Trinidad and Tobago national football team coach Stephen Hart admitted that there is an elephant in the squad’s dressing room.
Nine months into 2013, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s (TTFA) technical staff still has not received a salary. And, two months after the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the “Soca Warriors” still have not received match fees for their quarterfinal clash with Mexico or promised bonuses for getting to the competition’s knockout stage—Trinidad and Tobago only advanced past the group stage once before in 2000.
The Warriors headed for Saudi Arabia on Sunday where they will play the United Arab Emirates in Riyadh on Thursday September 5 and either New Zealand or Saudia Arabia on Monday September 9.
But Hart is the only TTFA employee who is not owed by the local football body since his salary is being paid through FIFA and CONCACAF funds. The rest of the staff is reliant on promised money from the Ministry of Sport.
The former Canada boss conceded that he is “very uncomfortable” about the team’s financial situation.
“I have made my feelings known to (TTFA president Raymond) Tim Kee and (TTFA general secretary Sheldon) Phillips about the whole situation,” Hart told Wired868. “Like everybody else, I want to see what direction it moves in… There was an agreement in place and once you make an agreement it is a matter of principle; you have to fulfill that agreement.
“I understand there is a lot of circumstance that surrounds the situation but you’ve made a contract and you have to fulfill it.”
Sport Minister Anil Roberts has had a turbulent relationship with football ever since former special advisor and Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner and president Oliver Camps resigned their posts in 2011. Both men were implicated by FIFA in an alleged attempt to fix the global football body’s presidential election through bribery.
In May 2012, Warner asked Roberts to starve local football of funding after then interim football president Lennox Watson was slow to support Harold Taylor’s bid to replace Warner as Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president.
Tim Kee promised to smooth over relations with Roberts when he campaigned for the local football presidency last year. But the funding problems continued and the TTFA was forced to withdraw its team from a CONCACAF Under-15 competition last month after late support by the Government.
Phillips claimed that he was forced to hold some of the prize money from the Gold Cup to keep the football body operational as he anticipated some issues as the fiscal year drew to a close.
“We are doing what we can to stretch that money out and we are still working with the Ministry on paying those outstanding salaries,” said Phillips. “We were told it would be dealt with in the middle of July but the money ran out. Now they are telling us it would possibly be in September or October, which is obviously disappointing.
“We are doing everything we can (in the meantime). We believe (the Ministry of Sport) when they say they are going to satisfy that debt.”
Trinidad and Tobago assistant coach Hutson “Barber” Charles is said to be owed almost $90,000 already although he was seconded to his present post by the local Defence Force. Others like fellow assistant coach Derek King expect their football jobs to provide their main source of income. But all they pocketed this year were some match fees and per diems.
Technical director Anton Corneal, whose remuneration is supposed to be paid by a combination of TTFA and State funds, is still being owed money from as far back as 2011. Although at least one local coach refused to work under the present conditions, Corneal said the majority consider it an honour to serve their country regardless.
“I think what we are seeing are true soldiers coming out of the coaching staff,” he told Wired868. “They have given their best through the adversity; but for how long I cannot tell. There must be a time when they say enough is enough.
“A lot of people will not do what they are doing. A lot will talk it but won’t do it. I haven’t seen anyone give less because they were not paid. In fact they have gone beyond the call.”
Corneal admitted that there were grumblings when the TTFA hired Hart and Beenhakker on substantial salaries while many remain unpaid after months or even years of working for free.
“Of course (the hiring of Hart and Beenhakker) has been raised,” said Corneal. “In fact, it has been raised by me. We would not be human if we didn’t ask questions about it. And I’m not just looking at my situation but for all the coaches too.
“You want coaches to have a sense of wellbeing and comfort and some of that is being paid and rewarded for what you do.”
One technical staff member claimed that Beenhakker, who led Trinidad and Tobago the 2006 World Cup, has refused to return to work until all outstanding monies were paid to the coaches. However, the TTFA said the Dutchman has been dealing with a death in his family.
Beenhakker will not join the Warriors in Saudi Arabia.
Phillips hopes to announce some new corporate sponsors by mid-October. He claimed that it would take between $38 and $45 million to run Trinidad and Tobago’s nine national football teams at anything near optimal level while, at present, the TTFA operates at closer to $9 million a year.
The Mexico Federation of Football Federation (FMF) operates on well over $900 million a year through a combination of State and corporate sponsorship deals and television rights.
“Until we get some sponsors on board, which we believe will happen in October, we have to rely on the Ministry and FIFA for most of our operational budget,” said Phillips. “Right now, everything is focused on securing solid commercial sponsors in time for the next fiscal year and we have heard good positive overture from three of four companies…
“The government will always play an important role (in local football) but we will like to diversify our revenue stream because that is the mark of a healthy corporate entity.”
In the meantime, Phillips and the TTFA is doing its utmost to avoid conflict with the combative Roberts whose integrity has been called into question recently by Trinidad and Tobago’s hockey and cricket boards.
“Our outlook is that we are not interested in having a public tête-à-tête with a Ministry we see as a vital partner in the development of football in this country,” said Phillips. “It doesn’t do us or football any good.”
For Corneal and other national coaches and players, the mood is apprehensive but hopeful.
“I know there have been discuss of various streams of revenue and, once that is worked out, we will be taken care of,” said Corneal. “I feel comfortable that it will be taken care of in the very near future.”
The TTFA, according to Corneal, is working on alternative exposure for its national under-15 footballers and has found an ally in ex-Trinidad and Tobago coach Francisco Maturana.
“We are trying to get them into a tournament in Colombia this November,” said Corneal, “and we have the full support of the government to do it.”
In the meantime, the senior Warriors will continue their progress under Hart this week in Saudia Arabia. And, for yet another international get-together, the TTFA’s technical staff will try to avoid stepping on the elephant in the dressing room.