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Hart feelings: Key to mentally stronger Warriors and why Caribbean football is better than ever

“We have a tendency that when the real game stress is on us, we make mistakes and let teams into the game,” Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team coach Stephen Hart told Wired868. “So what we have to strive for is to be more consistent and determined. So that, when we are on top, we maximise that time period.”

In the third and final part of our exclusive interview with “Soca Warriors” coach Stephen Hart—which was conducted before the team started camp for the March 25 World Cup qualifier against St Vincent—he talks about the key for mentally stronger players, the St Vincent and the Grenadines challenge, the different playing field of United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann and why Caribbean football is not the cakewalk it used to be.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team coach Stephen Hart. (Courtesy CONCACAF)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team coach Stephen Hart.
(Courtesy CONCACAF)

Wired868: So what are the plans for the Soca Warriors in 2016?

Stephen Hart: We have a new administration and they are trying to get their bearings of the international scene (and) the whole football association’s operation (which) can be overwhelming.

I had some good meetings with the (TTFA) president (David John-Williams). He’s managed to secure the Uruguay game and hopefully we will get a second game. And then, slowly but surely, we will chip away at the wall that is there at the moment.

I will make demands and he will have to say: ‘Yes, I can give it to you’ or ‘No, I can’t give it to you’. But, like any other walk of life, you could only play the hand that you are dealt and we will take it from there.

I would like to play more top level games and expose the players to teams like Argentina and Uruguay… But at the end of the day, it is a matter of if you can afford it.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Ataulla Guerra (left) takes on Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano during a friendly on 4 June 2014. (Copyright AFP 2014/Daniel Garcia)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Ataulla Guerra (left) takes on Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano during a friendly on 4 June 2014.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Daniel Garcia)

Wired868: I have suggested before that we don’t seem to be as effective against teams that match our athleticism and physical strength. Is that fair?

Hart: Well, that is difficult to say. Athletically, you will have to argue that the US were as athletic as anybody and we did quite well. We did well against Panama as well.

The thing is when we enter the game with the right mindset and we realise that our physical quality has to be matched with our technical quality and we have to bring our concentration into it as well. Then we do well.

But if we lapse in one of those three departments… We have a tendency that when the real game stress is on us, we make mistakes and let teams into the game. So what we have to strive for is to be more consistent and determined, so that when we are on top, we maximise that time period.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones (left) tussles with St Vincent and the Grenadines captain Roy Richards during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action at Arnos Vale on 25 March 2016. Trinidad and Tobago won 3-2. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones (left) tussles with St Vincent and the Grenadines captain Roy Richards during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action at Arnos Vale on 25 March 2016.
Trinidad and Tobago won 3-2.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

Wired868: How do we improve our mental strength?

Hart: I think a lot of that has to do with the environment that we play in. If you look at Sheldon Bateau (and the) improvement in his game in Belgium and now in Russia.

When you have to come up against a top striker who has seen everything and you must match wits with that player, then you have no choice but to concentrate.

But when you come up against players where you can have a number of errors that won’t get punished, then your concentration slips… It depends on your environment.

As I tell everybody, Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner was Larry Holmes. And Larry Holmes went on to be world champion.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Sheldon Bateau (right) tries to wrestle the ball from Panama attacker Rolando Escobar during a friendly international at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva in March 2015. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Sheldon Bateau (right) tries to wrestle the ball from Panama attacker Rolando Escobar during a friendly international at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva in March 2015.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Wired868: What do you expect of St Vincent and the Grenadines?

Hart: I have watched their games. They are athletic, organised and they can surprise, especially on the counter attack as they surprised the US in the opening minutes of their game…

Photo: St Vincent and the Grenadines attacker David Pitt (left) holds off Trinidad and Tobago defender Daneil Cyrus (centre) while teammate Justin Hoyte looks on during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action at Arnos Vale on 25 March 2016. Trinidad and Tobago won 3-2. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)
Photo: St Vincent and the Grenadines attacker David Pitt (left) holds off Trinidad and Tobago defender Daneil Cyrus (centre) while teammate Justin Hoyte looks on during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action at Arnos Vale on 25 March 2016.
Trinidad and Tobago won 3-2.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

Wired868: So they match some of our better qualities then?

