New Pro League champions, Central FC, appear to be on the brink of meltdown, just two weeks after winning their maiden domestic title, with a feud over bonuses that, ironically, has pitted Sport Minister Brent Sancho and his advisor Kevin Harrison against over two dozen players and staff members.
Central’s players and staff were offered 10 percent of the Pro League’s $1 million first prize but have refused the figure. And some squad members, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted that Sancho, in his previous capacity as club CEO, offered to split half the league winnings with the team.
“Sancho said the deal is whatever the players win they get half of and half goes back to the club,” a Central squad member told Wired868, “and you all get 20 percent of what they get. So, the split would be 50 percent to the club, 40 percent to the players and ten percent to the staff.”
The Sport Minister denied the allegation.
“I never said that,” said Sancho, who said he recused himself from club affairs after becoming Sport Minister in February 2015. “We had offered them 50 percent (of prize money) for (cup competitions)… It was 30 percent the first year and then we said we would raise it to 50 (percent).
“The league money was never discussed… In fact, before I became Minister of Sport we were supposed to discuss (bonuses for) the League, Caribbean Cup and CONCACAF. But then obviously I left the club and we never had a chance to sit down before I left.”
Harrison, who is Central’s operations director and an advisor to the Sport Minister, also claimed that the 50 percent offer was only for knock out competitions. And he insisted that the Central board, which is run by SIS official Darren Mohamdally, will only offer $100,000 to the squad from the $1 million prize money.
“I was authorised to tell the players that they can have 10 percent to share between players and staff,” said Harrison. “I was told the players wanted 40 percent and the staff would be dealt with separately. But I’m not a decision maker. I get told by the board and relay decisions.”
The Central team trained from 9 am today in Couva. But the friction has put a question mark over the remainder of their season.
The “Couva Sharks”, who already won the Pro League and First Citizens Cup titles this season, are scheduled to play Police FC from 8 pm tomorrow in the second match of a Pro Bowl semifinal round double header at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. And they will face Haitian outfit, Don Bosco, in the Caribbean Club Championship semifinals on May 22 at the same venue.
Fenwick, who replaced Zoran Vranes at helm on March 24, admitted the mood is tense on the training ground. The English coach said he was not a part of the alleged bonus deal or the ongoing negotiations but is advised by players on the talks.
“We had a very strong team spirit when I walked in,” Fenwick told Wired868, “but that has been crushed because of finance-related issues, bonus problems and promises that apparently haven’t been kept with the players…
“There is now a very disgruntled squad of which half of them, myself included, are of of contract on May 31.”
Harrison admitted that he could not state definitely that Central will turn up for tomorrow’s Pro Bowl semifinal match. But he urged the players to focus on the remaining prize money at stake and try to end their seasons on a high note.
“Obviously we know the guys are upset but I can’t see why they wouldn’t play,” said Harrison. “The bonus problem is about the League but that has finished. The Pro Bowl (first prize) is $100,000 and, if they are so concerned about bonuses, then that is $50,000 for them (to share) if they win it.
“Fifty percent of our players won’t get the chance to play in a Caribbean Cup final and when you finish those are the memories you look back on. If you are going to leave, leave on the top.”
The irony of Sancho and Harrison’s position is inescapable.
Sancho was one of 13 “Soca Warriors” who successfully sued the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) for 50 percent of all income generated from the 2006 World Cup. Harrison, who was a low-level Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) official in England, advised the Warriors.
Sancho was also a founding member of the now defunct Football Players Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), which also employed Harrison as an advisor.
For now, though, the Sharks promise to play in the Pro Bowl semifinals.
“We have a game tomorrow and we are going to play,” said Central captain Leston Paul. “I don’t think the players are happy. But we are being professional about it and we will play the game.”
Wired868 can confirm that there are divisions within the playing and coaching ranks regarding not only whether they should complete the season with Sharks. But also if a bonus plan was in place at all and whether a 50 percent take of the Pro League prize money is fair or excessive.
Phone calls throughout the squad found that some believed a bonus deal was in place from the start of the season while others said an offer was just made. Some were prepared to down boots immediately while others wanted to add the Caribbean title to their list of achievements.
And there was no unison among the players and staff on what prize money they should receive either.
Harrison admitted that the club erred by not sorting out a bonus structure before the season got going.
“As far as the board is concerned, they made the decision at the beginning of the season,” said Harrison. “Why it wasn’t relayed to the players, I don’t know. If we had offered them a $100,000 bonus (to share) last summer, they would probably have been happy.
“So it was our fault not to tell them and theirs not to raise it then. But we pay them the best salaries we could and some of the best wages in the league… If they want better bonuses, it would be reflected in (lower salaries).”
If the players are accustomed to getting 50/50 splits on prize money from Cup winnings, is it reasonable for them to expect the same for claiming the League title?
Harrison disagreed and claimed that the Sharks need the League winnings to ensure their survival for next season.
“The amount of money (between the league and cup competitions) is different and we have to make sure the club exists,” said Harrison. “So the $900,000 the club keeps will make sure we exist next season. Why should the club not get the whole of it?
“We pay very good salaries because we want to win competitions and they already receive the best salaries in the league anyway. If we did it the other way and gave poorer salaries and big bonuses then, if they didn’t win, they would be worse off.
“If I were a player, I would prefer bigger salaries and less bonuses.”
Harrison confirmed that Central will not pay out any of its $300,000 returns for finished second in the league for the 2013/14 season.
“We decided we would only pay if we won,” he said. “We didn’t want to pay for being the best losers.”
But don’t all players in England’s professional leagues get a slice of the prize money irrespective of their league placing?
“Well, the (Pro League) might decide on that but then put a cap on wages,” said Harrison. “(Local) clubs don’t bring in anything beside prize money… and if they gave half to the players, many would struggle to stay in the league.
“I have always gone on record as saying I would love to see day when players get a good wage. But, with the falling oil prices and so on, money is hard to come by.”
For now, simmering distrust aside, the Sharks will go on together. But Paul, a two-time World Youth Cup captain and former St Mary’s College schoolboy, did not confirm whether the Sharks would complete their roster of games this season.
“I can’t answer that question right now,” said Paul. “There is a lot of chatter going on about that. (But) I will leave that until the game tomorrow.
“If we don’t get positive feedback, then I don’t know what will be the next step. Right now, we just want to play in the game and get to the (Pro Bowl) final.”
So far, Harrison is not for turning.
“If I was a player and I wanted to leave,” he said, “I would want to say I won the League and the Caribbean Cup, etc (because) it adds value to you as a player. They will be cutting their nose off to spite their face (if they boycotted). All the club would lose is $50,000 (from the Pro Bowl), which isn’t the end of the world.
“I would love to keep the majority of the team together… We had such a great vibe in Guyana, it is a pity it has to end like this.”
Pro Bowl semifinals
(Fri May 15)
Caledonia AIA v W Connection, 6 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Central FC v Police FC, 8 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium.