“I didn’t expect to play (against Sweden at the 2006 World Cup) and, when the red card occurred,” former Trinidad and Tobago World Cup player and stand-out Cornell Glen told Wired868, “I thought we would go on to lose by about four or five goals because they were bombarding us. So I was shocked when (coach Leo Beenhakker) called me.
“I went over and I was expecting him to give me a lot of tactical instructions. You know, run back, mark this one, do this… Instead, he said: Go on and do what you do best.”
In part two of his exclusive chat with Wired868, Glen remembers the 2006 World Cup and working with former Trinidad and Tobago, Netherlands and Real Madrid coach Leo Beenhakker.
Wired868: What can you remember about that third 2006 World Cup group game against Paraguay when you were injured?
Cornell Glen: I remember it as if it was yesterday. It all happened so simply. I skipped a tackle and the turf shifted and all my bodyweight came down on my knee and snapped the ACL.
I heard a pop in my knee and I knew something wasn’t right. I was in a lot of pain. They rushed me straight to the hospital and did the MRI. I cried and I cried. It was not only the pain was agonising but I felt I could have scored in that game. It is one of those games where you feel it because I was doing everything right in that game.
After that, I didn’t get a call (from anyone from the TTFF). Not even from the doctor. Nothing at all…
Wired868: What would you say was your worst time as a national player?
Glen: [Pauses for a minute] I think under (Hannibal) Najjar was the worst time for me. The conditions were terrible and I wasn’t comfortable at all… One of the craziest things I’ve ever seen is when he called 91 men out to train (in a massive screening exercise). [He Laughs]
Wired868: And what was the best time?
Glen: I think my time under (Leo) Beenhakker and at the 2006 World Cup was the best time. But under Bertille St Clair I was the fittest and sharpest that I’ve been as a player. Under (Francisco) Maturana too.
I remember we went to Argentina (under Maturana in January 2009) and played three or four practice matches and I scored in about everyone. [Glen did score in every game. There was a 1-1 draw with Argentinos Juniors B team, a 3-0 win over second division Quilmes and a 3-2 win over Tigres]. And then we came back and they played Stern (John)…
Looking back, I think I got a raw deal so many times because you might be playing and fit and they select someone who is at a bigger club but not playing for the bigger club.
That is the workings of the national team with third world countries. Guys with bigger clubs but not playing will be selected in front of guys who are playing (with smaller teams).
Wired868: Your last game for Trinidad and Tobago was two years ago at the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup against Mexico. Do you think you have played your last game for the “Soca Warriors?”
Glen: First of all, let me say that people said they needed to bring in young players into the team. But I was 32 when I played my last game for Trinidad and Tobago. Because that is when coach (Stephen) Hart stopped selecting me in 2013. If a player is too old at age 32, I feel sorry for all the 32-year-olds in Trinidad…
Even at age 32, I think from the national team strikers available I was the one who was playing the most with my club and in-form and fit and ready to play. Even now, I think I have played more football than anyone else on the national team.
Wired868: Have you ever discussed your international career with Hart?
Glen: We spoke recently and he basically said the reason for me not being selected was because he wasn’t getting enough games on the FIFA dates to rotate his squad. So he didn’t want certain players to lose confidence when not selected (to bring me in).
As much as I don’t agree with his explanation, I just want to say that I respect his decision and support the team 100 percent. (But) I’m not retired and no one will force me into retirement. All I can do right now is continue performing and scoring goals for my club.
I understand he is looking to go for younger players but in my opinion—and I have a US B’ coaching license—I don’t think we have such a large pool of players like Brazil and Germany to just phase out experienced players for fresh legs. I think you need to integrate the younger players with the experienced players over a period of time.
You can’t have a team with no leaders and I think that is the biggest problem with the team today. There are a lot of egos in the team and no one to lead.
Another problem I think he will face in the World Cup qualifiers is the fact that (a lot) of his players are not playing with their respective clubs and he won’t have as much time to work with them as he did before the Gold Cup to get them fit.
Wired868: But can your body handle the rigours of international and club football at this stage in your career? Didn’t you need special provisions for training due to niggling injuries when you trained with co-coaches Jamaal Shabazz and Hutson Charles?
Glen: That is the first time I am hearing about that. I have never missed a training session under Hart or Jamaal Shabazz. I have never missed a training session or asked to be sat out or complained about a knee injury or anything with the national team. Never.
