Sol Campbell, the former Premier League stand-out defender who is now an assistant Trinidad and Tobago national coach, is not yet in the camp. Nor are the foreign-based players whose experience and expertise is expected to make a difference to the team’s talent pool and performance.
But new national team head coach Dennis Lawrence is not unhappy with the way things have gone so far as he prepares his troops for their two crucial home qualifiers in the tricky Concacaf Hexagonal campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Soca Warriors take on Panama and Mexico on March 24 and 28 respectively at the Hasely Crawford Stadium and will need a result in both matches to stay afloat in the “Hex.”
“I think it’s important that we try to fill the game time that we have been missing over the last four weeks,” Lawrence told the media, after a team training session at the Larry Gomes Stadium yesterday. “We tried to get a couple games in to try and work on a couple different things [including fitness], to try and work on the tactical things we did throughout the week and just have an idea how much the boys have picked up over the last few days in the training sessions.”
Appointed in January, Lawrence has brought on board DirecTV W Connection coach Stuart Charles-Février, Stern John and Ross Russell in addition to Campbell. The former Arsenal defender has attained his UEFA Pro License, Charles-Février has won several local titles with the “Savonetta Boys” and John and Russell have both done coaching work in the TT Pro League.
Explaining some of the thinking behind his choices, Lawrence had this to say:
“I thought it was important to make sure that we keep positivity around the team because in Trinidad at the moment there is a lot of negative [issues] and I don’t want to be involved in the negative.”
Still, there have been murmurings in some quarters about the support staff’s ability to translate their expertise into results at international level.
Lawrence, however, stands by his choice of support staff and their ability to help guide the team to a second World Cup berth. Making it clear what he thought about the suggestion that his assistants do not have what it takes to get the job done, he reiterated his confidence in their ability.
“The coaches are all experienced,” he assured Wired868. “They all know the game well and they’re doing what’s required at the moment.
“All these people have brought something positive to the team (and) the players have responded very well to them.”
They are, he added, all about the collective, ensuring that all hands are on deck to steer the Soca Warriors in the right direction.
Lawrence indicated that the overall fitness of the squad is something that he and his staff are keeping in mind, acutely aware that the local off-season hasn’t come at the best time as far as their Hex commitments are concerned.
“That was the major thing we had to take into consideration, that the boys had a season they just came out from,” he assured Wired868. “So I think it was important that we try and tailor the sessions in a way that we didn’t push (…) especially the Central FC and the W Connection players (who) were back a bit earlier from their season (…) to avoid the risk of any injuries.”
When the camps started, rotated between Malabar and the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, the 29-member squad was in training for a March 10 friendly against Suriname in Paramaribo. But at yesterday’s session, which kicked off at 9.45am at the Larry Gomes Stadium, Lawrence and his staff were fine-tuning the available local players for a friendly against Barbados at home in the Ato Boldon Stadium on the same date.
Lawrence was at the centre of the action throughout, while Russell worked in tandem with him particularly during the training matches and set-piece drills at the approximately hour-long tail-end of the session.
Both John and Charles-Février issued orders from the touchline, offering liberal advice to nearby players. During the earlier scrimmages, all three assistants were involved in the rotations, each in charge of his own group of players.
Under the keen eyes of the four coaches, the energy levels were high despite the heat and the tackles came thick and fast. Among other household names in the Digicel TT Pro League, Lawrence and company had a good look at Carlos Edwards, Daneil Cyrus, Sean de Silva, Kerron “Ball Pest” Cummings and Glenroy Samuel.
Edwards, who played alongside Lawrence for Trinidad and Tobago at the 2006 World Cup and at Defence Force and Wrexham, is a recent inclusion to the training squad.
“I think for some reason,” Lawrence told Wired868, “people (…) thought that every [football] management staff (…) works (with) a defensive coach (and) a forwards coach; that’s not in general how it is.”
Explaining further, he said that “The football staff is capable of conducting any part of the session; they are all football people, (…) knowledgeable people. The staff works (..) in units.
“We divide the sessions for the needs of the coaching staff on the day and whatever we decide on that the aspect that the coach is going to be focused on, that’s how we work the session.”
But the foreign-based professionals are yet to meet their new coach, well known for his headed goal against Bahrain in Manama which put Trinidad and Tobago into the 2006 FIFA World Cup Finals in Germany. And things are expected to get more serious, the level and intensity higher the closer the squad gets to the upcoming clashes against Mexico and Panama.
Lawrence has his eyes on that development, mindful that there have been no fewer than 24 sessions already.
“The idea is to keep the group together as much as possible,” he ended. “Hopefully the guys that play abroad are going to come in and (…) add to what we’ve been doing. Hopefully they will come in and improve what we have done at the moment.”
The T&T footballing fraternity will expect their first glimpse of change on Friday night.