The Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) is banking on the goodwill of the local public and the sales savvy of marketing manager Anthony Harford to rescue its 2012 Digicel Caribbean Cup campaign after being snubbed by the Sport Ministry.
The TTFF had requested $423,218 from the Government but was turned down, via email, from the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Ashwin Creed. The local football body revealed today that several individual football fans had dug into their own pockets to help finance the “Soca Warriors.”
The goodwill, thus far, amounts to roughly $7,000.
Undeterred, the TTFF will continue to prepare its team with the hope of a last gasp rescue package from private companies and citizens. The “Soca Warriors” are due to leave for St Kitts and Nevis on Monday with its first Caribbean Cup qualifying match on Wednesday against French Guiana.
The Caribbean Cup serves as a qualifier for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. If Trinidad and Tobago pulls out, it would be at least two years before the senior footballers have another competitive match while they could also face sanctions from FIFA and the CFU.
“All other arrangements and necessary efforts are being made in an attempt to ensure that the team departs on Monday,” stated a TTFF release today. “There continues to be ongoing discussions with partners and the TTFF remains hopeful that the team goes on to participate in the tournament.”
Interim senior team head coach Hutson “Barber” Charles, a former “Strike Squad” stand-out, admitted that it was impossible for the squad to ignore the confusion around its Caribbean Cup campaign.
At present, Charles operates with one assistant coach rather than two. Derek King, a former Joe Public head coach, accepted the call-up to Charles’ technical staff. Angus Eve, who also serves as head coach at Pro League team North East Stars, declined.
King and Eve are still owed salaries from their spells as national under-23 coaches earlier this year.
Charles will also have to take the unusual step of discussing the composition of his final squad with the TTFF marketing manager tomorrow.
Four overseas-based players, Khaleem Hyland (Belgium), Keon Daniel (United States), Carlyle Mitchell (Canada) and Robert Primus (Kazakhastan), have indicated their availability to play in the Caribbean tournament and Primus already purchased a return ticket home on the understanding that he would be refunded.
The Vietnam-based duo of Hughton Hector and Willis Plaza are already training with the squad in Trinidad while US Major League Soccer (MLS) defender Julius James pulled out due to injury and playmaker Kevin Molino, who is on trial in Belgium, and Turkey-based striker Darryl Roberts will not be used at this stage.
Charles is uncertain whether to submit a team with overseas-based professionals or lower his sights and name a more economically-assembled squad comprising just locals.
“The situation is very difficult right now,” Charles told Wired868. “I heard the Permanent Secretary say he would not fund us because of abysmal performances. But without funding we won’t be able to prepare properly and you will always get those kinds of performances.”
Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA midfielder Densill Theobald, a 2006 World Cup player and Chaconia Gold recipient, expressed his frustrations to the TTFF media.
“We as players have not been officially told about any possibility of us not going to St Kitts (but) we’ve seen it in the press and it saddens us,” said Theobald. “I hope the powers that be realise that this isn’t hurting one man or the TTFF (but) a squad of human beings who use football as a way of life.”
Theobald, who has played professionally abroad in Canada, Scotland, Hungary and India, suggested that the Sport Ministry’s stance smacked of hypocrisy as they were quick to celebrate with winners but unable to help get them to the podium.
“So what about the other teams that are not in the World Cup?” he asked. “You are trying to tell us that they are not being supported or loved by their leaders?
“When other athletes in the build-up to the Olympics were not winning or performing well, did the Government come out and tell them we cannot support you at the Olympics? Then we were all happy about bringing home medals. How do they expect success to come if they don’t want to invest and help in the road to success?”
Charles, a Warrant Officer One with Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, admitted that he tried, unsuccessfully, to shield his players from the speculation and uncertainty but said the squad has responded remarkably well in training in spite of the negativity.
“From the start, I told them we are here to do a job which is to qualify for the Gold Cup,” said the 47-year-old coach. “I told them to focus on doing that and playing good football and winning matches and to leave the problems between the Federation and the stakeholders for them to sort out.
“But then the players are reading something totally contrary in the press and they are calling to find out what is going on. This is one of the challenges we have right now.”
Harford told Wired868 that Charles will be told to submit his best available squad tomorrow.
The All Sport Promotion director claimed that several persons dropped by to offer solidarity with the players today and he is considering requesting financial pledges from the public through the media. He remains hopeful that several companies would help plug the gap.
He will not make a final plea to Sport Minister Anil Roberts though.
“I think the only persons in Trinidad and Tobago who still have confidence in Anil Roberts is Jack Warner and the Prime Minister,” said Harford. “Otherwise, if I were to gauge from what people are telling me, everyone else is fed up of his loud, aggressive and useless approach.”
Theobald and his teammates are doing their best to ignore the dismissive pronouncements of Creed and Roberts.
“It is important that we as players and staff continue to stay focused and prepare as best as possible with a positive mental attitude and leave the rest up to the Almighty,” he said.
T&T 26-man squad:
(20 players will be selected for Caribbean Cup)
GK: Jan Michael Williams (DirecTV W Connection), Cleon John (North East Stars), Marvin Phillip (Central FC);
Def: Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver Whitecaps—Canada), Robert Primus (FC Aktobe—Kazakhstan), Rodell Elcock (Defence Force), Kareem Moses, Seon Power, Kevon Villaroel (all North East Stars), Daneil Cyrus, Joevin Jones (both DirecTV W Connection), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Aubrey David (Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA);
Mid: Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk—Belgium), Densill Theobald (Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA), Clyde Leon (DirecTV W Connection), Kevon Neaves (T&TEC), Keon Daniel (Philadelphia Union—USA), Hughtun Hector (Song Lam Nghe—Vietnam), Keron Boucher (St Clair Coaching School), Kevon Carter (Defence Force), Duane Muckette (1st Fc Santa Rosa);
For: Willis Plaza (Sai Gon FC—Vietnam), Richard Roy, Devorn Jorsling (both Defence Force), Jamal Gay (Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA).