One of the most memorable incidents of Dennis Lawrence’s debut as a head coach for the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team came before kick off against Barbados at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on Friday 10 March 2017.
As Lawrence prepared to make his international bow at the helm, the 22 players and match officials were greeted by the SPORTT Company duo of CEO Adam Montserin and facilities manager Anthony Blake and Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) vice-president Ewing Davis for the customary pre-match handshakes.
And then, in an extraordinary show of disrespect and unprofessionalism, Davis, who is also the Soca Warriors’ head of delegation, took his mobile phone from his pocket and began to carry on a conversation. In so doing, the football official—who wore a blue Nike tee-shirt while his country plays in red Joma kit—walked past half of the Barbados contingent and the Trinidad and Tobago players without so much as a nod.
In many ways, Davis’ action encapsulated the behaviour of the local football body under current president David John-Williams: self-absorbed, classless and disrespectful.
Just ask the National Futsal Team players who were asked to leave their hotel in Costa Rica last year—with no alternative arrangement in place—because the TTFA booked their stay for a day short. And this was after the players were offered a per diem of US$20 with no match fee for representing their country, which was deemed so derisory that two players refused to touch it.
Ask former National Under-17 coach Ken Elie, whose emailed requests for information—not money, just information—regarding a promised stipend from the football body were met with silence by John-Williams. And once Elie was sufficiently frustrated so as to skip work altogether, the TTFA then used his absence as an excuse to hire Russell Latapy on a substantial salary.
Former Soca Warriors coach Stephen Hart can tell a story or two as well about a football body that refused to give him the equipment or staff members he needed, virtually damaged his working environment through its interaction with his players and then effectively sacked him at Ruby Tuesdays.
Quite a reward for the only coach to take Trinidad and Tobago to two Gold Cup quarterfinals, the first to lead the Warriors to the Hex in seven years and a man who was twice on CONCACAF’s Coach of the Year shortlist in the last four years.
Then there is gifted France-based midfielder John Bostock, who turned up to represent the “Red, Black and White” against St Vincent and the Grenadines in March 2016, only to discover that the TTFA did not sort out his paperwork.
Despite invitations from Hart, Tom Saintfiet and Lawrence, Bostock has not returned to Trinidad since.
From broadcaster Selwyn Melville—who is negotiating for the use of the Soca Warriors trademark—to Futsal coach and ex-Strike Squad captain Clayton “JB” Morris, there are similar tales of discourtesy from the current local football president.
Former technical director Kendall Walkes, who was hired by former TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee, described John-Williams’ interaction with him as bordering on abusive.
“I would talk to my wife after [our] meetings and she is aware of the ridicule and cynicism I have had to deal with, as he tries to feed his narcissistic needs and ego,” Walkes told Wired868. “He even ridiculed my decision to come here. He has brought the entire situation into something personal.
“I can’t tell you how vindictive his actions were in a lot of instances.”
Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet, who was bizarrely threatened with dismissal at his public unveiling, said his biggest regret was that he did not leave Trinidad there and then.
“From the first day of my unveiling, I did not get the support of the TTFA and its President,” stated Saintfiet, in his resignation letter, “support which is needed to be able to do my job in a professional and successful way. I never got the chance to work with the players nor staff requested.
“Perhaps I should have taken this decision right from day one of my appointment, after the President openly second guessed his own choice of employing me. But I gave him at the TTFA the benefit of the doubt.”
After a year and a half at the helm, does John-Williams still deserve the benefit of the doubt?
The Warriors’ World Cup campaign could be effectively over by month-end and yet the TTFA president has not landed a major sponsor for the senior squad. While his efforts to squeeze more money from an existing television rights deal for Trinidad and Tobago’s home matches is now before the courts.
John-Williams is more of a hindrance than an asset to the burgeoning Trinidad and Tobago Super League thus far, his football body is being sued by the National Futsal Team and his use of TTFA money for the unofficial launch—or at least precursor to the launch—of his unsuccessful Caribbean Football Union (CFU) presidential bid remains a scandal and shocking example of his mishandling of the association’s finances.
Other than the competition and tournaments committee, it is uncertain how many other bodies are operational at present and the technical committee—which is responsible for recommending the hiring and dismissal of coaches—still has not been mended after half its membership, including chairman Dexter Skeene and vice-chairman Alvin Henderson, quit last month.
The TTFA’s failure to ensure the successful running of all its standing bodies is another broken campaign promise by John-Williams.
On the debit side, John-Williams landed a TT$8 million NLCB contract for an ambitious elite youth development programme. Early reports from the ground suggested a series of administrative issues, though, and there is still much distance to cover before it delivers as promised to the football community and the sponsors.
As for the publishing of the TTFA’s finances for 2015, one can only hope that John-Williams is as transparent with money spent during his term.
The women’s programme, where the football president secured the services of respected Italian coach Carolina Morace, looks to be the feather in John-Williams’ cap—although his early explanations regarding the financing of that project do not add up.
If John-Williams can give Morace what she needs and keep his bumbling crew out of her way, maybe better days are ahead for the Women Soca Warriors.
And the TTFA president sure knows how to pick a hapless employee.
For the National Beach Soccer Team’s pre-tournament camp in Tobago, television presenter Gordon Pierre was sent to act as press officer. And, on his first TTFA gig, Pierre showed up with a female friend in tow who, on occasion, even accompanied him to the breakfast table with the squad.
Just imagine a staff member trying to take his girlfriend along on international duty under former Real Madrid coach Leo Beenhakker. It beggars belief.
On the eve of the Beach Soccer Team’s departure for CONCACAF competition, it turned out that Pierre did not have a valid passport and could not travel with the squad to Bahamas.
It is a scene that is repeated far too often these days. Last December, Davis, as efficient as always, learnt that his travel documents were not in order at the check-in desk, as the Warriors boarded a flight to Nicaragua.
Current team manager Richard Piper was unsure of Davis’ duties as head of delegation and promised to get back to Wired868 with that information. But a former technical staff member gave his own verdict of what John-Williams’ vice president contributes on his overseas tours with the team, which so far included China, Peru, Uruguay, Honduras and the United States.
“He does absolutely nothing as far as I know,” said the official, who spoke with Wired868 on condition of anonymity. “He may meet with persons from that FA and represent the TTFA in that way. On game day, he would sit in the box with the president of the FA we are visiting. And that’s about it.
“He does nothing on the ground. Nothing really.”
For that, Davis pockets a per diem that is believed to dwarf what is offered to the players. Not that paying the players anything at all is ever a priority.
To date, roughly 22 players are still owed money after putting their bodies on the line—Carlyle Mitchell and Cornell Glen both suffered lengthy injuries while Maurice Ford, Carlos Edwards and Hashim Arcia also picked up knocks—during four international games under Saintfiet.
You would think that Davis and, by extension, the TTFA would at least show a modicum of respect for the players and technical staff for their efforts. That maybe Davis would at least dress appropriately and keep his phone in his pocket during his far from taxing duties, as he would be expected to if he was watching “Lego Batman” at Movie Towne.
But you would be wrong. Davis cannot even get a pre-game handshake right, which is surely a landmark low for even the TTFA.
At W Connection, players must wear shirts and ties off the field and give 100 percent effort on it. But then, according to present and former employees, club administrators routinely pay them late while the case of Dwight Quintero suggested a reckless approach to the health of their players.
It appears to be a philosophy that John-Williams has taken with him to the TTFA job.
And that, rather than the identity of Lawrence’s starting centre forward or team formation, remains the biggest obstacle to the progress of the local game.