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Central sack Russell; Sancho fires coach after North East Stars loss

Former Defence Force coach and two-time Pro League champion, Ross Russell, lasted just under five months as head coach at Central FC.

Photo: Former Central FC coach Ross Russell (right) touches down in Toronto for the July 2015 Pan American Games, during his stint as Trinidad and Tobago Women's National Senior Team head coach. Russell was sacked by Central last night, after a 1-0 Pro League loss to North East Stars. (Copyright Allan V Crane/TTOC)
Photo: Former Central FC coach Ross Russell (right) touches down in Toronto for the July 2015 Pan American Games, during his stint as Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team head coach.
Russell was sacked by Central last night, after a 1-0 Pro League loss to North East Stars.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/TTOC)

Wired868 understands Russell, a former Trinidad and Tobago stand-out goalkeeper and national youth team coach, was fired within an hour of last night’s 1-0 Pro League defeat to Jap’s North East Stars at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.

The result saw Central slip to fifth place in the 10-team table, although they are just three points shy of leaders, Defence Force. The Central-Stars clash was the second game of a double header, as Makesi Lewis grabbed a hattrick, earlier yesterday evening, in Police FC’s 6-1 mauling of St Ann’s Rangers at the same venue.

Central operations director Kevin Harrison allegedly fired Russell in the stadium’s parking lot after the match.

Russell bid farewell to his coaching staff at around midnight yesterday via a What’s App message which read: “Misters thanks for everything. It was nice working with u all and all the best for the rest of the season.”

Russell was Central’s first local head coach as the club started off with Englishman Graham Rix and had two spells with former England World Cup player Terry Fenwick on either side of a stint with former Yugoslav National Under-23 international, Zoran Vranes.

Photo: Former Central FC coach Ross Russell. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Former Central FC coach Ross Russell.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

This morning, Harrison told the players that Russell was fired last night and would be replaced, in the interim, by assistant coach Dale Saunders.

Bizarrely, Russell was sacked just one day after being named the Pro League’s Coach of the Month for October. But the decision was not a complete surprise as, at the start of the week, Russell was supposedly given until Saturday to “fix the mess” by Central chairman Brent Sancho.

Sancho’s warning came after Central’s first league defeat of the season against Play Whe San Juan Jabloteh on Friday December 11, although the “Couva Sharks” failed to land either the First Citizens Cup or Toyota Classic trophies. Both titles were both secured by Central’s bitter Couva rival, DIRECTV W Connection.

Russell did not make it past Wednesday, as Sancho and Harrison decided to go for the club’s sixth coaching change in just three and a half seasons.

Central captain and Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams said he was sad to see Russell go but lamented the team’s recent form.

“On any level of football, they judge the coach based on the results,” Williams told Wired868, “and I can’t recall the last time playing with Central FC (that) we lost two or three games in a row. The board made the decision based on that and it is their club.

Photo: Central FC chairman Brent Sancho welcomes Bankers Insurance CEO Vance Gabriel into the club's fold as a sponsor in January 2015. Gabriel returned the favour by helping restore Sancho to the helm of the Pro League club, after his defeat in the polls at the September 7 general elections.
Photo: Central FC chairman Brent Sancho welcomes Bankers Insurance CEO Vance Gabriel into the club’s fold as a sponsor in January 2015.
Gabriel returned the favour by helping restore Sancho to the helm of the Pro League club, after his defeat in the polls at the September 7 general elections.

“We, as players, can only try to support the coach and we did the best we could while he was here. We wish him all the best in the future because we know he is a good coach.”

Ironically, the goal that sealed Russell’s fate came from within his own ranks.

Central left back Kevon Villaroel hooked the ball into his own net in the 43rd minute, after a dangerous low cross from Stars midfielder Neil Mitchell provoked a panicked reaction from the Sharks backline.

Just three minutes earlier, it took a goalline clearance to keep out the Stars, as attacker Keron “Ball Pest” Cummings ran on to an Alonzo Adlam cross and dribbled past the Central custodian, Williams, only to be be denied by alert defender Akeem “Battery” Benjamin.

But those moment of incisive play from Stars were rare.

North East Stars coach Roland Clarke might have been playing under pressure himself, after successive defeats to W Connection and Morvant Caledonia United.

Yesterday, Clarke’s troops were more energetic and compact and kept the ball better. But Central created sufficient chances to win the game comfortably.

Photo: Central FC striker Willis Plaza (left) keeps his eye on the ball while LA Galaxy defender Tommy Meyer trails during 2015 CONCACAF Champions League action. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Central FC striker Willis Plaza (left) keeps his eye on the ball while LA Galaxy defender Tommy Meyer trails during 2015 CONCACAF Champions League action.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Trinidad and Tobago international striker Willis Plaza volleyed overbar from just six yards, after a cross from Jason Marcano in the 32nd minute.

