Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Tom Saintfiet has accused Central FC managing director and ex-World Cup 2006 defender Brent Sancho of displaying a lesser mentality than developing nation, Bangladesh—his former employers—after the pair clashed over the release of players for national training, which began on Thursday 15 December at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Saintfiet selected 29 players for his first training squad—Ma Pau Stars midfielder Elton John was added to the initial 28 players. However, none of his three Central FC call-ups took part in training yesterday evening or this morning.
Goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams, who has been the regular first choice for the Soca Warriors over the past four years, and two-time World Youth Cup midfielder Sean De Silva both turned up. But, according to interim assistant coach Jamaal Shabazz, the two Central players informed the coaching staff that they were instructed not to train until Sancho authorised it.
Bustling Central midfielder Nathaniel “Spanish” Garcia, who is the elder brother of Warriors winger Levi Garcia, did not show up at all. Otherwise, the only absentee was John, who had not yet been informed of his selection due to an administrative mix-up.
“Jan and De Silva came but did not train,” Shabazz told Wired868. “They told the coach they could not train and that Brent said he will come and talk to the coach [first]. Brent came [after the training had started] and did not stay to speak to the coach. Garcia did not show up.”
The situation remained unchanged this morning with the three Central players and John all missing out. It is uncertain whether team manager Azaad Khan has contacted the Stars player yet.
The tension between the new national coach and the Pro League’s defending champions was days in the making, as Sancho allegedly took exception to Saintfiet’s decision to have mandatory training sessions in the midst of the domestic season and outside of the FIFA match window.
On Wednesday, Saintfiet, Shabazz and Khan met representatives from the Pro League clubs but Sancho did not turn up. Khan, according to Shabazz, called Sancho on the phone in the presence of the room to clarify his stance regarding the team’s training schedule.
“[Sancho] explained that he was down to only 17 players,” said Shabazz. “And Tom got angry and said [Central] were not sticking to an agreement made with the Pro League about the release of players, long before he came to Trinidad. And [Saintfiet] said even in a developing country like Bangladesh, they are more serious about their national team.”
Shabazz said the 10 Pro League clubs agreed, at the start of the season, to release players for international duty when required to help the Russia 2018 World Cup campaign and not to postpone matches, so as to ensure an early end to the competition in February 2017.
“As clubs, we had an agreement that even for the FIFA window we will not stop the league,” said Shabazz. “And once the players were required for national duty, clubs would play without their national players.”
The rushed, abbreviated format of the 2016/17 competition is meant to facilitate a switch in the Pro League’s schedule, which will revert from April to December from next year onwards.
The change means the Pro League will avoid fixtures around the Carnival and Christmas periods while, ironically, the main beneficiaries are likely to be teams who participate in the CONCACAF Champions League—like Central FC—who will now be facing North and Central American opposition in mid-season rather than pre-season form.
Saintfiet, according to Shabazz, agreed to allow his players to participate in Pro League games on Friday and Sunday but has still demanded they train on mornings on both days. From Tuesday, the national team players enter camp and will not be allowed to join their clubs at all.
Wired868 understands at least one of the three Central players was unaware that he was obliged to train with the national team and suggested, through an intermediary, that Sancho claimed to have agreed a compromise with Saintfiet. The special arrangement, according to the player, would have allowed them to skip national sessions on Thursday and Friday and enter camp after their Tuesday game.
Shabazz insisted that no such pact was in place between the national team and Central. It means De Silva, Garcia and Williams may be forced to choose between the two parties, unless either Saintfiet or Sancho gives way.
However, Central operations manager Kevin Harrison said the the league leaders and defending champions were sticking to their guns.
He said the club explained their position to the trio, which is that they would be allowed to have “a few sessions” under Saintfiet in the coming week but will not be released until Christmas Eve, which is on the eve of the national team’s departure for Nicaragua.
Harrison suggested that their extra outings for Central should be a benefit to the Warriors.
“Players will be released from 24th December,” Harrison told Wired868. “However, we also agreed that they can join the camp for a few sessions before that. Obviously they will be more match fit than the players who are in the training camp. And Mr Saintfiet will be able to watch them in competitive action, unlike those in camp…
“Brent told Sean [De Silva] and Jan-Michael [Williams] to tell Saintfiet that we would allow them to train on several occasions over the next week.”
