Italian coach Claudio Ranieri’s penchant for chopping and changing his first team at Chelsea, even when his squad was on a successful run, earned him the sobriquet of “The Tinkerman.”
Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president Raymond Tim Kee, who took the helm of the local football body last November, cannot be accused of being afraid to rock the boat or indecisive either.
In December 2012, less than a month into his tenure, Tim Kee controversially inserted then Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA and Guyana national head coach Jamaal Shabazz into the Trinidad and Tobago squad and made him co-head coach alongside former “Strike Squad” standout Hutson “Barber” Charles.
And, just three weeks before kick off in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Tim Kee sees similarities in his decision to add former Trinidad and Tobago 2006 World Cup coach Leo Beenhakker to the technical staff.
“When I asked Jamaal to join Charles at the Caribbean Cup (finals),” Tim Kee told Wired868, “we had qualified at the lower level but I felt Jamaal could provide assistance at that stage. Jamaal came in and the rest is history.
“But now looking at the US and Mexico and Panama and Haiti and these teams who are waiting for us in the Gold Cup, I am not completely comfortable with the belief that Jamaal and Hutson can take the team at that level. Because there is nothing after (the last) 10 games that suggests they could.”
Within the aforementioned 10 games Tim Kee referenced was a 2-1 Caribbean Cup group stage triumph over the Dominican Republic that assured the Warriors of its first Gold Cup finals in six years as well as a semi-final penalty shoot-out win over Martinique. In the Caribbean Cup finals, it took a sudden death goal from gifted Cuban attacker Marcel Hernandez to sink Trinidad and Tobago after an error by Warriors custodian Jan-Michael Williams.
Since then, though, the Warriors have not won a match or scored a goal with one draw and five losses from six outings in 2013.
Local coach Bertille St Clair arrived at the 2000 Gold Cup with no wins from his five preceding games and went on to take Trinidad and Tobago as far as the semi-finals, their highest-ever finish.
For Tim Kee, there is currently little virtue in patience; in fact, he revealed, the coaching trio of Charles, Shabazz and assistant Derek King might well have become unstuck earlier. In March, two losses to Peru and a goalless draw with Belize almost spelled doom for the national technical triumvirate.
This month’s outing to Europe for friendlies against Romania and Estonia, which yielded 4-0 and 1-0 losses respectively, brought a swift and ruthless response from the football president, whose day job is as a Guardian Life sales executive.
“I saw what happened against Peru and Belize,” said Tim Kee. “They said they were trying to get the best fit in their squad, so I thought I would have to give them the benefit of the doubt. But what I saw (in Europe) was consistent with what I saw before.
“It was a judgment call and a decision I had to make. It was late but, based on decency, I felt I had to give them the chance (in Europe).
“I didn’t think doing it earlier would have been fair to them.”
Charles’ present record as coach stands at eight wins and as many losses as well as three drawn matches. There is no word yet regarding who will coach the team after the Gold Cup.
Beenhakker has only been contracted to work for the Gold Cup. And, despite his unquestioned ability as a coach, there is also an implicit belief that the Dutchman’s presence can make the team more marketable and turn a few heads in the local business sector.
Tim Kee revealed that he intends to raise the money for Beenhakker’s salary from the local private sector. His general secretary, Sheldon Phillips, son of Lincoln “Tiger” Phillips who was technical director during the Dutchman’s first spell in Trinidad between 2005 and 2006, told Wired868 that the former Real Madrid and Netherlands coach will be fetching significantly less than the US$75,000 ($480,700) suggested in the media.
Neither Tim Kee nor Phillips was willing to reveal the financial package offered to Beenhakker.
Phillips said that, rather than rely on his compatriots, Beenhakker has agreed to work with local coaches for the upcoming Gold Cup. But although the ideal situation would be for the Dutchman to keep the incumbents in place, the general secretary admitted that he could give no such guarantee.
After almost 18 months in charge of the squad, Charles will now have to face a Beenhakker interview to qualify for a place as an assistant coach at the Gold Cup.
“One of the hallmarks of our arrangement with Leo was that he would work with local coaches,” said Phillips. “We strongly asked for Mr Charles to work with him but a decision has not been made yet. Leo will meet with Mr Charles before the team goes into camp and, if he is comfortable with Hutson, then from a transitional standpoint it would make sense for him to continue with the team.”
And what does the immediate future hold for Shabazz and King within the national squad?
“A decision has not been made yet with reference to Jamaal and Derek,” said Phillips. “After the decision is made (regarding Charles) we will look at the other coaching slots.”
An insider told Wired868 that Shabazz’s immigration issues with the United States might have influenced the TTFA’s view on using his services for the upcoming competition. Shabazz, a member of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, was one of the 114 insurrectionists charged and tried as a result of the 1990 attempted coup. Roughly a decade ago, he was detained in Miami for several weeks after reportedly entering the United States with improper travel documents.
Shabazz insists that he would have no problems travelling, if necessary, to the US for the Gold Cup.
Phillips declined comment on any possible immigration issues with Shabazz and did not offer any reason why the Caledonia coach may not get the same opportunity as Charles. But he insisted it was not a slight on his coaching ability and reiterated that Shabazz and King may still be included in the Gold Cup backroom staff.
But what if Beenhakker did not feel comfortable with Charles? Would it mean that the Dutchman could end up holding try-outs for local coaches on the eve of the Confederation’s showcase tournament?
“We are focusing on Hutson,” said Phillips, “and after that bridge is crossed we will determine (our next move).”
The uncertainty among the technical staff is not helped by the fact that they have hardly had a salary this year. Wired868 was reliably informed that the national coaches and other backroom staff members are owed between $90,000 and $230,000 for services provided to the TTFA.
The unpaid technical staff conducted two training sessions with the Warriors this week, despite not knowing if they will be on the plane to the United States themselves.
Tim Kee said he is working feverishly to address the issue and hopes to receive the outstanding money to pay his staff from the Ministry of Sport next Tuesday.
Although Tim Kee and Phillips were responsible for settling an inherited seven-year bonus dispute with the 2006 Soca Warriors last month, the TTFA president suggested that the coaches’ salary was a Government responsibility.
“I went to the Ministry (of Sport) just today and I hope that they honour their debts just like we did with the Soca Warriors,” said Tim Kee. “Those technical members cannot give their optimum unless they are happy with how they are treated…
“I am not the type of person who would be comfortable with monies being owed to people. That is not a back burner issue; it is very much a front burner issue for me.”
But Tim Kee made it clear that his drive to raise funds for Beenhakker’s wages was not related to the money owed to the present staff.
“Corporate entities won’t give money to pay debts,” he said.
The Warriors continue training under the present staff on Monday June 17 from 9.30 am at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.