And, in the second half, Stars goalkeeper Shane Mattis came to the fore, as he fended away a Marcano effort at his near post in the 60th minute and pulled off a miraculous point blank double save from Plaza in the 82nd minute, before defender Jesus Perez scrambled clear.

Two minutes later, Central substitute Kadeem Corbin, who made his debut last night after being sacked by St Ann’s Rangers, whipped in a right side cross that produced a thumping half-volley from Marcano and another cracking Plaza strike.

Mattis saved the first effort; the second rebounded off the upright.

And Russell was out of a job.

As the minutes ticked away and Russell threw substitutes Darren “Chucky” Mitchell, Nicholas Dillon and Corbin on to hunt for an equaliser, Central’s vocal supporters pointedly began singing a ditty to former coach, Vranes.

Photo: The "Central Choir", accompanied by Central FC operations manager Kevin Harrison (centre), had some jovial fun at the expense of Point Fortin Civic at the Mahaica Oval in 2015 Pro League action. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: The “Central Choir”, accompanied by Central FC operations manager Kevin Harrison (centre), had some jovial fun at the expense of Point Fortin Civic at the Mahaica Oval in 2015 Pro League action.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

At least one member of the Central technical staff looked over his shoulder as the loud singing drifted out on to the field, where the players were fighting for their coach’s future.

“Zoran Vran-esh… He’s from Serbia. His team will murder yuh!”

Harrison, as always, stood alongside the “Central Choir.” It was, arguably, an uncouth parting shot for the soon-to-be departed Russell.

In March 2015, Vranes, who was in the stands last night, had Central atop the Pro League standings when he was replaced as head coach by Fenwick, who returned for his second stint in charge.

Harrison said then that Fenwick was a better fit.

“We are in the last furlong now and the results haven’t been spectacular,” Harrison told Wired868 at the time. “At the end of the day, the (Central) board did say the team was top of the league and doing quite well but it was more about getting the pieces in the right places.”

Photo: Former Central FC head coach Zoran Vranes. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Former Central FC head coach Zoran Vranes.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Fenwick and the Central pair of Sancho and Harrison have clashed bitterly since then, particularly during the duo’s stint at the Ministry of Sport. And, with a reconciliation unlikely, Vranes, who won the 2014 First Citizens Cup with Central, is considered an early favourite for the vacant post.

Russell, who won two Pro League titles with Defence Force, leaves Central without a trophy—barring the exhibition Digital Charity Shield affair—after his team fell 2-1 to Connection in First Citizens Cup final.

Central will be under new management again soon.

(Teams)

North East Stars (4-2-3-1): 1.Shane Mattis (GK); 25.Keryn Navarro (captain), 19.Glenton Wolffe, 4.Jesus Perez, 26.Carey Brown (8.Neveal Hackshaw 86); 24.Adrian Noel, 21.Neil Mitchell; 5.Alanzo Adlam (23.Brendon Figuera 69), 6.Duane Muckette, 10.Keron Cummings; 28.Dillon Jagasar (40.Jomoul Francois 80).

Unused substitutes: 22.Cleon John (GK), 14.Chike Sullivan, 27.Quincy Charles, 39.Taryk Sampson.

Coach: Roland Clarke

 

Central FC (4-2-3-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 5.Akeem Benjamin, 4.Andre Ettienne, 12.Jamal Jack, 24.Kevon Villaroel, 25.Elijah Manners (11.Darren Mitchell 70), 10.Marvin Oliver, 7.Jason Marcano, 99.Marcus Joseph (9.Kadeem Corbin 63), 8.Sean De Silva (14.Nicholas Dillon 77), 33.Willis Plaza.

Unused substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 6.Kerry Baptiste, 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 26.Jem Gordon.

Coach: Ross Russell

 

Referee: Gordon Maloney

Man of the match: Shane Mattis (North East Stars)

Photo: Former San Juan Jabloteh goalkeeper Shane Mattis saves a penalty kick from Point Fortin Civic captain Andre Ettienne during the 2014 Toyota Classic final. Mattis, who is also a former Central FC custodian, joined North East Stars for the 2015/16 season. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Former San Juan Jabloteh goalkeeper Shane Mattis saves a penalty kick from Point Fortin Civic captain Andre Ettienne during the 2014 Toyota Classic final.
Mattis, who is also a former Central FC custodian, joined North East Stars for the 2015/16 season.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Pro League results

(Wednesday December 16)

St Ann’s Rangers 1 (Jelani Peters 5), Police FC 6 (Kareem Freitas 26, Christon Thomas 27, Makesi Lewis 29, 42, 70, Anton Hutchinson 71) at Hasely Crawford Stadium;

*—Red card: Anton Hutchinson (Police FC)

North East Stars 1 (Kevon Villaroel 43 OG), Central FC 0 at Hasely Crawford Stadium;