Harrison disagreed with Shabazz’s interpretation of the Pro League’s agreement with the Soca Warriors.
“There seems to be some confusion here. Pro League clubs agreed to play through FIFA windows even when players were with the national team. In fact, I believe it was Brent who proposed this. That decision did not obligate clubs to release players unilaterally outside of FIFA windows.
“While we wish to remain as supportive as possible to the national head coach, we also have three Pro League games in the coming week.”
The actual Pro League clause reads: “All teams have agreed to play their matches through the FIFA international windows without any breaks once matches are not carded on the actual FIFA Match Day.”
Harrison pointed the finger of blame squarely at the national football team’s management for Garcia’s failure to turn up to meet Saintfiet on Thursday evening.
“The only request we received [for our players to join the national team] did not give training times,” said Harrison. “Garcia [who lives in Mon Repos] arrived for our training [on Thursday] unaware of when national training was taking place. We read it in the papers!
“It made no sense for him to travel home after our training and then travel back in the evening. Jan-Michael [Williams] was asked to explain this to Saintfiet.”
The “Couva Sharks”, who have a six point lead atop the standings, face fifth placed Club Sando this evening from 6pm in the opening game of a double header at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. Police FC and W Connection clash from 8pm in the second fixture.
Central are due to face face second from bottom, Morvant Caledonia United, on Tuesday evening. Morvant Caledonia will also be without national goalkeeper Marvin Phillip.
Of course, the hardest hit Pro League club is second place W Connection who have released Daneil Cyrus, Hughtun Hector, Alvin Jones and Maurice Forde to the national team.
In other national football news, Saintfiet will have to do without Belgium-based midfielder Khaleem Hyland for next month’s 2017 Gold Cup playoffs against Suriname and Haiti on 4 and 8 January respectively.
Hyland’s employers, KV Westerlo, have refused to release the midfielder, who returned to the top flight Belgium club with a hamstring injury after their last World Cup qualifier against Honduras on 15 November. Russia-based defender Sheldon Bateau has also been denied the chance to join the squad.
Clubs are not obliged to release players for this month’s friendlies away to Nicaragua on 27 and 30 December or next month’s competitive affairs, as the games all fall outside the FIFA international match window.
Wired868 understands that Saintfiet still hopes to have AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands) winger Levi Garcia and Dagenham & Redbridge (England) midfielder Andre Boucaud available but is not assured of landing either player.
The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) is understood to be waiting for confirmation from Louisville City FC (USA) goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh and RC Lens (France) midfielder John Bostock. Bostock agreed to represent the Warriors, under former coach Stephen Hart, but only showed up on one of the three occasions that he was summoned and remains uncapped.
(Trinidad and Tobago 29-man squad)
Goalkeepers: Jan Michael Williams (Central FC), Glenroy Samuel (Ma Pau Stars), Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia United), Adrian Foncette (Police FC);
Defenders: Carlos Edwards (Ma Pau Stars), Daneil Cyrus (W Connection), Sheldon Bateau (Krylia Sovetov Samara—Russia), Triston Hodge (Toronto FC II—Canada), Mekeil Williams (Colorado Rapids—USA), Carlyle Mitchell (Seoul E-Land FC—Korea Republic), Radanfah Abu Bakr (Sillamae Kallen—Estonia), Maurice Ford (W Connection), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Aubrey David (Dallas FC—USA);
Midfielders: Nathaniel Garcia (Central FC), Alvin Jones (W Connection), Elton John (Ma Pau Stars), Hughtun Hector (W Connection);
Attacking midfielders: Aikim Andrews (W Connection), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes—USA), Sean De Silva (Central FC), Kevin Molino (Orlando City—USA), Jomal Williams (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Hashim Arcia (Defence Force), Joevin Jones (Seattle Sounders—USA), Jomoul Francois (St Ann’s Rangers);
Forwards: Willis Plaza (San Juan Jabloteh), Shahdon Winchester (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Trevin Caesar (Orange County Blues—USA).