The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) ostensibly got back to business today, as all eight staff members turned out for work at its headquarters in the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
If there was any excitement about returning to their place of employment—now under the management of normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad—it did not last long.
Hadad was not there for the office’s symbolic re-opening. Neither was deputy chairperson Judy Daniel nor ordinary member Nigel Romano.
Amiel Mohammed, a former Wired868 freelance writer, did pop in to ‘see how things were going’.
A few months ago, Mohammed was applying for accreditation to TTFA matches and posing questions at press conferences. Now, having been knighted as Hadad’s ‘personal assistant’, he controls the flow of information between the TTFA and the Fifa-appointed normalisation committee—with everyone from technical director Dion La Foucade to general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan often forced to turn to him for direction.
Hadad is only a phone call away, as he tells everyone he speaks to. But then he rarely takes calls or returns messages. And everyone, including office staff today, makes their best show of being busy with little direction.
“What I know very well is business,” says Hadad, at almost every opportunity.
It is his second favourite phrase, followed closely by: “I am a very honest, trustworthy person.”
What is Hadad’s most regularly repeated sentiment? “Don’t tell the media…”
The co-CEO of family-owned business, HadCo Limited, Hadad does not appear accustomed to being questioned—much less publicly criticised. And, once the novelty of his Fifa appointment wore off, he beat a hasty retreat from the public spotlight and shunned the attention of even his own football staff.
The normalisation committee was appointed to serve for a maximum of two years. Hadad is only nearing three months on the job; but, so far, he is yet to display the temperament or know-how for the task.
Last week, TTFA president William Wallace’s reputation took a beating as he confessed to keeping his board and his own vice-presidents in the dark for five months about a renegotiated contract with Soca Warriors head coach Terry Fenwick.
The terms of Fenwick’s agreement, done without board approval, were stacked so far in favour of the Englishman as to be considered disadvantageous to the local football body and shoddy stewardship by the fresh-faced president.
The fact that Wallace’s decision was made without consulting the technical committee—or obtaining independent legal review—was appalling, at best. And it is a cock-up that Fifa president Gianni Infantino, head of the Bureau of the Fifa Council, will probably use as justification for the decision to intervene in Trinidad and Tobago.
But if Wallace’s administration was swerving dangerously on the football highway, the passive-aggressive Hadad can’t even get the vehicle started.
At Couva, the TTFA’s employees are now four months without a salary. Having already had its website and email addresses suspended, office staff discovered that the local body’s internet services were also disconnected due to non-payment, with electricity expected to go next.
There are, arguably, two main reasons why the local football body has not descended into open chaos yet.
First, since Fifa hand-picked Hadad—based on the recommendation of whichever unknown source—there remains hope from staff and coaches that the world governing body would eventually support the businessman with the necessary finances to pay outstanding salaries.
Second, Hadad hinted at sacking office staff and coaches, scrapping the odd football team outright and slashing salaries at almost every meeting; and with the TTFA already more than TT$50 million in debt, nobody wants to end up at the back of that mile-long queue.
Hadad may come across as ‘folksy’; but he rules with fear, not inspiration.
His mandate, according to Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura, is:
- to run the TTFA’s daily affairs;
- to establish a debt repayment plan that is implementable by the TTFA;
- to review and amend the TTFA Statutes (and other regulations where necessary) and to ensure their compliance with the FIFA Statutes and requirements before duly submitting them for approval to the TTFA Congress;
- to organise and to conduct elections of a new TTFA Executive Committee for a four-year mandate.
Nearly three months into the job, Hadad is yet to meet representatives from most of the TTFA’s 16 member bodies—a list that excludes the defunct players and coaches associations but includes the suspended Eastern Counties FU and Veteran Footballers Foundation.
And, at present, interim Pro League chairman Brent Sancho seems to be the only beneficiary of the chaos in local football. While Fifa selected Hadad, Concacaf has given Sancho the thumbs up to be one of its regional representatives for the domestic game—and he seems to be busying himself ever since with everything but paying Central FC players.
By all accounts, Hadad and Sancho have a flourishing relationship with the local Pro League expecting to reap the fruits of such. Whether anyone outside of the top flight competition’s 11 member clubs is reassured by that is another question entirely.
