Wharfe vs Edwards; Wired868 looks at upcoming TTFA elections

“Pick your poison…”

A football stakeholder who will vote at Saturday’s Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) general election summarised their perceived options in three words.

TTFA 2024 presidential candidates Kieron Edwards (left) and Colin Wharfe.

For the first time in four years, the TTFA will start next week with an elected official in charge. But, based on a few anonymous conversations with swing voters, the choice between Eastern Football Association president Kieron Edwards and TT Premier Football League (TTPFL) CEO Colin Wharfe is not one that anyone is salivating over.

Edwards, a businessman and former UNC alderman, seemed a clear favourite when the election bell rang two months ago. It is probably not surprising as his team has arguably been campaigning since the last election, albeit with him as undercard to Terminix director Richard Ferguson.

Recent health issues to Ferguson created an opening that Edwards filled. It is hard to remember now that Gianni Infantino, then Uefa general secretary, was initially a placeholder candidate for Michel Platini, only to go on to claim the presidency when the latter failed to navigate serious integrity questions.

Ferguson brought a level of excitement to the fading Pro League with his La Horquetta Rangers (formerly St Ann’s Rangers) team. But there was plenty to be concerned about regarding his campaigning methods, outlandish statements and uncouth management of his own players.

Terminix La Horquetta Rangers director Richard Ferguson (foreground) enjoys the action during an Ascension Invitational fixture against QPCC at Phase 2, La Horquetta on 11 September 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/ CA-Images/ Wired868)

Edwards is coloured by his proximity to the Ferguson show, and it is not the only skeleton in the closet of a man who served as advisor to controversial former minister of sport Anil Roberts, during the period of the infamous LifeSport programme.

And yet Wharfe, a former PWC partner, might still struggle to win a likeable poll here.

Long before he announced his presidential candidacy by promising to “advance the work” of Trinidad and Tobago’s Fifa-appointed normalisation committee, Wharfe was already seen as Robert Hadad’s second coming.

And to be clear, Hadad is almost universally despised on the ground by members who endured four years of the businessman’s contempt for local football stakeholders who were invariably more knowledgeable than him on most matters.

Fifa-appointed normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

Arrogant with an inflated sense of their own wisdom and an unhealthy penchant for putting the needs of Fifa and Concacaf above his own people. It is the perception of the “Ice-cream Man”; and Wharfe has struggled to convince stakeholders that those characteristics do not apply to him as well.

(Former Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene achieved a lot more for top flight clubs—multiple high-level sponsors, a million-dollar purse and far higher attendances—despite operating without a Fifa subvention, like his successor.)

During an interview with SportsMax, Wharfe was asked about a potential conflict of interest by his refusal to quit his post as TTPFL CEO during his push to be president.

Wharfe described the concerns as “laughable to contemplate”. Was that the response of a man who considers himself to be accountable to the membership?

TTPFL CEO Colin Wharfe.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

He further claimed that, as TTPFL CEO, he was not an employee of the normalisation committee that hired him and pays his salary; but a contractor.

Tone-deafness and naked self-interest are among the most unflattering characteristics of a politician.

But that is not to say both men have nothing to offer to Trinidad and Tobago’s football.

Trinidad and Tobago football fans cheer on the Men’s National Under-20 Team during their Concacaf U-20 Qualifying clash with Dominica at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 25 February 2024.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

At present, a few people suggested that the election is too close to call. That could only be testament to impressive work by Wharfe’s Team Transformation on the campaign trail.

Wharfe’s obvious organisational skills have comforted members. Whereas Hadad made little positive impact on the day to day running of the TTFA, it is felt that Wharfe can create a more efficient administration.

And while there are concerns about the ethical calibre of some persons in his corner—and this is not restricted to the members of his slate—nobody suggested concern that Wharfe might misuse football money.