Hart: Yes, they have similar characteristics to us. Right now, you have a couple of teams that are really pushing the envelope of Caribbean football. St Vincent is one and Antigua is another one. They are really raising the level and if we are not careful, with the introduction now of what is going on in Curaçao and Suriname, we can find ourselves in a bit of trouble.

Suriname apparently now has 80 players from Holland registered to play for them and (Curaçao coach) Patrick Kluivert told me he only had one player from Curaçao on his team. The rest were all Dutch.

But going back to St Vincent, they have some really good qualities. They have gotten some players that, on the day, have shown they can get results. They shocked Jamaica in Jamaica. So we have to be ready to play like it is a final.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Andre Boucaud (centre) is surrounded by four St Vincent and the Grenadines players during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action at Arnos Vale on 25 March 2016. Trinidad and Tobago won 3-2. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Andre Boucaud (centre) is surrounded by four St Vincent and the Grenadines players during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action at Arnos Vale on 25 March 2016.
Trinidad and Tobago won 3-2.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

Wired868: So the upcoming Caribbean Cup should be a fantastic contest?

Hart: I thought the last Caribbean Cup was very good. The ground conditions were not good enough to live up to the standard of football that was being played, if you understand what I mean. I think it could have been even better if ground conditions were perfect. Because that makes a lot, a lot of difference. But I thought the quality was very good.

French Guiana were fantastic with all the French players coming in. Martinique were a good team. Of course, (so were) Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua… They were all knocking on the door (and) the games were close.

Haiti was, to me, the best team in the tournament, outside of us. (Laughs). Haiti were very good and two mistakes cost them against Jamaica. So I was really impressed with the quality of the (2014) Caribbean Cup.

Photo: The Haiti football team celebrate after their 1-0 triumph over Honduras during the 2015 Gold Cup tournament. (Courtesy MexSport/CONCACAF)
Photo: The Haiti football team celebrate after their 1-0 triumph over Honduras during the 2015 Gold Cup tournament.
(Courtesy MexSport/CONCACAF)

Wired868: And back to the St Vincent challenge…

Hart: Hopefully we will be in the right frame of mind… Trevin (Caesar) only recently joined his club due to visa issues, which meant he missed most of his pre-season. Kevan George (who wasn’t selected for the World Cup qualifiers) doesn’t have a team at the moment. Andre (Boucaud) hasn’t played (for his club) in their last two games. But everybody else is competing and pushing for selection.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones (left) drives a shot past teammate Kevan George (centre) during a training session in Buenos Aires in June 2014. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA Media)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones (left) drives a shot past teammate Kevan George (centre) during a training session in Buenos Aires in June 2014.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA Media)

Wired868: What is the difference of the challenge in managing Trinidad and Tobago and a CONCACAF giant like the United States?

Hart: Jurgen Klinsmann and the United States and Mexico and all of the top CONCACAF teams have massive staff. Jurgen, and the Mexican coach, has a manager just to manage his own business and then they have managers for the teams’ affairs, etcetera. Jurgen just finished having a three week camp with 40 players in January with two international games. We don’t have those luxuries.

The reality is you work on a completely different playing field to those countries. And sometimes the demands of the Trinidad and Tobago public and our supporters (for results) are the same as the demands (on the United States team).

Our public does not care or does not know that we are not preparing at the same level. So when we come away with small results or a tie against Mexico and stuff like that, it gives us an illusion that all is well. And it is not necessarily so.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Keron Cummings (third from right) celebrates his second strike against Mexico with teammates (from right) Khaleem Hyland, Kenwyne Jones and Kevan George at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. (Copyright Nicholas Kamm/AFP 2015)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Keron Cummings (third from right) celebrates his second strike against Mexico with teammates (from right) Khaleem Hyland, Kenwyne Jones and Kevan George at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
(Copyright Nicholas Kamm/AFP 2015)

Editor’s Note: Click HERE for Part One where Soca Warriors coach Stephen Hart tells Wired868 why coaches must stop ordering young players to pass so much, what his Warriors are lacking, the new Bert Neptune and why he enjoys watching the Shiva Boys duo of Quinn Rodney and Tyrel “Pappy” Emmanuel in action

Or HERE for Part Two as Stephen Hart talks about harsh lessons against Haiti and Honduras, what a Pro League collapse could mean to Trinidad and Tobago football, the Cornell Glen dilemma and why he has balls like grapefruits.

AboutLasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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23 comments

  1. Expecting great results in this 2018 campaign

  2. Hart, unlike many, has the opportunity to mold the team going into a WC. By now he knows all the dynamics of this crop of players and what it takes to keep them focused. Just hope they give him the resources he requires to perform.

  3. The mentality of the team will definitely be tested in this WCQ round. Our destiny is in our own hands and it would be nice if we could seal progress to the Hex before playing the US.

    • Who is the team though? I feel like we don’t even have a clear starting eleven.
      And if Bostock does join that changes things up again.
      I feel like people just aren’t playing together enough and aren’t as familiar with each other as they should be. Ppl don’t seem able to predict what another player will do. It seemed to me as if they couldn’t read each other at all on Friday.

    • Bostock won’t be registered in time. That’s confirmed. But I would make changes to that squad. Some men need a lil wake up.

    • Looking back at the interview, I guess Andre Boucaud might not have been fully match fit. I would give him a rest. Also maybe Cyrus.
      Not permanent. Just to freshen things up.

    • I didn’t mean Bostock for Tuesday. I meant in the future. Like September or even the next round.
      I feel like the best teams have a clear starting eleven and those guys play together for a while. We don’t seem to have that.

    • Yeah. Agreed. I think some of the players just are not consistent enough. But the spine has been Jan-Michael, Bateau, Abu Bakr, Cyrus, Hyland, Boucaud, Joevin, Molino and Kenwyne. Those are nine players, which isn’t bad.

    • I think we have established a core though. The left-back and right wing spots still seem to be up for the taking however

    • Problem is some of that core having a dip in form right now. Levi made a strong case for that right flank and Aubrey did a good job at left back too.

    • Molino’s in the spine? Dude just got back from a lengthy layoff. Plus is he even playing on Tuesday? Coach said he didn’t know if he could run the two matches in just four days.
      And I forgot about Abu Bakr. Defense missed him on Friday for sure!
      And are Cyrus and Boucaud still part of the spine if they’re making way for Levi and Hackshaw? Maybe I don’t quite understand what the spine is… ?
      I’d just like to see a consistent starting eleven with guys who can predict to a reasonable degree what their teammates are going to do.

    • Well, when I say spine I mean the guys I’d expect to start once fit. Some guys having a dip in form. But with their qualities I’m thinking that will be temporary.

    • It would be nice if Aubrey can bring some stability to the LB position because Williams and Bateau aren’t natural full backs

    • Love the comments. Would like to see Levi at left wing and match fit Cato or Peltier at right wing in the same game. Aubrey is a pretty good left back in my opinion. Not a big fan of Cyrus in a wing back role, but the coach seems to be getting what he wants from him. I also believe that Kenwyne has to step up his intensity, and it just might help his productivity and end product.. When in form and in the right frame of mind, Guerra has to be a member of this team.

    • You want a recall for Corn Curls Brian? You trying to get banned from this group yes. Lol.

    • I like Levi switching wings like against St Vincent. I want to see more of that. But remember young players are never consistent eh.
      So he shouldn’t suddenly become a 90 minute player.

  4. I was talking to a guy who’s something in st Vincent football ( I forget what title he said) but he was saying that they feel as if they have a good football program and they’re surprised by the results they’ve gotten so far. Meaning they feel like they should at least have a point. That was before Friday’s match and they were very confident going into Friday’s match.

    • St Vincent’s first qualification at this level came in the mid-1990s under T&T coach Bertille St Clair. Just like Guyana’s first stint in the CONCACAF semifinal stage came under Jamaal Shabazz.
      And the current St Vincent coach Cornelius Huggins played in Trinidad for Caledonia AIA.
      So, we are still their godfathers. They should have some respect. Lol.
      Their captain, who was excellent, played in the Pro League too.
      In fact, if Pro League clubs start paying better salaries again. We would start attracting the Caribbean talent we used to and improve our own standard of football in the process.

    • You’re forever dropping knowledge on me. Lol ?
      The guy might have been a little fresh cause he was talking to a female… who knows.
      But good luck with that better salaries in the pro league thing in the face of a reduced state subvention.