The only problem I had with Jamaal Shabazz and them going into the (2013) Gold Cup was match fees. I spoke up about it in a (team) meeting and some player went back and told the coaches and again the label was put on me that I was being disruptive within the camp.
But how can a coach sit back and ask players to play for pride? You are trying to secure your own job but the players are playing for nothing.
I know the two assistant coaches (Hutson Charles and Derek King) had a problem with me before because I had no problem with coach Hart. So I don’t know if it stemmed from that why they don’t want me in the camp. But I’m the kind of person, Lasana, if there are money problems, I will speak up about it. Because if I am not satisfied, I am not going to play. Because I know what it is to lose a lot for the national team.
Wired868: Okay. Can you tell us more about your happiest moments with the national team?
Glen: The World Cup was my happiest time. And this is going back to a coach who supports his players, which is why we were so happy. From the qualifiers to the end of the World Cup tournament, Beenhakker stood up for us. He made sure we were taken care of properly. He was a coach who fought for his players and that is when you gain respect.
The reason why we were all happy is it was even across the board too. There were no superstars. Not because you were Dwight Yorke, you could just walk in the team. And he made it clear on his first day that if you are not playing for your club he was not going to select you. It put you in a competitive state of mind even when you were with your club. When you came into the national team, you were always match fit and firing.
Wired868: Can you give an example of how Beenhakker managed the team?
Glen: Well, a lot of people still talk about when Dwight came late to one session before a qualifier in Trinidad and he told him right in front of everybody: ‘Don’t ever f**king do that again. I don’t care who you are.’
But there is another story that most people don’t know. If you remember after the (2005) Gold Cup, he didn’t select me for a number of matches leading up to the Bahrain (FIFA Play Off) game. I actually didn’t play any World Cup qualifying games for Beenhakker.
There were problems at Columbus Crew and I was worried about being waived. I joined the national team for the Gold Cup and for the first game I didn’t play and I was totally pissed. Then I came on in the second game against Panama and I scored (a last minute equaliser).
I am the type of person, I either talk (a lot) or I stay completely silent and I chose the latter. I totally withdrew (from the team) and he sensed that something was wrong and he didn’t like my body language. He was pissed off. I knew it.
So after I scored (as a substitute) against Panama, he picked me to start against Colombia and I had a shit game. He took me off at half time and he said nothing and I said nothing. And then I didn’t hear from him again for almost four months until the Bahrain game. I was tempted to call but I knew I was totally wrong and I deserved it. My attitude wasn’t right in terms of being a team player.
When I was selected for the Bahrain game, he called me into a meeting. As soon as I walked in, I said: ‘Coach listen, I know my attitude in the Gold Cup was totally wrong and I totally apologise for it.’ And he said: ‘Okay, don’t let it happen again.’
And that was it. We settled it right there with a quick meeting. And I never made a mistake like that again!
Wired868: Was it difficult for everyone in those long camps like the period before the 2006 World Cup?
Glen: They are difficult at times because you miss your family and sometimes you can’t see anyone at all because the national team rented out an entire small hotel in the middle of nowhere and the closest city is miles away. But the camaraderie within the team was so tight, it was like a brotherhood.
Every one of us up to this day are still friends. That made it easier. We were all enjoying the ride. We had made it to a World Cup! Yes, we missed our family but it was only for a month or two. It was a dream come true, even for Dwight.
Wired868: As the World Cup drew close, were you nervous about how the team would do and if you would play?
Glen: I actually didn’t think I would play in any of the games. A week before we left for (Europe), I tore my hamstring with LA Galaxy. Again, the coach called me into a meeting and I was scared. I had cried when it happened on the field because I knew it was bad. Beenhakker said: ‘Listen, I have got the report from the doctor. You tore your hamstring. But we are going to carry you.’
When he said that I breathed a sigh of relief. He said they were going to take Evans (Wise) in case I don’t recover in time.[What Glen didn’t know is that it was not a unanimous decision. Some coaches thought he would not recover in time to play and would simply be a distraction to the team. Beenhakker, according to one technical staff member, overruled them].
