“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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.