TT Premier Football League employees, including CEO Colin Wharfe (fourth from left) and TTFA general secretary Amiel Mohammed (third from right) take a moment after the final whistle at the Arima Velodrome on 24 June 2023.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

Wharfe has not spoken beyond generalities regarding improving the local game though. It is fine to say that you will “hire the right people”—but shouldn’t the new boss have a clear vision himself?

Incidentally, the TTPFL CEO has not shared the Team Transformation manifesto with the public and only showed excerpts to the football membership. Two days before the election, Wharfe described their manifesto as a “working draft”.

“The reason for limiting circulation is due to the documents being ‘living drafts’,” Wharfe told Wired868, “that need to be updated to reflect the inputs received from our various meetings.

El Salvadorean referee Ivan Barton (third from right) shows Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Noah Powder (fourth from right) a yellow card for dissent during Concacaf Nations League A action against Guatemala at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 13 October 2023.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

“Further, we wish to avoid information being extracted, plagiarised and or misrepresented in the public domain.”

When it comes to discussing football, Edwards has a clear advantage.

Apart from the wish to invest in sport science centre for football, which both candidates raised at some level, Edwards shared the most revolutionary idea to date for the game.

Eastern Football Association (EFATT) president Kieron Edwards intends to run for the post of TTFA president.

Once elected, he intends to decentralise the TTFA’s elite football programme and make it the zones’ business to develop the country’s best young talent. The implications are massive.

At present, national youth teams, comprising roughly 40 players, train as often as three times a week for much of the year, at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella or the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.

The transport costs are prohibitive, with parents paying as much as $800 a month. (One parent, Wired868 understands, saw an opportunity and stopped giving his son’s teammates a lift and began charging them a taxi fare instead!)

The Trinidad and Tobago starting players pose before kickoff against Puerto Rico in Concacaf U-15 Championship action in Santo Domingo on 8 August 2023.
(via TTFA Media)

But, beyond the expense, boys from the east and north zone cannot leave school at 2.30pm in peak traffic time and get to Marabella before training starts at 4pm. They have to leave by 1.30pm.

So, dozens of talented young footballers have become part-time students to retain their spots in the TTFA’s elite programme. At least half of them will not make the final squad anyway.

Others simply cannot afford the expense of regular cross-country commutes, which are necessary to earn selection.

San Juan North Secondary midfielder Nathan Quashie (centre) tries to keep the ball from 15-year-old Arima North Secondary players Criston Gomez (right) and Darren De Four during the East Zone Intercol final at the Larry Gomes Stadium on 21 November 2023.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

If, as Edwards suggested, TTFA reverts to zones (as was the case up until the 1990s), it would mean students bear less expense and can finish school before heading to training.

And with five active zones serving maybe 25 players each, it means the national youth player pool can be widened considerably. The technical director, surely, would oversee the work done at each centre.

It is worth remembering that the value of the elite programme is not to prepare players for Concacaf tournaments. It is to create some level of uniformity in their understanding of the game and to ensure the players all develop technical skills necessary to succeed.

Trinidad and Tobago technical director Anton Corneal (background) makes a point to the Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 players after their 3-2 friendly win over Jamaica at UTT Campus, O’Meara on 25 January 2024.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

So, to go beyond Edwards’ point, the national youth coach can visit the respective zonal squads to select a core group of players within the timeframe needed to instil his tactical ideas.

Tobago players, in particular, would benefit, as they would not need to leave their island for elite training.

The idea of returning to the zones in this way is nothing new. Former technical committee chairman Keith Look Loy unveiled a similar plan for the short-lived United TTFA team.

FC Santa Rosa Keith Look Loy
FC Santa Rosa president and technical director Keith Look Loy (far right) looks on during Ascension Invitational action against Guaya Utd at the Arima Velodrome on 23 August 2019.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ CA-Images/ Wired868

And QPCC and Arima North Secondary head coach Wayne Sheppard spoke extensively on this idea during a four-part series with Wired868.

Yet, the current programme, started under late former president David John-Williams, ambles on.

