Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Stephen Hart was forced to deny rumours that he has quit his post, just two weeks before the team’s opening Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier.
The “Soca Warriors” play away to Guatemala on November 13 and then at home to the United States on November 17 in the opening fixtures of their four-team qualifying group, which also includes St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The top two nations will advance to the final round of CONCACAF’s 2018 World Cup qualifying series.
Hart, who has still not signed a new job contract offered by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), remained tightlipped on his feelings about the team’s preparation to date. However, he made two positions clear to Wired868 last night.
He has not resigned from his job. But he is also “concerned about preparations.”
He did not give further details.
In a TTFA release today, in response to a statement by CNC3 morning show host Hema Ramkissoon which also suggested a parting of ways, Hart again confirmed that he has not resigned.
“There is no truth to the rumours,” said Hart, via the TTFA Media. “We have two crucial World Cup qualifying matches to prepare for and that remains the focus. The selection of the team is already finalised and will be made public shortly.”
Team manager William Wallace insisted that the Warriors have made recent headway in the preparation for their upcoming two matches and they are ready for action.
The Warriors leave for Fort Lauderdale on Saturday November 7 where they will have a four-day camp before heading to Guatemala on Wednesday November 11.
“I think we are ready,” Wallace told Wired868. “The camp in Fort Lauderdale will be crucial to our preparation. I have seen the importance of that getting-together before the (2015) Gold Cup and we are hoping to get the same result from this one.
“Once we get that, I think we can see the same result in Guatemala… Everything is in place, in terms of hotel and ground transportation there and so on.
“So we are ready to rumble.”
Wallace admitted that his response would have been very different if he were asked about the Warriors’ readiness, just three days ago.
On November 1, less than two weeks before Trinidad and Tobago’s opening World Cup qualifier, the Warriors did not even have confirmed airline bookings to take their players to Guatemala City or hotel reservations there.
Hart is believed to have exchanged strong opinions with key stakeholders inside and outside of the TTFA during that period.
The coach is a firm believer in Wallace’s administrative skills, though.
And, with the entire 2018 World Cup campaign in the balance, Wallace was able to get some relief after a series of meetings with the SPORTT Company.
“Since the sixth of October, all (2018 World Cup-related) documentation was submitted to the (Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs) and we had no traction since then,” said Wallace. “Last week was the first meeting (we had with Sport Ministry on the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign) and even that ended without any positive outcome.
“But within the last couple of days, things have gotten better and I was able to give more positive news and bring a relief to the staff.”
At present, none of the national football coaches are paid while Hart’s assistants are still without job contracts. The players and staff are also owed match fees for their last friendly match against Nicaragua, which ended goalless on October 13.
“The Cabinet note (from the last government) had stipends for staff members but that has ended and there is no other arrangement in place,” said Wallace. “So the staff has gone back to just getting match fees…
“We were told that with the procurement legislation, any payment of salaries and stipends must go to the CPO. Hopefully, we will navigate that after the US game.”
Last November, TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee stripped former general secretary Sheldon Phillips of his responsibilities for “government relations and team management functions”, after Wired868’s exclusive two-part investigative report into several irregularities related to an exhibition match away to Argentina in June 2014.
Those duties were assigned to Wallace. However, his increased responsibilities did not come with a new contract or salary while Phillips continued to receive his full remuneration of roughly TT$45,000 per month plus a company car.
Wallace admitted that he still does not have a contract.
“At this time, I am doing pro bono work,” said Wallace, who is also an executive member of the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL). “I have no arrangement in place (for payment)… I know the state of the association in terms of finances and it is difficult for me to insist on being paid when sometimes office staff have to wait over a month to be paid. So I couldn’t in all good conscience ask to be paid.
“(But) going forward, I think I should put something in place. I will arrange with the president.”
Hart informed Wired868, in a previous interview, that he will not sign a new contract with the TTFA without certain guarantees, which are believed to include remuneration for his support staff and stipulations around team preparation.
His previous contract expired at the July Gold Cup tournament, in which the coach steered the Warriors to the quarterfinal round for the second successive time.
Former coach Bertille St Clair, who took Trinidad and Tobago to the 2000 Gold Cup semifinal round, is the only other coach to take the two island republic into the knockout stage of the Confederation’s showpiece competition.
For now, Hart, Wallace and company are focused on the Warriors’ next two assignments. And there was welcomed news from Cardiff City on Monday as national captain Kenwyne Jones resumed full training with his England Championship Division employers, after suffering a knock on his shin against Nicaragua.
Wallace said the Warriors are still desperate to do well and win the support of their compatriots, as they target a place at the Russia World Cup.
“We are hoping that after the (USA) game at home, we can take care of the outstanding match fees because the stadium is full to capacity,” said Wallace, with a laugh. “I recently received TT$50,000 from some business people, so I think my appeal to the corporate sector is bearing fruit, little by little.
“Many people have said that they were waiting to see what was happening with the Budget first. So hopefully things will improve there and good results will help our cause too.
“A good result in Guatemala would certainly give us momentum and there is always something about playing the US in November…
“Once we come out of these games with even four points, we would have made an extremely good start to our campaign.”