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) in conjunction with the Dutch Royal Academy.
Out of a large number of local coaches who participated in the symposiums, Jefferson George and former T&T player Reynold Carrington were offered the opportunity to attend further coaching courses in Holland.
In 2009 George was an understudy to Technical Director Mr. Lincoln Phillips in a TTFF Goalkeeping Coaching Diploma course. Lincoln by the way holds high regards for George.
Speaking of Lincoln Phillips, one still cannot understand why a man who is regarded one of the best keepers to pass through Trinidad and Tobago after Joey Gonzales and with his vast experience and knowledge is not directly involved as T&T goalkeeper coach. Maybe he doesn't know the same people Tanner knows.
Jefferson George, was also Zoran Vranes goalkeeper coach in Egypt for the under 20 team in 2009 and Norwegian Even Pellerud's T&T U-17 Women's team. The former W Connection and Ma Pau SC keeper was or still is employed by T&TEC and has been Dexter Cyrus (T&TEC head coach) assistant goalkeeper coach last season at the club.
T&TEC is destine for a spot in next season’s Pro League and with the Olympic and PanAmerican games around the corner, along with T&T senior team duties George will surely have his hands or shall I say gloves full. Talk about killing three birds with one stone.
Baba, working his way up the ladder
And finally, it’s on to Hutson “Baba” Charles, a man who has never been a head coach in his life, but does have a wealth of experience as a coaching assistant.
Charles was the assistant coach for a Brian Williams coached Under 20 team in 2006, 2007 Defence Force Technical Director, 2007 U-17 national football team, 2008 national Futsal team assistant, 2008 Under 16 assistant, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 U-20 assistant coach, and now the 2011 senior team assistant coach.
Surely, he can’t be that bad of a choice as he probably holds a national record for having the most assistant coaching positions in T&T, and with that experience under his belt his selection to some extent is warranted.
A small synopsis
Now that we have delved into the coaching experience of Otto Pfister’s assistants, here are two locally based coaches I believe should be involves in our national football set up. The first is Russell Latapy, Yes he has failed us once as head coach of T&T’s senior team for the 2010 World Cup campaign, but Russell has played at the highest level and happens to be one of the best midfielders to grace our shores, as his vision on the field would make Zinedine Zidane blush. To waste such a football brain and talent would be a lost to T&T. If he gains more coaching experience, I am sure he will be a great asset to T&T in some capacity. Maybe coaching the U-17s would be an appropriate fit for him.
I would also like to recommend the appointment of former San Juan Jabloteh coach Terry Fenwick as Youth Development Technical Director of T&T football; as the Englishman is responsible for developing many top T&T talents while at the San Juan based outfit. He also brings discipline to the table, a key ingredient our teams often lack.
Building a team off the field is just as, if not more important than building one on the field. If everyone including the supporters pulls together, T&T football will grow in a progressive and positive way.
Good luck to the TTFF, we hate the way you do things sometimes, but we love our country and our football. Let professionalism, organization and transparency prevail and success will follow.
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