Former Trinidad and Tobago captain and Europe-based midfielder, David Nakhid, is the sole Trinidad-born candidate with his hat in the ring, as the TTFA’s technical committee pores over more than a dozen applicants to lead the Soca Warriors through the remainder of the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
But there are a few more household names in the running to replace departed head coach Stephen Hart, including ex-Trinidad and Tobago national coaches Zoran Vranes, Francisco Maturana and Wim Rijsbergen, former Central FC and San Juan Jabloteh coach Terry Fenwick and ex-Jabloteh coach Ricky Hill.
Fenwick—who is a married to a Trinidadian, Reyna Kowlessar—and Vranes have both lived on the two island republic for most of this millennium.
However, despite persistent rumours, sources indicate that the new National Senior Team head coach will not be W Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier or current TTFA youth coach Russell Latapy, as neither applied for the post. Fevrier, who was born in St Lucia but spent most of his adult life in Trinidad, and Latapy are both former senior Warriors coaches.
Former World Cup 2006 captain Dwight Yorke, who has his coaching badges and applied for several jobs in England, has not formally expressed interest in replacing Hart either.
But, according to sources, there are at least another eight overseas coaches who are keen on heading the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team.
Brazilian Joel Santana (ex-Vasco Da Gama coach), Colombian Luis Fernando Suarez (ex-Honduras and Ecuador World Cup coach), Frenchman Philippe Troussier (ex-South Africa and Japan World Cup coach), Scotsman Alex McLeish (ex-Scotland, Glasgow Rangers and Aston Villa coach) and Belgian Herman Vermeulen (ex-Oud-Heverlee Leuven coach) are said to top the list.
McLeish coached Anthony Rougier and Russell Latapy at Hibernian in Scotland and then Latapy and Marvin Andrews at Rangers.
Early contact from agents supposedly representing former Brazil World Cup coach Carlos Dunga, Netherlands and Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard and England boss Roy Hodgson failed to materialise into a formal bid—either because they were insincere in the first place or unimpressed by the terms on offer.
Most international coaches were interested to hear not just about the salary on offer but also the length of the contract, the number of staff members they can bring and the available training facilities on the two island republic.
Technical committee chairman Dexter Skeene said he was “unable to say at this point” who comprised the shortlist or which coaches caught his eye. But he said they are doing their best to source a coach“best suited to the deliver the kind of results we are looking for.”
“First, it is important to note that the technical committee is an advisory body [and does not make the final decision],” Skeene told Wired868. “We are looking at different options and soon we will put forward the possibilities [to the TTFA board of directors]. There are a lot of people interested [in the job], which is good for Trinidad and Tobago.”
Skeene did not offer a timeline for the technical committee’s decision but recommendations are expected to be forwarded to the board of directors by the end of the week.
The technical committee is understood to be placing a priority on coaching experience within the CONCACAF region and coaches who handled a national team within the last three years.
Only one coach appears to tick all the relevant boxes: Luis Fernando Suarez, who led Ecuador to the second round of the South Africa 2010 World Cup and steered Honduras to the Brazil 2014 World Cup tournament.
Suarez’s career has stuttered since the 2014 World Cup, though, as he had brief unsuccessful spells with Peru top flight club, Club Universitario de Deportes, and Dorados de Sinaloa, who were relegated the the Mexico second division.
The TTFA is believed to be offering its new head coach just a 12-month deal. However, a storming run in the CONCACAF Hex and a good showing at the 2017 Gold Cup—if the Warriors can get there through a convoluted Play Off series—will probably suit coaches who hope to use the job as a stepping stone.
Neither Nakhid, Fenwick nor Hill have coached on the international stage before while Vranes has not coached a senior international team during the suggested time frame. However, all five are convinced that they can deliver success to the “Red, Black and White.”
Nakhid, who has a UEFA ‘A’ licence and runs his own coaching academy in Lebanon, pointed out that celebrated Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola would not meet the supposed requirements of the TTFA’s technical committee either and still had his learning plates on when he took over at Barcelona.
He dared the TTFA to think outside of the box.
