Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) presidential candidate, David John-Williams, has launched a passionate defence about his motivation and management style, after concerns that he might use the football body to further his own business interests.
John-Williams hopes to unseat incumbent, Raymond Tim Kee, at the TTFA’s AGM on November 29. The other three presidential candidates are Clynt Taylor, Ramesh Ramdhan and Selby Browne and it is felt to be a fairly open race.
As president and CEO of the DIRECTV W Connection Football Club, John-Williams’ bellowing support for his team from the stands and penchant for making public cases for his players to be selected on international teams are well-known within the football community.
So would his possible election as TTFA president merge the green and white strip of W Connection with the red, white and black of the “Soca Warriors?” And will the temptation to manipulate his office for personal gain be too much?
John-Williams moaned that it was the perfect “Catch 22” situation, since it was his success at Connection which made him a frontrunner for the post in the first place.
“The reason why I am in this position (as a TTFA candidate) is because I head an organisation that has been successful in football and that has catapulted me to the nomination,” said John-Williams. “But at the same time, my success has been perceived to be working against me because people are seeing a conflict of interest. If you look at the other candidates, they all have a different business.
“(Raymond) Tim Kee runs insurance, Selby (Browne) runs sporting television rights and so on. It is fortunate or unfortunate that my second job is as W Connection president.
“Nothing I say to the public, whether I resign as W Connection president and CEO or promise them faithfully that there will be no conflict of interest, Trinidad and Tobago will not believe me.
“If I am elected and I operate faithfully, they will believe me. That is the only way. History will absolve me.”
So, is “elect me first and find out” the Connection president’s best line of defence?
John-Williams took a slightly different tact. He argued that the Trinidad and Tobago national football teams will be stuffed with W Connection players whether he becomes TTFA president or not.
And that, according to the presidential candidate, is because they already are.
Two of Warriors coach Stephen Hart’s starting XI against the United States, Daneil Cyrus and Mekeil Williams, are fully owned by W Connection, although they are on loan to United States and Guatemala top flight clubs respectively.
However, John-Williams listed a further five current players—captain Kenwyne Jones, winger Joevin Jones, playmaker Keron “Ball Pest” Cummings, full back Aubrey David and goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams—who he claimed Connection still had a stake in or would be due solidarity payments if they changed clubs for a transfer fee, due to their time with the “Savonetta Boys” as youth players.
He then went through the various national youth teams and counted nine Connection players on the recent Trinidad and Tobago National Under-23 Team, 10 on the Under-20s and nine on the Under-17s.
“Whether I am the president of the TTFA or not, W Connection players will get on to the national team,” John-Williams told Wired868. “The evidence is there already. I didn’t pick the (national football teams)… The natural progression is that you replace your senior players with players from your national under-23 team. So what happens if I become president and five Connection players advance to the senior team?
“It is a no win for me. Do we want Connection players to fall off the radar? Because my programme is successful, they want to kill me for that?!
“I am a real victim of my organisation’s success.”
Hart has clearly warmed to some Connection players more than others and striker Shahdon Winchester has been regularly overlooked, much to John-Williams’ public chagrin.
Should John-Williams be elected as TTFA president, would his mere presence put pressure on the Trinidad and Tobago coach on subjects that he has already been vocal on as Connection boss?
What will safeguard the integrity of the selection process for the national teams?
John-Williams pointed to the manifesto as his defence. Whereas, under Tim Kee, the TTFA’s committees were all either dormant or overlooked; and the president and then general secretary Sheldon Phillips made unilateral decisions, the Connection boss insisted that properly functioning committees will be the backbone of the organisation under his watch.
It would mean decisions over the hiring and firing of coaches would reside with the technical committee rather than the president and general secretary.
“(My manifesto) is going to be the framework and road map for Trinidad and Tobago football under my instruction and you can hold me to it,” he said. “If that wasn’t my intention, I would never have made it public and so comprehensive.”
John-Williams defended his right to criticise Hart over team selection, although he conceded that it would be improper to do so as president. And he insisted that his occasional disagreement with Hart did not mean he wasn’t impressed overall by the success of the Warriors coach.
“As a stakeholder in Trinidad and Tobago football, I am entitled to an opinion,” said John-Williams. “Just as you would question why they’re using Joevin Jones as a left back, why is it wrong for me to voice an opinion as a club owner? All club owners questioned various national coaches and I voiced a footballing opinion.
“But, in the office of the president, I may have to keep my mouth shut because it would not make for good governance. As president of Trinidad and Tobago football, I have to treat things differently, as they will perceive I have a level of authority (that I didn’t have as a stakeholder).”
John-Williams used his history at Connection as a shield against people who feel he might interfere with team selection.
“I never got involved in team selection at W Connection at any level,” he said. “And you can ask Leonson Lewis, Brian Williams, Stuart Charles-Fevrier or any single coach there or who has left my programme. I could have been doing that because W is run by David John-Williams but it never crossed my mind.
“Any coach who is worth his salt will not function under a process like that… The coach is responsible for the results of the team, so how can I go in the dressing room and tell the coach who to pick when he is responsible for the result?”
John-Williams admitted that he was a regular face inside the Connection dressing room and would often join the players for the pre-game prayer. But he said he would not request similar access to the squad as TTFA president and his presence around the players would depend on the respective coaches.
“At W Connection, we have developed a routine over 17 years where I stand in the dressing room when we pray and give everybody a high five or a hug before the game,” he said. “That is traditional at the club because we have developed that over the years. Some coaches would not like that and would feel violated by a president that does that…
“It may not be the same for a Stephen Hart or Leo Beenhakker or Francisco Maturana, so that is totally up to the coach… I won’t impose myself on Stephen Hart or any other coach. For sure, I won’t.”
The Connection president insisted that his only motivation for the TTFA job is to make a contribution and help play a role in turning Trinidad and Tobago’s football around.
“I have been asked and turned down the opportunity three times,” he said, “and I feel I would be letting down the people who asked me to serve.
“And I feel I can make a contribution.”
Those people, according to John-Williams, asked him to run for office because of his success at Connection. So how, he argued, can people now use that same success against him?
“If people see me as the best candidate and the only thing they can find on me is a conflict of interest,” said the Connection boss, “then look at the scenario and tell me how I can get away from it. Because if I resign, they will say they don’t believe me and it is a smoke screen. If I stay, it will be the same story.
“The only way I can remove that stigma is through my performance as president of the TTFA. That is the reality.
“The future must absolve me from this… When I leave office, somebody will say the man wasn’t biased towards W Connection.”
Just three days before the TTFA elections, there is still no clear favourite with Ramdhan, Taylor and Tim Kee—in particular—all receiving support from various quarters.
John-Williams said he is excited to be a part of a historic race.
“I wish the other candidates best of luck,” he said. “It is the first time in over 20 years that there is an election with five candidates. Ollie Camps reigned for 25 years unopposed.
“It makes for good democratic process.”