As a former national football and cricket player and coach, Alvin Corneal enjoys a well-deserved status as a sporting icon in Trinidad and Tobago. Corneal’s feats were all achieved in the last century. In 2012, however, his statements are part of the sport’s problem.
In a Trinidad Guardian article earlier this week, Corneal offered a bizarre compliment to the “Soca Warriors” who booked Trinidad and Tobago’s place at next month’s 2013 Caribbean Cup finals in Antigua and Barbuda.
Hear Corneal: “The absence of Carlos Edwards, Darryl Roberts, Kevin Molino, Kareem Hyland, Julius James, and foreign university students, Leston Paul, Sean De Silva, plus some of the TT Pro-League players whose thirst for money from foreign lands have (sic) overshadowed the scrunting, but committed lads who took up the challenge.”
To be fair, Corneal’s article sought to give credit to the players who fought in the national shirt last week. Yet, it also exposes a mindset that has contributed to Trinidad and Tobago’s struggle to keep pace with the development of the sport in other corners of CONCACAF.
“Scrunting but committed.” That is a phrase that will probably draw vigorous nods of approval from nostalgic administrators, mindful of the “good old days” when the only paid positions in sport were administrative ones and players were lucky—and grateful—to get a cup of tea and a sandwich.
How dare those players consider their own livelihoods when the national team needed players?
And, in 2012, players are still asked to think like professionals when it comes to training sessions and match days but then revert to amateur status when the issue of compensation arises. Does anyone else see the contradiction here?
The irony is completed by the fact that Corneal feels the need to list the high-profile absentees but is not moved to name a single Warrior who bled for the cause. No money, we know, but no love either?
To be clear, Corneal probably intends no malice; he is just out of date.
Here’s the backstory of the Caribbean Cup. While the national football programme was at a virtual standstill owing to infighting between the Ministry of Sport and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF), the local Pro League laid the foundation for national coach Hutson “Barber” Charles to build on.
Regular competition in the domestic game kept the players’ fitness, discipline and tactical intelligence at acceptable levels.
If the Pro League was as rubbish as some suggest, would an uncapped 28-year-old player like Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA’s Keyon Edwards be able to walk into an international tournament and win a starting spot ahead of more experienced counterparts?
DIRECTV W Connection midfielder Clyde Leon, a clever and versatile player, has 46 national caps. Edwards would have been considered to be hopelessly out of Leon’s league owing to his inexperience at international level. Instead, the Caledonia player ended the competition with two successive starts and, apart from a flutter of nerves in front of goal, looked like he had faced the likes of Cuba for years.
Two years ago, Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara was runner-up in the esteemed South American Copa Libertadores. But at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 26 September 2012, W Connection held the Mexicans, who were at full strength save for the odd injury, to a 1-1 draw.
So, if local clubs are enjoying more success than Trinidad and Tobago’s international teams, then why do national coaches insist on disrupting Pro League training sessions and match schedules to conduct their own exercises?
Of course, the Pro League is not yet at the level it needs to be. But disparaging public statements from people like Corneal do not help and only frustrate stakeholders who have invested—and continue to invest—so much in the product that is local football.
But the biggest problem is not the jibes from within; no, the principal concern is that such statements distract attention from the real issues.
A Caribbean football tournament of no fixed date that runs contrary to the FIFA international match calendar is a legacy of former Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president Jack Warner who used his office for more self-serving initiatives.
The Caribbean and Oceania are the only regions in the world that are ignored when FIFA designs its match calendar. South America has 10 nations and as many votes; the Caribbean has 25.
So, if South American fans can see Europe-based players like Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Radamel Falcao at the continent’s showcase tournament, then why can Caribbean enthusiasts not see Khaleem Hyland, Ricardo Fuller, Jason Roberts and Emmerson Boyce?
The players that Corneal singled out for criticism are only abiding by an international calendar that does not respect the Caribbean tournament; it is the calendar that should be criticised.
And what of the Pro League’s value?
Edwards is one example of the Pro League’s worth in developing players. But there is another Caledonia player who shows what the local football industry can mean for the country from a social standpoint.
As Trinidad and Tobago ended its qualifying tournament in Tobago with a 1-0 win over Cuba, the 25-year-old goalscorer Ataullah Guerra was almost in tears.
From his first appearance against St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Bacolet crowd warmed to Guerra’s elegant style and quick feet and, against Cuba, he got a standing ovation before he even got on the field.
“I love them,” Guerra told Wired868, after the match. “They treated me so well here.”
Guerra’s late elder brother, Mark Guerra, was a “community leader” who once took Prime Minister Patrick Manning on a tour of the John John district and made a living out of violence and fear before dying in a hail of bullets.
At Mucurapo Secondary, the younger Guerra sometimes missed school because he could not afford taxi fare. And, as a Form Four student, he once spent a fortnight working on a URP project to raise money to buy football boots.
Where would Guerra be without the Pro League? In what sphere of endeavour would be his most viable employment opportunities?
It is something for Sport Minister Anil Roberts and National Security Minister Jack Warner to consider too as they ignore established sport industries to pump millions into the Hoops of Life.
What business does the government have pretending to run a professional sporting competition when there are established leagues in need of financial and administrative support?
So it is important that men like Corneal, who claim to have football’s best interest at heart, recognise and respect the efforts of the young men who aspire to professionalism and the clubs that try to help them along the way.
Until they do, their loose statements do the modern game a disservice.
Editor’s Note: What do you see as the value of Pro League football? How can it be improved? Leave a comment and let us know.