That is the reason why Evans was with the team. Unfortunately, Silvio (Spann) pulled up and I recovered in time. So Evans was already there and he automatically fit in. I didn’t play any of the (international) practise games. I wanted to play so badly but (Beenhakker) kept saying you’re not ready yet. It was hard to accept. These were huge games because you are playing against guys you are watching on TV for all your life like (Czech Republic star Pavel) Nedved… My only game was against a club team in Germany, a week before the tournament started…
In terms of our expectations, we really didn’t know what to expect going into the finals. We got thumped in all of the practise games. [Laughs] But then coach was experimenting and trying to feel out which was his best team. I remember at one time against Slovenia, we played a system where we had Dwight behind the two stoppers…
Wired868: How did your one practice game go against St Pauli in Germany?
Glen: I remember sitting in the dressing room before the match and telling myself: Cornell, this can decide if you get playing time or you don’t get playing time (in the World Cup). I didn’t know if my hamstring would hold up because I hadn’t played a game since I got injured. But I just resolved to go out and give it my all. And I had probably one of the best games I ever played.
I cannot remember if I scored. I think I had a couple of assists. But I just remembered taking up the ball and running at players. I told myself: ‘This is your strength, you have to show the coach what you can do.’ So I was just picking up the ball and going at them… I think right there and then, the coach decided I could be an asset to the team.
Wired868: When Avery John was sent off and Trinidad and Tobago went down to 10 men, did you expect to play?
Glen: Definitely not. That was a hell of a tactical move. I didn’t expect to play that game and, when the red card occurred, I thought we would go on to lose by about four or five goals because they were bombarding us. So I was shocked when he called me.
I went over and I was expecting him to give me a lot of tactical instructions. You know: ‘Run back, mark this one, do this…’ Instead, he said: ‘Go on and do what you do best.’ [Glen might have looked confused because Beenhakker repeated the simple instruction]. He said: ‘Yes, go on and take them on.’
It took guts to make that move but in terms of strategy I think it made a lot of sense. If we had them backing, it would ease up our defence. So we were trying to stretch them upfront… I think that move was probably one of the best tactical moves I have seen in football. It was such a brave, brave move. After that game, we were on a high and we took the momentum through the tournament from game to game.[Glen struck the post on one counter-attack against Sweden and was a constant menace to the opposing defence. After the game, the German press hailed Beenhakker’s substitution as the best tactical move of the World Cup up to that point.
In the following game, England coach Sven Goran Eriksson took the plaudits, though, as he moved David Beckham to right back from where he delivered the cross that created Peter Crouch’s opening goal, albeit with a tug of Trinidad and Tobago defender Brent Sancho’s dreadlocks.
But Glen still feels guilty about his role in England’s opening goal, which came in the 83rd minute and was the first item that the Warriors conceded in the tournament].
Glen: There was a miscommunication in that game between me and Densill (Theobald) that cost us the first goal. A lot of people don’t know this. Densill was playing midfield and I was playing in that position where I floated from left (wing) to the middle (of the field). I had made a run across and I was supposed to get back to cover Beckham as he had dropped to right back.
I looked at Densill and he looked at me and we both wondered: ‘Who is going to go at Beckham and close him down?’ We didn’t react quickly enough because our game plan was to stop the cross balls from Beckham.
I think moving Beckham to right back was another one of the great tactical moves I’ve seen in football because it changed the angle (that he was getting the ball). So we took a second to decide who was supposed to go and put pressure and he swung that ball and the goal scored.
Up to this day, we still talk about the indecisiveness from both of us that caused the goal to score. But we have to be honest with ourselves too and realise that we didn’t go there to win the World Cup. We did our best and we did alright. We did better than we even expected.
Wired868: Do you still remember that play when you came so close to a World Cup goal?
Glen: I remember that like it was yesterday. It was a long ball into Stern and he flicked it on for me to run on to it. It was a tight angle on the right hand side but I remembered during the practise sessions that I was shooting the ball so cleanly with both feet. And something just told me: ‘Shoot.’
So I just blasted it and the (Sweden) keeper got a slight touch on it that took it on to the bar… You don’t think about it during the game. But after the game, I sat down and thought that probably could have changed my life completely.
It is something you look back on and you can cherish it for the rest of your life. At least you know you showed up and you gave your best. Deep in my heart, I knew I could perform at that level and it was the highest level.
I tell people that George Weah was my idol from ever since I was about 15 or 16 and he never got the chance to play on a World Cup stage. He is arguably one of the best strikers to ever play football and never got to play at a World Cup. And I did it.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE for Part One as former “Soca Warriors” star Cornell Glen explains why he was banned from international football at just 21 and the shocking aftermath of his Germany 2006 World Cup injury
Stay tuned for Part Three as Glen discusses life under his many former football coaches.