Former 2006 World Cup coach Leo Beenhakker seems even closer to a reunion with the Trinidad and Tobago national football team after the “Soca Warriors” were informed today that they might be under new management for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament.
National co-head coaches Hutson “Barber” Charles and Jamaal Shabazz and assistant coach Derek King told the squad, according to several players who spoke under the condition of anonymity, that the only remaining issue was for the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) to source the funds to pay the Dutchman’s salary.
Beenhakker, who was dubbed “Don Leo” during a successful stint as Real Madrid coach in the late 1980s, is rumoured to have requested US$75,000 ($480,700) for a month’s work.
However, TTFA General Secretary Sheldon Phillips denied that Beenhakker has agreed terms with the local football body or that a financial package has been discussed yet.
“(Beenhakker) has indicated he is interested in assisting the team and Trinidad and Tobago’s football,” Phillips told Wired868. “A done deal is a signature on a contract. We are in talks but there has been no agreement in principle.”
Phillips hinted too that the TTFA hoped to source funds for its new coach outside of the Ministry of Sport.
Equally intriguing is the length of service expected from the 70-year-old Dutchman, who took Trinidad and Tobago to its first senior World Cup and then, two years later, led Poland to its maiden appearance at a Euro finals.
Phillips admitted that Beenhakker’s stay could feasibly be shorter than the school holidays.
Trinidad and Tobago plays its opening 2013 Gold Cup match on July 8 against El Salvador while its last group assignment is against Honduras on July 15. The Gold Cup final will be held on July 28 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The TTFA does not know whether Beenhakker wants to stay beyond the tournament or if the football body could afford to hire his services for a longer period. However, Phillips insisted that the enthusiasm the renowned coach could bring to the national players and supporters within that period could make it worthwhile.
“We are talking (to Beenhakker) specifically about the Gold Cup,” he said. “(The Gold Cup) is our last significant event for the next two years and our approach is to put out a product that is going to excite people because it performs well and wins games… We want to utilise whatever resources we have available to reach those goals.
“We feel his credentials speak for themselves. If he comes in (and) if he is utilised properly, it can be the shot in the arm that the Association has long needed.”
Charles, Shabazz and King, who steered the Warriors to their first Gold Cup appearance in six years, have supposedly indicated they are willing to work under Beenhakker. Phillips suggested that this would be the ideal outcome and complimented the local staff for its accomplishments in an “extremely challenging environment.”
“I don’t think (bringing in Beenhakker) can be seen as a criticism of the local staff,” said Phillips. “It is an addition to what we have now and not a replacement. The fact that they qualified the present team for the Gold Cup has to be acknowledged.
“We want to be able to develop our resources and make it better however we can.”
The TTFF general secretary also assured the present technical staff members that they would receive outstanding match fees before Beenhakker’s unveiling, if it does happen.
“We can’t take care of one and not take care of the others,” said Phillips. “There is still some money that is owed that we have to sort out simultaneously.”
Trinidad and Tobago had just 17 available players for a 4-0 loss away to Romania as the staff supposedly could not afford to fly in United States-based defender Julius James while the Warriors had to sleep in Helsinki’s international airport, during a 12-hour lay-over, as there were no funds to check into a hotel.
However, Phillips rejected any notion that the football body did not try hard enough for its squad but was now pushing the boat out for Beenhakker. He also commended the Ministry of Sport for its financial support this year.
“One has nothing to do with the other,” said Phillip, when asked to weigh the team’s recent financial hardships against the TTFA’s eagerness to recruit Beenhakker. “(The Helsinki lay-over) was the best situation that could have been arranged at the time… The Government has done its best to source the funding to allow us to get to these tours.
“The timing of the money (from the Government) was not optimal but we don’t want perfect to be the enemy of the good… Our goal is to give the Government confidence to add us on to its next annual budget.”
Phillips stopped short of offering guarantees to any of the present technical staff members with Beenhakker’s impending arrival. But he hinted that the local body wanted only one new face.
In 2005, then Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) Special Advisor Jack Warner selected David Nakhid and Russell Latapy as Beenhakker’s assistant coaches. But the Dutchman refused the appointments and the TTFF allowed him to bring his compatriots, Wim Rijsbergen and Theo De Jong, instead.
“(Beenhakker’s assistant coaches) hasn’t been part of the discussion,” said Phillips. “We are not inclined to bring anybody else. The overall purpose is to win games but we want to develop our resources as well so that there will be short term and long term development… But we haven’t gotten to the look and responsibilities of the final staff yet.”
There were mixed feelings among the players as some expressed dismay that the local coaches would not lead them at the Gold Cup while others felt the staff failed to properly handle the foreign-based players and had overseen a drop in discipline in recent months.
Many wondered what Beenhakker could possibly accomplish with just three weeks before their opening Gold Cup match.
But, to a man, the players were excited by the chance to work with the famous Dutch coach.
There are two other technical issues.
First, the local Pro League and most of the European leagues are on break; so Beenhakker would not be able to assess his players in competitive action.
So what criteria could be used for selection apart from trials or simply taking the word of the present staff? And would a mandatory try-out spell doom for Hughton Hector, Willis Plaza and Seon Power who were part of the 2012 Caribbean Cup finals squad but are in the middle of their season in the Far East?
Also, the TTFA has already submitted a 34-man preliminary squad to CONCACAF and the final 23 players can only be drawn from that pool, which limits Beenhakker’s options.
Middlesbrough’s Justin Hoyte, Ipswich Town’s Carlos Edwards and Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA’s Aubrey David are the only three specialist full backs in the preliminary squad, for instance, while Slovakia Bratislava attacker Lester Peltier, San Jose Earthquakes winger Cordell Cato and Chainat FC left winger Kendall Jagdeosingh are all excluded.
Beenhakker will not have the opportunity to evalaute useful Pro League full backs like the North East Stars pair of Kevon Villaroel and Elton John as well as Jamal Jack (St Ann’s Rangers), Kareem Joseph (Caledonia) and Aklie Edwards (Defence Force) either.
But Phillips is confident that the possible late introduction of Beenhakker would solve more problems than it creates.
“(The proximity of the Gold Cup) is a challenge but you’re talking about professional coaches and professional players who live for a challenge,” he said. “If (Beenhakker) thinks it wasn’t worth discussing it, then we wouldn’t still be talking.
“It isn’t perfect but we can’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”
Editor’s Note: Click to see Trinidad and Tobago’s CONCACAF Gold Cup preliminary squad here