“I see it as a great challenge to be able to get our men’s national team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup with 24 points left [to play for],” said Nakhid, who campaigned unsuccessfully for the FIFA presidency last year. “It’s precisely the kind of challenge that I have lived and played through and been successful with.
“I think Stephen did a fantastic job in his tenure and I know that I could finish this particular journey with success.”
Fenwick, one of the Pro League’s two most successful coaches alongside Fevrier, suggested that TTFA president David John-Williams would probably be afraid to give him the shot as head coach because he would be too good at it.
“They would not know how to deal with my success,” said Fenwick, a former England World Cup defender. “They are worried about putting me into the job because, if I am successful, they would not know how to handle me.
“They want a brown nose and someone they can pull the strings of, which doesn’t allow the coach the freedom to experiment with the team and really develop the national side.”
Still, Fenwick, who runs his own academy, Football Factory, in St Clair, admitted that the position of Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach remains a burning ambition.
He has coached 10 of the 26 players used in the 2018 World Cup campaign so far, including defender Sheldon Bateau, midfielder Khaleem Hyland, playmaker Kevin Molino and both goalkeepers, Jan-Michael Williams and Marvin Phillip.
“It’s the job that I wanted for a long time,” Fenwick told Wired868. “I am an Englishman living here for 17 years and married with a young child. I see myself as Trinidadian and I spend very little time in the UK. I know the players better than anyone and better than they even know themselves; and I know the culture, although I am not a part of the culture…
“They are [probably] looking at a Brazilian, South American or Central American coach, which does not [match our attributes]… We are big, strong, fast and we can compete. But we cannot match those teams on the ball. We have to play the game on our terms, to our strengths and not [try to copy our opponents].”
Hill, a former Jabloteh and Tampa Bay Rowdies coach, claimed to have coached as many as 13 players who were involved in Trinidad and Tobago’s historic 2006 World Cup campaign. He said he is “acutely aware” of the natural talent on the two island republic and wants a crack at taking them to glory.
“The opportunity to coach such a talented group of players in Trinidad and Tobago would be a great honour,” said Hill. “To successfully take Trinidad and Tobago through the Hex and qualify for Russia 2018 is an achievable target with a few tweaks. I am ready for the challenge.”
Vranes, who coached the Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda National Senior Teams, pointed out that the core of the current squad—Bateau, Molino, Aubrey David and Daneil Cyrus—were graduates from his Under-17 and Under-20 World Youth Cup teams in 2007 and 2009 respectively.
The Montenegrin-born coach, a former Yugoslav Under-23 midfielder, noted that he has coached Trinidad and Tobago at every FIFA level but the senior World Cup and believes he can take the Warriors there, given the chance.
“I have a very good relationship with all the players in Trinidad and Tobago,” said Vranes, who also pointed two Caribbean Cup titles as head coach and one as assistant. “[…] With good physical and psychological preparation, they should all be able to play very well, although they have been playing below their possibilities for a while.
“As a national coach in 1995 and 1996, [I won] the Caribbean Cup both years with 90 percent results and I was also assistant coach in 2001, which was the last time that Trinidad won the Caribbean Cup…
“I think I have a very good relationship with football fans in Trinidad and also their support. I also think that you can talk to players I worked with who are experienced enough to give their opinion about the way I work.”
While the chase for the men’s team is dominating the media’s attention, there is a similar audition taking place in the women’s programme.
Earlier this week, Italian coach Carolina Morace, a former international player with 105 goals from 153 appearances, arrived in Trinidad and held a solitary session with the country’s home-based Women Soca Warriors before jetting off.
Morace, who applied to coach the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team, is a FIFA technical instructor and ambassador as well as technical director for a football league and coaching academy in Australia.
She also coached the Italy women’s national team and led Canada at the 2011 World Cup, when they were eliminated in the group stage.
But, arguably, she is most famous for coaching the Viterbese Calcio men’s team in Italy’s third division, which is believed to be the first time that a woman has coached a men’s professional team.
The experiment lasted just two games before Morace quit, supposedly due to interference in her team selection by the Viterbese football president.
Police FC head coach Richard Hood, who coached the Women Warriors at the 2016 CONCACAF Championships, has also applied to keep his job.
John-Williams has so far been tightlipped on the TTFA’s hunt to fill both head coach positions.