Not only does Trinidad and Tobago’s football appear to be on its knees; but, no matter what angle you approach it from, it only looks likely to get worse in the near future.
On the night of 29 April 2020, Hadad introduced himself to the TTFA’s coaches for the first time on the Zoom online video-conferencing platform—after being prompted to do so by La Foucade.
Despite already being five weeks on the job, Hadad made it clear from the outset that he would not discuss unpaid salaries due to coaches or even whether the TTFA would honour their contracts. His flippant approach to legitimate grievances by staff is, presumably, part of the ‘business’ DNA that he has brought to the local body.
National coaches promptly declared that, if that was Hadad’s position, they could think of nothing to say to him. All except Fenwick and Men’s National Futsal Team head coach Constantine Konstin.
Fenwick, ironically, offered Hadad some PR suggestions. While Konstin, an American, just wanted to be remembered—and he surely achieved that.
“I’m really excited [and] I can’t wait to meet you, Mr Hadad,” said Konstin. “I’ve heard you have very good ice cream; I’ve heard a lot of stories about your ice cream. So I can’t wait to taste it…”
HadCo Limited owns the local franchise for Haagen Dazs. And Konstin had unwittingly handed the TTFA’s would-be boss his new moniker. Trinidad and Tobago’s football now appears to be in the hands of the ‘Ice Cream Man’.
Do first impressions count?
In Hadad’s opening chat with Wired868, he tried to distance himself from former president David John-Williams, who he admitted to being ‘friendly’ with, since his 14-year-old son, QPCC goalkeeper Michael-Peter Hadad, trained with the National Under-14 Team during the ‘DJW’-led administration.
Curiously, Hadad’s son did not attend a single national session since Wallace replaced John-Williams at the helm of the local football body on 24 November. Wired868 asked why the 14-year-old stopped attending national training.
“The whole football programme was up in shambles,” said Hadad.
Really? For the first time in over a decade, the TTFA—under the technical guidance of Keith Look Loy—had all national teams, barring the Women’s National Senior Team, training at the same time. And, in its only competitive excursion under the Wallace-led administration, the Women’s National Under-20 Team were quarterfinalists at the 2020 Concacaf competition.
How is that considered ‘shambles’ in comparison to the free-fall under John-Williams?
Hadad continued: “[…] And this whole matter with [former national youth coach] Teba McKnight affected him. And then they moved [their training base from the Ato Boldon Stadium] to El Dorado, which [Michael-Peter] felt was a step-down. He was waiting to see what was happening with the national team…”
Was Hadad suggesting that a 14-year-old boy with no international caps was waiting to see if the national set-up was performing at a level worthy of his time? QPCC play youth fixtures at the Queen’s Park Savannah—which has no toilets or changing facilities—but the younger Hadad, according to his dad, felt the El Dorado West Secondary venue was beneath him?
Pressed to explain, Hadad suggested that maybe his son should not be mentioned at all. Wired868 retorted that, as the son of the supposed head of the local football body, his relationship with the national youth team was relevant.
“Just say he was really shaken up after Teba’s death,” said Hadad. “They had a very good relationship.”
The potential problem with that explanation was that the Boys National Under-15 Team started training on 1 February. McKnight died on 10 February and was buried five days later.
Why didn’t Hadad take his son to train for the two weeks before McKnight’s death?
Incidentally, McKnight’s own son, Gio, is a member of the U-15 Team’s training squad. Gio missed only one session—on the day of his father’s death.
Was young Hadad, according to his father, more shaken up than McKnight’s own son?
Hadad appeared to be loose with the truth too when asked about the state of the Home of Football and its readiness for paying guests. (He said the Home of Football was ready for business, while a ministry official who helped get it ready for use for Covid-19 patients said it still needs significant work.)
And then Hadad simply decided that he would no longer subject himself to questions and stopped answering the phone. TTFA coaches and office staff generally meet the same wall of silence.
It is unclear whether Hadad and the even less visible duo of Daniel and Romano are being paid for their ‘efforts’ since their positions come with Fifa stipends in US dollars. But then there is an absence of clarity in football on all sides these days.
As always, the employees, players, stakeholders and supporters will suffer most.
Nothing so far suggests that the ‘Ice Cream Man’ will be the one to lift their gloom.