The Trinidad and Tobago national football team will end 2012 with its highest FIFA ranking in three years after moving up 11 places to 68th in the latest rankings from the global football body. The “Soca Warriors” is now ranked ninth in CONCACAF and third in the Caribbean behind Haiti and Jamaica.
The FIFA rankings are calculated by results, the importance of the match, the strength of the opposition and the strength of the confederation that the opposing team belongs to. And the rankings can be influential in securing warm-up matches against illustrious opposition as well as in securing employment opportunities abroad for national players.
National assistant coach Derek King, a former Caribbean Cup champion as a player, is proud of the team’s accomplishments despite its financial difficulties in the past year. And he thinks local fans can look forward to even bigger strides in the near future.
“That is a great achievement and a great stepping stone for us,” King told Wired868. “We have a young team and a young staff in place. Once we put everything in place in terms of our preparation, we want to be at the top 50 by the end of the (CONCACAF) Gold Cup.”
A meteoric rise up the rankings, as King suggested, would be difficult to achieve in a year when Trinidad and Tobago must play testing opposition to lift its on-field standards. But if the Warriors, led by joint head coaches Hutson “Barber”Charles and Jamaal Shabazz, do get to 55th place by July 2013, it means that Trinidad and Tobago’s players would be able to move straight into the British leagues for the first time since 2008.
The United Kingdom’s work permit regulations automatically deems as ineligible any player whose country lies outside the top 70 football nations after calculating an average rank over the previous two years.
At present, Trinidad and Tobago’s average rank over the last two years is 79.9; so the doors are closed to local talent eager to follow in the footsteps of Dwight Yorke (Manchester United), Marvin Andrews (Glasgow Rangers) and Stern John (Birmingham City).
A more winding route to the England Premier League does exist. A Trinidad and Tobago citizen can qualify for a European Union passport after two or three years in a less stringent nation on the continent, which would then allow him to work in Britain.
Twenty-three-year-old Trinidad and Tobago and Genk midfielder Khaleem Hyland should have received his EU passport last year after three seasons in Belgium. And the likes of Robert Primus, Lester Peltier and Sheldon Bateau, who play in Kazhakstan, Slovakia and the Netherlands respectively, would hope to follow suit.
The present national squad can reopen direct trading with Britain with another year like 2012.
Trinidad and Tobago and DIRECTV W Connection captain Jan-Michael Williams is pleased to be involved in the restoration of the country’s football fortunes and told Wired868 that workrate and attitude have been their most important attributes.
“After getting knocked out of the World Cup in the first round, qualifying for the Gold Cup is a big achievement,” said Williams. “We mostly have the same guys who played in the World Cup qualifiers but what has changed is the attitude and mind-set of the players. Once we stay on this track, we can even reach the final of the Gold Cup.”
National technical director, Anton Corneal, endorsed Williams’ assessment.
“I don’t like to call names but Densill (Theobald) and Jan-Michael (Williams) have shown maturity and professionalism on and off the field that is similar to the highest standards anywhere in the world,” said Corneal, who also singled out Devorn Jorsling, Seon Power, Daneil Cyrus and Ataullah Guerra for praise. “The players saw where we were and decided to give the effort needed to take us where we are today.
“We like to talk about talent and skill but a result comes down to attitude, heart and discipline. Talent is just the icing on the cake… We are starting to see a positive light that we just need to build on.”
The technical staff is drawing up a program for 2013 which should ensure that the Warriors play on all FIFA-approved international match days and have two team camps before the July Gold Cup.
Corneal revealed that Trinidad and Tobago is trying to book a friendly against Chile next month as well as games against Central American teams already eliminated from the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, such as Guatemala and El Salvador.
He conceded that their late start to preparations, due to the instability of the previous 16 months within the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation, might require some creative booking by the staff.
“A lot of the bigger countries are booked up two years in advance,” said Corneal. “So if we don’t get an international game, we will look for a good club team from one of the bigger countries like Mexico and Colombia who play in the Copa Libertadores.
“We need to play as many games as we can.”
The Gold Cup falls within the FIFA calendar so Trinidad and Tobago can choose from its full complement of international players including Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones, Ipswich winger Carlos Edwards and Hyland.
However, King insisted that players trying to break into the national squad must demonstrate attitude as well as ability. And that goes for the foreign-based stars as well.
“We have players right now who really want to play for the jersey, so it is important that the players we bring in have the right attitude,” said King. “We don’t want to spoil what we have now. This is the time that we can start building something great for 2018.”
Editor’s Note: What does Trinidad and Tobago’s place in the latest FIFA rankings mean to you?