Former T&T football captain David Nakhid recalls the work of late manager Richard Braithwaite during two tumultuous Gold Cup campaigns
Wavering between reluctance and tacit acceptance, I feel an obligation to pen some of the experiences and times that I shared with the man commonly referred to by most players as “Manage” and the gentle, principled giant I knew as Richard.
My reluctance stems from the realization that we are a people of words unburdened by actions. How best then to procure the appropriate recognition and acclaim for a man who was without a doubt the best manager in Trinidad and Tobago’s football history—Richard would have hated that bit of hyperbole—from a public famous for its acquiescence to official dogma?
As our so called ‘leaders’ past and present—superfluous in everything but the basic principles and integrity needed for public office—are deified by a partisan public, the deserving along with their accomplishments are discarded only to be remembered upon their deaths with hypocritical sentiment and expansive eulogies.
I knew little of Richard’s personal life as he was a very private man. But I was captain of the National team for most of his six or so years as ‘Manage.’ It is Impossible then for me to reference Richard without referencing the Coach that he worked with for the better part of those years and the dynamics and sparks that emanated from that very successful relationship.
Bertille St Clair was not an easy man to work with. But then most principled people within a distinctly third-world mentality environment tend to be branded as ‘difficult.’
Bertille St Clair is a man of principle and integrity… and then some!
Richard, who was unassuming, diplomatic to the nth degree, visionary and, over all else, action-oriented, was the perfect foil to the stubborn, energetic, demanding, unapolegetic, highly-driven disciplinarian that is St Clair. Their union was an historic turning point in T&T’s footballing fortunes and direction and their statistical record is indicative of a productive connection.
At the time, our senior team struggled for even token support from a TTFF that, from the onset, placed obstacles in our way. There were no proper training camps, no access to proper training fields, inadequate training provisions and the list went on and on… Richard begged, borrowed and cajoled as we prepared against the tide for the 1997 edition of the Caribbean Cup.
Bertille and I put our complaints to the media several times but there was no reaction from anyone. As Bertille would accurately say: “If this was Mexico somebody house burning down!”
Richard always managed to get us through to the next level of training and our group of players, although not our best team, responded magnificently.
When we arrived in St Kitts, we were firm underdogs, our fiercest rival, Jamaica, was bound for the ‘98 World Cup and established favourites. Understandably, all their best players were there seeking selection for France. The TTFF ignored all requests by Richard and Bertille to bring back our best players. No money was the reason given.
Jerren Nixon, Peter Prosper and I were the only overseas players. Jamaica completely outplayed us for the first 45 minutes of that epic semi-final. Their extensive and well-financed preparations were evident. But Bertille’s impassioned talk at half-time and a typical low-key, matter of fact statement by Richard pushed us to turn the tables dramatically and remains with me to this day.
“Fellahs, Jamaica playing with their eyes towards France,” said Manage. “Allyuh playing for the next 5 years of your lives!”
Every player got Manage’s message. We knew the TTFF was waiting like vultures to fire Bertille and Richard and axe some of the “difficult” players involved. We went on to dominate the rest of the game including extra time and eventually beat a mentally and physically drained Jamaica on penalties. The lifting of the Caribbean Cup was a mere formality after that.
I never felt that (then TTFF general secretary) Richard Groden liked Richard, Bertille and I being the de facto leaders of the National team. To our faces, he and (then president) Oliver Camps were courteous and full of praise but their actions consistently suggested malicious intent. As we set out with the team on a pre-Gold Cup Central American tour, which Richard had incessantly pushed (FIFA vice-president and TTFA special advisor) Jack Warner to organise, we heard that the TTFF bigwigs said our team would be an embarrassment and we should return home.
Richard and Bertille stayed the course and convinced everyone to believe as we suffered defeat after defeat during our preparation. The results were splashed on the newspapers by the TTFF with accompanying remarks but no-one knew what we were doing.
Bertille had us training in the morning for a full hour and sometimes two before playing against teams also preparing for the Gold Cup. We lost to El Salvador (0-1), Guatemala (1-3) and Costa Rica (0-4) but there was a growing confidence among the team as Richard man-managed his heart out, acting as Manager, resident psychologist and educator.
Clint Marcelle and Stern John joined us as we received not a word of encouragement from TTFF or even a visit to our hotel. Gold Cup ‘98 witnessed the best football played by a T&T team at the region’s highest level tournament until now.
We beat Honduras 3-1 and left them wondering out loud at the post-game press conference if this was the T&T team they had seen two weeks prior. Mexico, who eventually beat Brazil 1-0 in the Gold Cup final, had a similar experience. Their famous coach Manuel Lapuente kicked over buckets of Gatorade on his way to the dressing rooms at half-time.
