Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 coach Ross Russell blamed inadequate preparation and his supposed inability to get more training time with his players for his team’s elimination from its 2013 Turkey Under-20 World Cup campaign at the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) level.
The young “Soca Warriors” won their group opener 2-1 against Puerto Rico on Monday but failed to score another goal as they lost 2-0 to Haiti and Wednesday and then 1-0 to Curaçao yesterday in Kingston, Jamaica.
The national under-20 team’s dismal showing meant it became the first Trinidad and Tobago team this year that failed to get past the Caribbean stage.
Before the competition, Russell predicted that the Warriors would only need two games to emerge from the group. But, after their elimination, the Defence Force coach suggested that his boast was insincere.
“We thought that, even with all the struggles we faced, we could come together three weeks before this tournament and get through,” Russell told the TTFF media. “But when I heard what the other teams had in their preparation, I knew we would be in some problems. I am sure people will be asking how our national team could lose to Curaçao but we have to face up to the facts…
“We have to admit to ourselves that the preparation, physically and mentally, of our players at the club and school level is not sufficient for us to think that they can just come into a national team and excel.
“That may have been the case long ago because of the natural ability of our players back then and then the lower level of our opponents. But evidently this is no longer the case.”
Russell, a former national goalkeeper, claimed that the Haitian team spent most of its time in camps and only broke on weekends for players to represent their respective club teams.
“In T&T, if we are really concerned about our football and we want to go forward then more there needs to be more cooperation among the Leagues, the clubs and the Federation,” he said. “I am also a club coach and I would like to try and help the other coaches realize the importance…
“Inside one month before a tournament of this caliber, we still had to be worrying about getting access to players playing in the Schools League. When we get the players for training, there’s not much that can be done during the sessions because we have to be wary about how much work they are already putting in while playing for the clubs or schools prior to a tournament like this.”
Russell criticised defending Digicel Pro League champions DirecTV W Connection too for sending talented teenager Neil Benjamin on trial on Italy just before the competition.
“A Pro League team decides to send a starting defender out on a two week trial just before the tournament,” he said, “and after coming back one day before we leave for Jamaica he is not his usual self in the matches.
“I will take the blame for some of the lapses because maybe I was not strong enough in trying to ensure that we got some of the things done going into a tournament like this.”
Russell’s comments are unlikely to go down well within the Pro League while his proposal would probably be deemed unfeasible in any country with a professional league.
Any suggestion that Pro League teams should only have use of their players for games, as he claimed to be the case in Haiti, may be deemed as ludicrous in Trinidad and Tobago as it would be in England if someone suggested the same thing to Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.
Connection owner David John Williams has invested millions into his club over the past decade and might feel perfectly within his rights to send a young player on trial when it suits him if the possibility of financial returns exists.
Incidentally, Williams has had his concerns about allowing his players to join the under-20 squad at all after his teenaged defender, Alvin Jones, collapsed during a national session after being forced to run laps for 90 minutes as punishment by former head coach Michael McComie.
The furious Connection boss threatened to withdraw all his players unless action was taken against the under-20 staff and McComie was promptly suspended by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF). McComie resigned before an investigation was concluded into his behaviour. Presumably, Russell, who was the under-20 goalkeeper coach at the time, did not intervene on Jones’ behalf.
Jones, the son of former “Strike Squad” player Kelvin Jones and younger brother of national senior team player Joevin Jones, played in all three games in Jamaica and was considered to be a rare bright light for the two-island republic.
It is worth noting too that neither the Pro League nor the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) had started when Russell took his men to their first Caribbean test in August. The national under-20 team had an encouraging start then too with a 2-1 win over Guyana but was spanked 3-0 in its second game by Suriname and forced to book its promotion with a 3-0 win over hosts St Vincent and the Grenadines in the final group match.
The under-20 squad could not muster a similar revival in Kingston as it finished bottom of a group that lacked the top traditional Caribbean outfits like Jamaica and Cuba.
Talented W Connection midfielder Jomal Williams, who played in the CONCACAF Champions League this season, was deemed so out of sorts in the under-20 competition that he began the decisive game against Curaçao on the substitutes’ bench.
“We have to take these players out of their comfort zones at home,” said Russell. “Not because a player might shine at the School level or with his club means he is automatically ready for the international level even in the Caribbean. We need to work harder with our players…
“I for one was hoping to see our players lift their game in this tournament… My only hope is that these players are not left behind because some of them may not be of the age for the next under-20 campaign, which means that we have to find a way to (use them) at the under-23 level or hopefully in some program before they can get to the senior level.”
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