The local football body’s board of directors, according to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s (TTFA) constitution, holds the ultimate responsibility to: “appoint the coaches for the representative teams and other technical staff.”
And it is the board of directors that: “shall appoint the chairmen, deputy chairmen and members of the standing committees”—including the technical committee, which advises the board on technical and development issues.
Yet, in the selection of the Men’s National Senior Team coach Tom Saintfiet, TTFA president David John-Williams—according to a football insider—played a curious intermediary role between board and technical committee that could have potentially infringed upon the function of both entities.
The technical committee, of its own volition, decided to prioritise prospective coaches who had experience leading international teams within the last three years. It was a curious marker since it meant Saintfiet—whose last job as Bangladesh coach had the sum total of one draw and two losses from three games—would place higher than Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp.
And it meant curtains for, among others, ex-Trinidad and Tobago international captain David Nakhid and former San Juan Jabloteh coaches Terry Fenwick, who lives in Trinidad, and Ricky Hill.
So, the technical committee decided on a four-man shortlist of former Japan coach Philippe Troussier, ex-Honduras World Cup coach Luis Fernando Suarez, El Salvador youth coordinator and former Colombia coach Eduardo Lara and Saintfiet, whose highpoint was in charge of a Togo team ranked 96 in the world at the time.
The committee, as John-Williams suggested in today’s press conference, ranked the coaches in this order: Troussier, Saintfiet, Suarez and Lara.
That ranking, according to the source, was because the technical committee did not know if Suarez or Lara spoke English and decided that should outweigh the possible difference in a skill level between Suarez—who took Ecuador and Honduras to World Cups—and Saintfiet whose only brief top flight coaching experience in Europe came in the Faroe Islands.
Crucially, the technical committee never spoke to a single candidate. Instead, they looked at the CVs submitted by the respective coaches and used Google.
And, when their shortlist was done, it was passed on to John-Williams—and not the board. The president was asked to find out whether Suarez or Lara spoke English.
John-Williams reported back that Troussier was too expensive and Suarez and Lara were unavailable—it is still uncertain if either man spoke English or whether it posed an insurmountable barrier in the first place. Incidentally, the TTFA president also supposedly spoke to former United States coach Jürgen Klinsmann earlier and claimed the German said he had already agreed terms to coach in China.
Saintfiet, John-Williams said, was available and affordable.
And on Monday evening, after two weeks in which names like Carlos Dunga, Frank Rijkaard and Suarez were whispered as potential replacements for former national coach Stephen Hart, the TTFA’s board of directors was given just one name to consider: Saintfiet.
It was either vote for the obscure Belgian or nothing—which, presumably, could have meant a fresh probe by the technical committee. The board of directors opted for Saintfiet.
John-Williams spoke briefly about the selection process today.
“The technical committee shortlisted four people, which they recommended the TTFA talk to in particular ranking order,” said the TTFA president. “And Tom came out on top. He was not our first choice—for sure. Our first choice was way out of what we could have afforded. And I make no apologies for saying that.
“And I can tell you who our first choice was as well. Philippe Troussier. And Tom knows that.”
John-Williams also issued a remarkable public threat to the football body’s new coach—at his unveiling, no less.
“I will also tell you this… if he doesn’t get the job done on the 24 and 28 of March, he will be looking for a job,” said John-Williams. “And I make no apologies for saying that. He is laughing but we’re very serious.
“Because if we don’t get the job done on the 24th and 28th of March, we might as well kiss our campaign goodbye.”
So Saintfiet has two games to save his job—and, arguably, is already emasculated publicly before he has even met his team or enjoyed his first day on the job. His vulnerability is unlikely to be an asset when he tries to impose himself on the Soca Warriors dressing room.
But, since only the TTFA board of directors can hire and fire coaches, did John-Williams get approval for his colleagues before his threat, which was supposedly written into Saintfiet’s contract?
Our source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, claimed John-Williams’ threat to sack Saintfiet in three months was not sanctioned by the board.
Wired868 asked the TTFA president whether he got board approval for an early dismissal of Saintfiet, whether the board received only one name to vote for as coach and why he did not pass on at least two prospective coaches for selection.
He did not respond up to the time of publication.
After a bombastic start to his reign as football president—when he sacked head women’s coach, Randy Waldrum, and merely informed the board after the fact—John-Williams was careful to be more circumspect in the replacement of Hart.
Whether that means Saintfiet’s hiring was done by the book is debatable, though.
The current TTFA board of directors comprises: David John-Williams (president), Joanne Salazar, Ewing Davis and Allan Warner (vice-presidents), Samuel Saunders (Central FA), Sherwyn Dyer (Eastern Counties Football Union), Karanjabari Williams (Northern FA), Richard Quan Chan (Southern FA), Anthony Moore (Tobago FA), Joseph Taylor (Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association), Sharon O’Brien (Women’s League Football), Wayne Cunningham (Eastern FA) and Dexter Skeene (TT Pro League).
The TTFA technical committee consists of: Dexter Skeene (chairman), Dr Alvin Henderson (vice-chairman), Bertille St Clair (former World Youth Cup coach), Errol Lovell (former national goalkeeper), Jinelle James (ex-national player and current administrator) and Muhammad Isa (technical director).