Photo: Police FC defender Anton Hutchinson (centre) reacts after a missed opportunity against San Juan Jabloteh in the 2014/15 Pro League season. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Police FC defender Anton Hutchinson (centre) reacts after a missed opportunity against San Juan Jabloteh in the 2014/15 Pro League season.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Upcoming Pro League fixtures

(Friday December 18)

Club Sando v Police FC, 6 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;

W Connection v San Juan Jabloteh, 8 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;

(Saturday December 19)

Morvant Caledonia United v Central FC, 3.30 pm, Larry Gomes Stadium;

Defence Force v North East Stars, 4 pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium;

St Ann’s Rangers v Point Fortin Civic, 6 pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 15 years experience at several local and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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64 comments

  1. Sanko needs some prayers to shake off that Kamliar jumbie!

  2. What will be considered “doing well” for Central though? On the back of Pro League and Caribbean Cup triumphs, anything less may be seen as failure.

  3. I think he would have eventually done well. He needed more time to implement his philosophy. I also think coaching and dealing with Army men is slightly different from dealing with “regular footballers”. Could have factored in as well. Sorry to see him go this way.

  4. Cleon John was rotated, injured, dropped, or #2 this season Lasana ?

  5. Nobody has mentioned it yet I think. But it can’t be easy to coach in an atmosphere where the players and administrators don’t trust each other and the chairman can suspend one of your more influential players for littering.

  6. Correct me if I’m wrong he was hired when these 2 were in government? My gut feeling is that they would have never hired him if they in control at the time, now i see why sancho was so adamant that the monies given to the pro teams by the government should not decrease time for another foreign coach.

    • Lasana Liburd

      Actually there is some evidence that suggested that Brent Sancho always continued to run the affairs at Central FC. But Harrison was always visibly involved. So he would have had to play a part in it.
      But it is true that the SIS board was very active around that time. So there would have been other input.

  7. Central operations director Kevin Harrison allegedly fired Russell in the stadium’s parking lot after the match.

  8. ..Correct Roneil. And that’s because the Central hierarcy love politics more than football..

  9. and they should have at least kept Fenwick for the Concacaf Champions League….

  10. He should have not being hired in the first place because his military style didn’t cut it with the Central F.C. players either Terry Fenwick or Vranes were the ones who will always be very successful the club because our local players have no respect for our local coaches and because the ex corrupted sports minister and his advisor have no clue what they are doing in respect to running a professional; team eh, they both should have stuck with organising the Players Association to defend the rights of our players . Them really good yes.

    • Lol. That’s one way to look at it. I have heard that there was some friction behind the scenes in truth.
      Although there is always some friction at every work place.

    • And the whole momemtum of the team had broken when the ex corrupted minister bounced his head and became a government minister and everything was being exposed about him that even the players didn’t want him and his advisor to be part of the team anymore and now SIS themselves have pulled out and doesn’t want to be associated with their dishonesty imagine when they started the professional team eh, they didn’t open a US account so monies had to go to the ex corrupted sports minister personal account eh. Them really good yes.

    • And the whole momemtum of the team had broken when the ex corrupted minister bounced his head and became a government minister and everything was being exposed about him that even the players didn’t want him and his advisor to be part of the team anymore and now SIS themselves have pulled out and doesn’t want to be associated with their dishonesty imagine when they started the professional team eh, they didn’t open a US account so monies had to go to the ex corrupted sports minister personal account eh. Them really good yes.

  11. To me, the instability crept in after sacking, or should I say “shifting” Vranes in the first place.

  12. Unless something else is going on, it seems a bit panicky.

  13. All the teams at the top of the table are coached by foreigners?

    • Nope. The only other foreign coach in the league is Stuart Charles-Fevrier from St Lucia, who is W Connection head coach.
      He has spent most of his life in Trinidad since he came here to play as a teenager though.

  14. Is it safe to assume Fenwick may return Lasana Liburd? Any idea who will replace Ross Russell?

  15. That shows the level of coaches in Trinidad…WE, Central F.C. are the current CHAMPIONS of the Caribbean…..and Ross Russel have us mid table after 7 games…unacceptable….Players and Coaches from South America and other parts of the world should be BEGGING to play for us.

    • Central might have still won the title under Ross. Might. Just like they might have won under Vranes last season. Who knows.
      No one can argue that their change last season worked out well.
      It is true and worrying that local coaches are not standing out. Ross Russell deserved the job on merit and it is hard to see who could replace him locally.
      Apart from maybe Angus Eve. And I don’t think the board is that fond of him either.

    • Of course, there is also Derek King who won quite a bit at Joe Public and would be even more seasoned now. Whether he wants to leave national team for that job, if it was offered, is another matter.
      But I suspect Central will go foreign again.

  16. ..No surprise. The Central hierarchy like foreign (wink) coaches. Back to the future?..

  17. Today is Axe-day for Last year’s league-winners or what? First Jose now Russ…who’s next I wonder? A certain DUTCHMAN comes to mind ?