Former Trinidad and Tobago football legend Russell Latapy is believed to head the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s (TTFA) wishlist, as the technical committee ponders its replacement for outgoing coach Tom Saintfiet.
However, the Soca Warriors are pleading with the local football body to return Stephen Hart to the helm.
Saintfiet, who lost both 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup playoff matches to Suriname and Haiti on 4 and 8 January respectively, informed the public that he had resigned his post on Wednesday morning, just one month into his tenure.
The journeyman Belgian, whose former jobs included the Bangladesh, Malawi and Namibia National Teams, blamed TTFA president David John-Williams for creating an environment that made it impossible for him to be successful.
Wired868 understands that, even before Saintfiet quit, Latapy—who served as the Belgian’s assistant—had already been offered the job. However, this was not confirmed by either party and, even then, the approach was said to have occurred after the Warriors lost to Haiti on Sunday night.
There is no suggestion that Latapy did not fully support Saintfiet during the latter’s short-lived stint as head coach. However, if Latapy does take over the top job, it would be the second time that he inherited the position after serving as assistant to his predecessor.
On 8 April 2009, then head coach Francisco Maturana resigned and claimed that there were “differences of opinion in the last couple of games with Latapy” and there was “never one belief” with his assistant.
Then TTFF special advisor Jack Warner appointed Latapy on an interim basis with Zoran Vranes as his assistant. Vranes was subsequently replaced while Latapy kept his place for a total of 20 months.
In 13 competitive matches, Latapy led the Warriors to five wins, one draw and seven defeats and was eventually relieved his place after Trinidad and Tobago were dumped out of the 2010 Caribbean Cup at the group stage with defeats to Cuba and Grenada.
Latapy’s return to international duty, last September, was also a disappointment as Trinidad and Tobago were eliminated in the group stage on home soil in the Caribbean Under-17 Championship after losses to Haiti and Jamaica.
Latapy, a former World Cup 2006 player and Porto and Glasgow Rangers playmaker, barely had three weeks with the youth team before the competition.
And, if one of the country’s most iconic players gets the nod from the TTFA technical committee, it will be another devilishly difficult task with Trinidad and Tobago needing at least four points in Port of Spain against Panama and Mexico to kickstart their campaign on 24 and 28 March respectively.
Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene chairs the technical committee, which also includes Dr Alvin Henderson (vice-chairman), Muhammad Isa (technical director), Errol Lovell and Jinelle James. Former 1991 World Youth Cup coach Bertille St Clair has taken leave from the committee for health reasons.
Notably, Latapy is not the players’ choice—although nine members of the current Warriors pool ran out under “the Little Magician”, six years ago.
In an email to John-Williams and TTFA vice-presidents Joanne Salazar and Ewing Davis, the national footballers urged the local football body to reinstate Hart. The email was sent by Central FC goalkeeper and players’ representative Jan-Michael Williams but was said to represent 23 unnamed national players who all collaborated in the message.
“We, the players, come to you with utmost humility, asking for your consideration with regards to the selection of a new coach for the National Men’s Senior Team. We have accumulated a list of four names for special and serious consideration for the position of Head Coach and Assistant Coach.
“We KNOW it is not our decision to make, neither is it our place to make such demands, but we—23 current players—have pooled our knowledge, resources and ideas together to come up with a few names for your immediate consideration.
“We can all agree that we the players have interacted with these names at some level, so we can safely say our knowledge can be used in this regard.”
The coaches identified by the players are: Hart, W Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier and former Central FC and San Juan Jabloteh coach Terry Fenwick.
Trinidad and Tobago national players are not usually given a say in the selection of coaches but there is precedent. In 2005, Warner hired Englishman Ron Atkinson to replace Bertille St Clair—three games into the Hex—and, as a matter of courtesy, informed the senior players before revealing his choice to the media.
However, the senior players, led by captain Dwight Yorke and goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, refused to play for Atkinson due to his previous run-ins with Yorke and racist remarks the controversial manager made about former France World Cup winning captain Marcel Desailly.
So, Warner did an about-turn and eventually returned with former Real Madrid and Netherlands coach Leo Beenhakker instead.
