The State-owned National Lottories Control Board (NLCB) belatedly stepped in on the weekend to rescue the Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 football team’s two-match series against its Canada national under-20 counterparts.
The Trinidad and Tobago team is preparing for November’s Caribbean Football Union (CFU) qualifying competition in Jamaica but was initially forced to scrap the carded tour last week due to a lack of funding.
On Saturday evening, according to a Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) release sent yesterday, the NLCB handed over funds for the overseas tour and, by Sunday morning, a team was airborne and heading to Fort Lauderdale.
Trinidad and Tobago played the Canada under-20 team at Lockhart Stadium on Sunday night, just a few hours after touching down, and again on Tuesday morning at the Sunrise Holiday Inn Training Complex. T&T side lost both games 2-0 and 2-1 respectively while national senior team player Devorn Jorsling got T&T’s lone goal from a free kick.
Vancouver Whitecaps forward Caleb Clarke scored a double in the first game. The Canada side also included several Europe and MLS-based players including the Toronto FC duo of Quillan Roberts and Oscar Cordon, Queen’s Park Rangers duo Michael Petrasso and Dylan Carreiro and midfielders Mauro Eustáquio and Jorgo Nika, who are based in Portugal and Germany respectively.
It is debatable as to what benefits the national under-20 team—or Trinidad and Tobago’s football on the whole—achieved from the tour, though.
Several of the national under-20 players were unable to travel as they do not hold US visas. National team technical director Anton Corneal told the TTFF Media that visas were not pursued because the administrative staff felt the trip was cancelled.
“Several of our under-20 players were without travel visas,” said Corneal, “and we did not pursue it last week when we heard the trip was off. So it meant we were forced to find players at the last minute to travel.”
It is presumably a painful introduction to life as a Trinidad and Tobago player for the under-20 players forced to miss international experience under such dubious circumstances.
In their place, a hodge-podge of players from the national under-17 and senior team were assembled as well as one or two players who reside in Florida.
National under-20 players like captain Duane Muckette and Xavier Rajpaul played alongside senior players like Aklie Edwards, Akeem Adams and Jorsling and under-17 players Brendon Creed and Martieon Watson. The US-based duo of Bradley Welch and David Williams were also included.
The touring national technical staff was just as eclectic as national under-20 coach Ross Russell was accompanied by interim senior team coach Hutson Charles, national under-17 coach Sean Cooper and his technical director, Corneal.
At last month’s preliminary CFU qualifying round in St Vincent, Russell travelled without any coaching staff in controversial circumstances after head coach Michael McComie was suspended for allegedly compromising the safety of DirecTV W Connection defender Alvin Jones during a practice game.
Jones, the son of former Strike Squad defender Kelvin Jones and younger brother of national senior team player Joevin Jones, was substituted and ordered to run laps after a costly error 10 minutes into a practise game against Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA. The teenager was allegedly still running even after the 90-minute game, exclusive of the halftime break, had ended and was said to have collapsed and required medical treatment.
Connection threatened to withdraw all its players from the national set-up unless the TTFF took action was taken and McComie was subsequently suspended while an investigation was launched. McComie, a former Pro League coach of the Year at Joe Public, resigned before the investigation was concluded.
Corneal promoted Russell, who was initially listed as the under-20 goalkeeping coach, in his stead. The technical director said that Russell’s experience as the coach of Pro League team Defence Force and as an assistant on previous national teams influenced his decision.
Assistant coach and former UK-based utility player Anthony Rougier, according to Corneal, quit in response to being overlooked for the post while the second assistant Clint Marcelle, a former England Premier League player with Barnsley, also pulled out after a shift in the time table of the CFU tournament conflicted with an overseas engagement for his coaching school.
“Anthony was offended,” said Corneal. “But, if I had to do it again, I would still pick Ross. So many little things happen in tournaments and I feel that extra bit of experience helps.”
Incidentally, none of the national coaches have been paid this year and they have had to make do with a $2,000 or $2,500 monthly stipend due to the TTFF’s financial woes.
At present, the TTFF does not receive its usual annual US$250,000 subvention from FIFA due to the global body’s concerns over the whereabouts of aid money meant for Haiti that was sent to a local account.
The TTFF said it does not know the whereabouts of the money as it was sent to an account controlled by National Security Minister and ex-FIFA vice president Jack Warner while Warner insisted that the money was properly used. FIFA has not ruled on Warner’s defence yet and has not relented on its hardline with the local football body.
Worse, Warner, via an official State letter in April, then asked Sport Minister Anil Roberts to starve the TTFF of funds for its tardiness in supporting his proposed candidate for this year’s CFU presidential elections, Harold Taylor. Taylor was nominated eventually but lost out to Antiguan and new regional leader, Gordon Derrick.
Warner’s letter was carried exclusively by Wired868 and subsequently forwarded to the Integrity Commission for determination as to whether Warner overstepped his boundaries and put his Cabinet post into disrepute. The TTFF, according to marketing manager Anthony Harford, has not received a cent from the Sport Ministry since.
In February, members of the 2006 World Cup team also confiscated furniture, computers, trophies and other fixed assets from the TTFF’s office due to the body’s failure to meet a court-ordered payment to the players while TTFF general secretary Richard Groden and former president Oliver Camps are facing contempt charges in the local High Court as a result of the ongoing World Cup 2006 bonus dispute.
Despite the multiple problems facing the TTFF and its staff, Corneal suggested that there were still positives for national football from the Fort Lauderdale journey.
“It was a very difficult situation at first because we had put the trip out of our minds due to a lack of finances,” said Corneal, “and then at the very last moment, we were hearing that a corporate partner was willing to fit the bill… But what we saw was a lot of effort from the boys and we also had a chance to see a couple players well who were playing before our coaches for the first time.
“It was a difficult first game after coming off the plane a few hours before but we were a lot better in the second game.”
The Trinidad and Tobago senior team will continue its Caribbean Cup qualifying campaign with games against Anguilla, French Guiana and hosts St Kitts and Nevis between October 10 and 15. Only the winner advances and, as the games are scheduled for a FIFA-approved international window, the TTFF is free to request its overseas players if it can afford their plane tickets and match fees.
The national under-20 team is drawn in a CFU group with Haiti, Curacao and Puerto Rico that kicks off in November while the national under-17 team faces Haiti, Honduras and hosts Panama at CONCACAF level next June as it tries to qualify for the 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Championships in the United Arab Emirates.