Mexico ran out 4-2 winners to eliminate us but only T&T was able to register goals against one of Mexico’s greatest ever teams. This was no second-rate team here, we knew we were onto something great.
Warner, ever the self-serving pragmatist, kept Richard, Bertille and most of the team amidst protestations from some of his own TTFF officials. But I had seen enough.
After beating Jamaica 2-0 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 28 March1999, I announced my retirement, furious at the lack of respect shown to Richard, Bertille and the local players.
Richard constantly implored the TTFF for help in implementing a comprehensive programme to prepare for major tournaments. Jack and the TTFF would host some overseas players in separate hotels (until Richard and Bertille shut that down) and paid some of us 10 times the amount paid to local players as match fees.
Richard’s insistence was the reason that player payments became more streamlined and equitable, which eliminated the rancour and bitterness felt towards some of the overseas players.
It was Richard’s call to me with Bertille in the background that pulled me back into the national set-up for the Gold Cup 2000. The pre-tournament trip to Morocco was a sign that we had a team of genuine difference makers. Russell Latapy was his usual genial self while news that Dwight Yorke would be joining us engendered a feeling of ‘our time now.’
The team put together by Richard and coached by Bertille went on to create history for Trinidad and Tobago at the 2000 Gold Cup.
There was little doubt as to which team was the better when we lost to the eventual winners, Canada, in the semi-final. My penalty miss proved decisive.
What was made known to the public by Jack and his TTFF cohorts were the huge amount of salaries being paid to the players, as the team held several meetings to seek better conditions for future players and less interference from Jack and his lackeys.
We would learn later who was keeping Jack informed about details of the meetings and that both Richard and Bertille were in full support of the players. Little is known to Jack and the public until now that Enrique Sanz, who was our Gold Cup liaison and is now CONCACAF general secretary, had formed a strong bond with Richard and myself and warned us what was ahead.
After victory against Guatemala took us into the Gold Cup quarter-finals, Enrique came to Richard, Bertille and myself and related what he had just witnessed in Jack’s VIP box. Groden, Camps, Jack and some other lesser known lackeys were jumping for joy when Guatemala scored while cursing when T&T scored and eventually won.
The look on Richard’s and Bertille’s face, I will never forget. These two battle hardened men had virtually experienced every low possible from a TTFF bent on seeing them fail; but this was unimaginable! Their disappointment and anger was palpable.
To Richard’s immense credit, he managed to pull Bertille and himself together and, very much against their wishes, I told every single player about what was witnessed in that VIP box.
Against all expectations, we beat Costa Rica in the quarter-finals and were coming together as a team. We knew that Jack effectively played a major part in Dwight not returning (from Manchester United) to play in the quarter-final or semi-final.
(Yorke played in Trinidad and Tobago’s three group stage matches but was allowed to return to Manchester United for the knockout stage although FIFA rules priorities a Confederation’s tournaments).
The die was cast. Richard, Bertille, Nixon and myself were axed. A team that I am more than certain would have qualified for the 2002 World Cup with most players in their prime was decimated on the whim of a football illiterate and facilitator of corruption.
Both Richard and Bertille, with their reputations and integrity intact, would make their returns and lay the foundation for T&T’s eventual successful run to Germany World Cup 2006. I knew Richard was as equally happy as he was heartbroken that we had qualified but that he could not be there as manager.
True to form and his immense character, he took it in his stride and never let on.
Bruce Aanensen, an all-round nice guy and affable enough, brought nothing special to the table as manager of the National Senior Team in comparison to Richard. But maybe I am being unfair to Bruce as Richard set the bar extremely high.
Other than the honesty and passion in carrying out his duty, I will remember our after-dinner conversations.
Bertille and I invariably were always demanding something to be better, changed, redone or brought in. Richard would look across the table and exclaim with a shake of his head and smiling from his heart: “Why de two of allyuh so damn miserable?!”
Rest in Peace, Richard. Be assured that your work done and it was done well. There are statistics for the lives transformed under your leadership.
But the ignoring of your own health issues to make sure you fulfilled the many demands placed on you and so that all conditions were in place for good performance can never be accounted.
Take comfort on your eternal journey knowing that you are loved and appreciated by those who knew and those unafraid to speak.
Your walk back into the dressing room for the last time is not alone or in vain but accompanied by those who hold dear Trinidad and Tobago football.
Editor’s Note: The funeral for Richard Braithwaite will be held on Thursday January 22 from 9 am at the St Patrick RC Church on Picton Street, Newtown and thence to the Crematorium at Long Circular Road, St James.
Wired868 is open to publish the views of any figures named in this column who might hold differing recollections to the author.