If the new president can find a way to work with zones, clubs and academies to improve players—rather than the well-intentioned but flawed current set-up—it might have a profound effect on the local game in the next three to eight years.

Arima Araucans Academy technical director Wayne Sheppard (centre) speaks to under-14 players during a 2024 RBNYFL contest.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Edwards, according to one source, is able to drill down on concepts like this.

But is Edwards brave enough to see through such change? Will he live up to his word? That is another question.

On the ground, members found Edwards to be more approachable than Wharfe—but that does not necessarily mean more trustworthy.

Trinidad and Tobago attacker Akel Vesprey tries to wriggle free from a couple of Puerto Rico defenders during Concacaf U-15 Championship action in Santo Domingo on 8 August 2023.
(via TTFA Media)

When asked whether he had anything to say to members concerned about his role in LifeSport, where he was a member of its Implementation Committee, Edwards responded:

“Nothing at this time, brother.”

This does not necessarily mean that Team Transformation, with Renee John-Williams as vice-president, has no questions to answer on the matter of ethics.

Trinidad and Tobago football fans react to the action during the Concacaf U-20 Qualifying series at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 25 February 2024.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

Then, there is the elephant in the room: Fifa/ Concacaf.

At present, Concacaf is under minority rule. The Caribbean has 25 of the 35 member nations within the confederation, yet it has been run by Canadian Victor Montagliani for the past eight years.

The Caribbean Football Union (CFU) is an empty shell, seemingly incapable of throwing so much as a fete match game without the say-so of Montagliani.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino (centre) shares an animated discussion with Concacaf president Victor Montagliani (left) while Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley looks on during the opening of the TTFA Home of Football on 18 November 2019.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA Media)

Fifa, by all indications, are keen to keep it that way. And beyond former TTFA general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan’s threat to investigate John-Williams’ Fifa-funded projects, the feeling persists that Infantino and Montagliani were nervous about Look Loy’s understanding of regional politics and past president William Wallace’s affability.

“Fifa will guide us through that process” is supposedly the default response from Wharfe, whenever questioned on a topic that he was unprepared for.

Wharfe, like John-Williams before him, will happily acquiesce to Fifa. Edwards might have his own plans.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino struts at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva during an exhibition match on 10 April 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner used his own leverage as Concacaf boss to fill his own pockets. So, there is no guarantee that the Caribbean would be better off by reasserting itself within the confederation.

However, members will have their own opinions on whether Trinidad and Tobago should be players within the region or remain under the thumb of Infantino and Montagliani.

It might also influence the odd vote.

(From left to right) CFU general secretary Camara David, SporTT chair Douglas Camacho, Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe, TTPFL CEO Colin Wharfe and TTFA general secretary Amiel Mohammed during the Launch of the TTPFL at the Hyatt Regency on 6 February 2023 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

In truth, there might be more reasons not to vote for a candidate than the other way around. But local football needs a president.

Is Wharfe putting on a show of inclusivity, before he reverts to type after the election?

Are Edwards’ questionable past associations a clear indication of what he would bring to the table—and should they outweigh the value of his ideas?

EFATT president Kieron Edwards.

The TTFA members have a huge call to make. The immediate future of the local game is at stake.

Team Progressive: president Kieron Edwards, first vice-president Colin Murray, second vice-president Osmond Downer, third vice-president Jameson Rigues, and ordinary members Alicia Austin, Inspector Andrew Boodhoo, Allan Logan, Ryan Nunes, and Shelton Williams.

Team Transformation: president Colin Wharfe, first vice-president Colonel Keston Charles, second vice-president Renee John-Williams, third vice-president Huey Cadette, and ordinary members Riaz Ali, Lee Davis, Colm De Freitas, Makan Hislop, and Richard Mason.

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3 comments

  1. my main concern is Edward’s past with the life sport dark shadow an secondly his brother envolvdment in murder charge again link to the same individual and life sport .

  2. about the proverbial rock and a hard place…

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