In this case, the Warriors are suggesting who they would like to have as coach rather than who they do not want. The 23 players stressed too that, although Hart was their first choice, they had not decided on the preferred candidate between Fevrier and Fenwick.
Fevrier, a St Lucian by birth, spent most of his adult life in Trinidad and coached in the local top flight since 1999. He spent six months as Trinidad and Tobago coach in 2003 but was replaced before ever leading the team into competitive action.
His record of two wins, three draws and three losses was seen as credible at the time against largely decent opposition like South Africa, Venezuela and Morocco.
However, Fevrier was replaced by St Clair at the supposed insistence of a few senior players led by star striker Stern John. Although the St Lucian is a widely respected local coach, his proximity to Connection owner John-Williams could potentially be a double-edged sword.
Fenwick, a former England World Cup defender and Tottenham Spurs captain, has never coached a national team but is a multiple Pro League Coach of the Year and is widely regarded as one of the best—if not the best—coach on the island.
His teams are athletic, aggressive and tactical flexible and he worked with most of the current squad including Khaleem Hyland, Kevin Molino, Sheldon Bateau and Williams. But his relationship with John-Williams is strained while his blunt, brash style has divided football stakeholders.
Interestingly, Fenwick and Fevrier were believed to have been on the technical committee’s shortlist, even before the appeal from the national players.
Serbian coach Zoran Vranes, who led Trinidad and Tobago at the 2009 Under-20 World Cup, and Colombian Francisco Maturana, who coached his native team at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups and is a former South America Coach of the Year, are also believed to be on the TTFA’s radar.
Fenwick, Vranes and Maturana all applied for the national post, two months ago, but were overlooked for Saintfiet.
Wired868 understands that Maturana, who steered Trinidad and Tobago into the Hex for the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, will not return as a stop gap measure and is only interested in the post if he has the opportunity to rebuild the national team.
Fenwick is believed to be also disinterested in a short-term appointment.
If the TTFA insists that its next coach—like Saintfiet—will only be guaranteed employment until the end of March, it is likely to thin their options even further.
At present, Latapy, who is already employed by the TTFA as a national youth team director, seems to be the preferred candidate. But the players have other ideas.
The Warriors stressed, though, that they would give full support to whoever is selected by the local football body.
“We pledge our full support regardless of who is selected to the position, even if it a person or persons outside of this list, as we know that we the players play an integral part in helping the team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.”
There was one other request from the players. They want team doctor Terence Babwah and paramedic Dave Isaac gone due to a supposed breakdown in trust, after the two staff members claimed that Hart used Williams against medical advice for Trinidad and Tobago’s last World Cup qualifier away to Honduras.
“We would also like that the duo of Dr Terrence Babwah and Dave Isaac be replaced with IMMEDIATE EFFECT, because of the lack of trust that we the players have in them,” stated the players. “We look forward to working with you—the Federation—hand in hand to reach our goal, which is qualification for the 2018 World Cup.”
(Full statement from 23 Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team players)
Good day Members of the TTFA,
We hope this message meets you all in good health and spirits.
We, the players, come to you with utmost humility, asking for your consideration with regards to the selection of a new coach for the National Men’s Senior Team. We have accumulated a list of four names for special and serious consideration for the position of Head Coach and Assistant Coach.
We KNOW it is not our decision to make, neither is it our place to make such demands, but we—23 current players—have pooled our knowledge, resources and ideas together to come up with a few names for your immediate consideration.
We can all agree that we the players have interacted with these names at some level, so we can safely say our knowledge can be used in this regard. We pledge our full support regardless of who is selected to the position, even if it a person or persons outside of this list, as we know that we the players play an integral part in helping the team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
We also ask that we be treated without prejudice, neither for the composition of this list nor for allowing it into the hands of the media, as we believe it will be treated with the seriousness it requires when we do so. The list is as follows:
Head coaches for consideration:
Angus Eve (Assistant Coach)
We would also like that the duo of Dr Terrence Babwah and Dave Isaac be replaced with IMMEDIATE EFFECT, because of the lack of trust that we the players have in them.
We look forward to working with you—the Federation—hand in hand to reach our goal, which is qualification for the 2018 World Cup.