Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team coach Tom Saintfiet launched an extraordinary attack on four of his senior players today, as he accused Daneil Cyrus and Jomal Williams of arriving two hours to his live-in camp allegedly smelling of rum.
The Belgian coach also blasted Major League Soccer (MLS) players Joevin Jones, who was initially included in his 20-man squad for this week’s Gold Cup playoff matches against Suriname and Haiti, and Kevin Molino for failing to show sufficient desire to represent their national team.
Saintfiet told the media that Cyrus and Williams were dropped on the spot while Jones was also replaced.
Club Sando forward Akeem Roach, Defence Force utility player Curtis Gonzales and Orange County Blues attacker Trevin Caesar were all recalled to replace them after they were initially cut from the squad on their return from Managua yesterday.
It means England-based midfielder Andre Boucaud is the only addition to the squad that faced Nicaragua twice last week and returned with a 2-1 loss and 3-1 triumph respectively. Boucaud is expected in Trinidad on Tuesday, roughly 24 hours before kick off against Suriname, after he received an extra day’s grace to represent his club in England.
Saintfiet’s leniency with his overseas-based players is unlikely to be lost on local Pro League and Caribbean club champs, Central FC, who were told to release their players and not use them for their own clubs. The subsequent stand-off led to goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams and midfielders Nathaniel Garcia and Sean De Silva being omitted.
And although Garcia and Williams are free now—De Silva was injured at a national training session—and Saintfiet lost goalkeeper Marvin Phillip to injury, the coach ignored both players and again left them out of his squad.
Today, Saintfiet revealed internal problems with the players he did want.
“We selected 20 players [and] I have to say that three of the 20 players didn’t show up,” said Saintfiet, who was joined today by assistant coach Russell Latapy for the first time. “Two of the players came one and a half hours too late in camp and had still decent smell of alcohol around [them]. That was Daneil Cyrus and Jomal Williams.
“Both were immediately sent home back to party but are replaced in squad.”
Cyrus stressed that he did not have any alcohol though and claimed the coach was referring only to Williams.
Jones, according to Saintfiet, was simply a no-show. The Belgian coach gave special dispensation to the Seattle Sounders player to skip the Nicaragua tour after complaining about fatigue.
“I spoke with him individually and he did not show up at all for the camp,” said the Belgian coach. “So I think he has no interest to help his country to qualify.”
Saintfiet was not impressed to discover that Jones played in two charity matches over the Christmas period, after he claimed to be too tired to represent his country. And, bizarrely, Jones also represented W Connection in a friendly match against Haiti last week.
“Joevin is here on holiday and Joevin played, two days ago, a friendly with W Connection against Haiti,” said Saintfiet. “So if his club had no problem with him playing a friendly match with a club where he is not registered, I see no problem why he cannot play for his national team…
“I had face to face communication with him. I said take a few days off and see you on January 1st. I told him where and when and which time [to enter] camp and he never called or informed us in any way that he would not show up.
“So I think he has no interest to help his country to qualify.”
Remarkably, all four players dropped by Saintfiet for disciplinary reasons since he took over the reigns as head coach are wholly or part-owned by W Connection.
Last week, defender Triston Hodge became the first player to be cut after he allegedly missed one training session, turning up late for camp and failed to win over the new coach with his demeanour.
Williams, who is on loan at Mexico second division club Murcielagos FC, was next today along with versatile Connection defender, Cyrus, who has 62 full international caps.
Williams started in Saintfiet’s first game as Warriors head coach against Nicaragua on 27 December and came off the bench for the second contest in Managua. Cyrus featured as a substitute in both fixtures.
Connection are believed to have inserted a sell-in clause in their deal with Seattle, which entitles them to a slice of any revenue earned if the MLS club cashes in on Jones. Jones won the MLS Cup with Seattle last season and is Trinidad and Tobago’s top scorer in the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
However, his commitment to the two island republic has been questioned before.
Hart cut Jones—along with Cyrus—for playing minor league football after skipping an international tour, supposedly due to fatigue, in September 2013. Jones was also fined by Hart for breaking camp to attend a boat party, alongside teammates Mekeil Williams and Molino, three days before a World Cup qualifier against Guatemala on 2 September 2016.
The background of the players at odds with successive national team coaches ought to alarm and embarrass Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams, since he is the co-founder of the W Connection team.
The national youth teams have not been spared such disciplinary issues either, as Connection teenager Isaiah Hudson abandoned the Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 Team during their Caribbean Cup campaign last October.
Hudson’s father, Brent Hudson, insisted that the Naparima College student was injured. However, National Under-20 coach Brian Williams denied this.
Arguably, John-Williams did not help Saintfiet’s authority much when he publicly warned the coach, at his unveiling, that he would be sacked if he does not manage four points from World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Mexico on 24 and 28 March respectively.
But, thus far, the cringeworthy introduction does not appear to have inhibited Saintfiet much, as the coach has not been shy about imposing himself on the national squad. And, unlike almost everyone else at the TTFA, the new coach does not seem to be interested in holding secrets.
“[Molino] said he was not available [to play] for his country at that point in time,” said Saintfiet. “He told me he didn’t feel motivated or ready for that. And later, I [heard] he played games at lower league or social level…”
The downside to Saintfiet’s managerial style is he must now try to outdo Haiti with a notably weaker squad than Hart had last year when the Warriors fell 1-0 to the Haitians in a Copa America Centenario playoff in Panama.
And, after his bullish approach to his senior players and bravado in mentioning Connection during a broadside at Jones, this week’s qualifiers may take on increased importance for the Belgian coach.
The Warriors face Suriname from 7pm on Wednesday at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva and then tackle Haiti on Sunday from 5pm at the same venue.
It would be some accomplishment if Saintfiet can lead the Warriors to two wins regardless of the patchiness of his squad. Arguably, his authority—on the training ground and in the corridors of power—can be significantly weakened if his current squad fails to deliver for him. Perhaps irretrievably so.
Whatever is written about Saintfiet when he does depart at Piarco, he certainly will not be remembered as dull.
Now, it is up to his present squad—which includes 37-year-old captain and right back Carlos Edwards and 35-year-old striker Cornell Glen—to prove that the coach can win football matches too.
Suriname would be a good place to start on Tuesday.
(Trinidad and Tobago 20-man Gold Cup playoff squad)
Goalkeepers: Adrian Foncette (Police FC), Glenroy Samuel (Ma Pau Stars);
Defenders: Carlos Edwards (Ma Paul Stars), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Carlyle Mitchell (Seoul E-Land—Korea Republic), Radanfah Abu Bakr (Sillamae Kallen—Estonia), Maurice Ford (W Connection), Aubrey David (Deportivo Saprissa—Costa Rica);
Midfielders: Kevan George (Jacksonville Armada—USA), Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge—England), Alvin Jones, Hughtun Hector (both W Connection);
Attacking midfielders: Aikim Andrews (W Connection), Trevin Caesar (Orange County Blues—USA), Hashim Arcia (Defence Force), Nathan Lewis, Tyrone Charles (both San Juan Jabloteh);
Forwards: Akeem Roach (Club Sando), Shahdon Winchester (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Cornell Glen (Ozone FC Bengalaru—India).
Technical staff: Tom Saintfiet (head coach), Russell Latapy (assistant coach), Jamaal Shabazz (assistant coach), Lukas Wojciak (goalkeeper coach), Riedoh Berdien (trainer), Dr Terence Babwah (doctor), Dave Isaac (paramedic), Michael Williams (equipment manager), Shaun Fuentes (press officer), Azaad Khan (interim manager).