The Italian renaissance of the Trinidad and Tobago National Women’s Team programme appears to be over—after just under six months—as the much vaunted head coach Carolina Morace officially informed the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) on Friday that she has had enough.
Morace, a former Italy player and Canada World Cup coach, was tightlipped about her sudden departure from the Women Soca Warriors post and a deal that was due to run until the France 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
But she did make one thing clear: it was not a resignation. Not exactly.
“The right terminology is,” Morace told Wired868, “the contract [is] terminated for just cause.”
Morace holds a law degree and the wording leaves little room for misinterpretation. The Italian football coach, whose signing was hailed as a coup for the David John-Williams-led TTFA, is likely to now take the football body to court—and the cost could be substantial.
Although John-Williams never confirmed the value of the TTFA’s contract to Morace and her assistants Nicola Williams, Elisabetta Bavagnoli and Manuela Tesse, it was rumoured to cost US$24,000 per month. If that figure is correct, then the local football body could owe its Italian coaches TT$4.3 million (US$648,000) for the duration of their contracts.
Worse, the TTFA would have to find money to hire new coaches for the Women’s National Senior, Under-20 and Under-17 Teams while still paying bumper wages to the departed Italians. And, if ex-women’s coach Even Pellerud is any gauge, the consequences for the local football body, if they default on the payment, could be dire—as FIFA had threatened to suspend Trinidad and Tobago from international football until its former Norwegian coach was paid.
In the short term, the local FA, which hosts the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in Trinidad from 18 January 2018, need a coach to prepare its team.
Wired868 understands that local National Under-20 Team assistant coach Desiree Sarjeant, a former international player and ex-St Augustine Secondary coach, is expected to step in and coach the youth and senior team on Monday in a combined session.
However, it is uncertain how the TTFA will remedy the situation in the long term.
The exodus of Italian coaches started at least two months ago when Under-17 coach Manuela Tessa told local staff that she would not return—supposedly because the local football body had not provided the level of preparation promised to her squad.
By then, ex-Italy international Elisabetta Bavagnoli, who was supposed to assist all three teams, was already conspicuous by her absence.
John-Williams declined comment on the whereabouts of Tessa and Bavagnoli and, so far, his general secretary Justin Latapy-George has also held his tongue on the recent departures of Morace and the Under-20 head coach Nicola Williams, who was born in England but lives in Australia.
Morace has not offered an explanation for her departure just yet. However, Wired868 understands that the issue is part-financial and part-administrative.
The TTFA has allegedly not paid its foreign coaches in three months—but even that is not a straightforward matter.
In March, John-Williams told the media that the women’s programme would be funded by a CONCACAF subvention.
“I’m happy to say that the CONCACAF programme is going to finance the women’s programme,” said the TTFA president. “Don’t get the misconception that we’re contracting coaches and we can’t pay them—we have specific allocations. So therefore the $125,000 US that we get a year from CONCACAF is going to go into the women’s programme.”
The problem, allegedly, lay in how the TTFA hoped to pay Morace and her assistants. Wired868 understands that John-Williams asked CONCACAF for an advance on its subvention to the local football body to meet financial obligations to his women’s staff and players.
The confederation, according to informed sources, agreed to wire money directly to the respective accounts of the employees rather than write a cheque to the TTFA, which would have allowed the football body to service its own debts.
CONCACAF’s wariness in handing over money to the TTFA is believed to be a throwback to the creative accounting and controversial use of football funding by former local football presidents.
So, CONCACAF was supposedly happy to pay Morace and her staff. But the Italian allegedly refused to sign the document to receive the money, based on legal advice about the potential tax implications.
Morace’s Trinidad counterparts found her exceedingly fussy.
“If the money is there for you,” they asked, “then why not just take it?”
However, the Italian was not willing to take chances with her accounting books. Could Morace explain to the Italy taxman why there were huge deposits in her bank account from CONCACAF when her job contract was with the TTFA?
She was, according to a source, wary of the potential complications. But this did not mean Morace was unwilling to consider other avenues to settle the matter.
Wired868 was informed that the Italian tried repeatedly to find a solution with John-Williams and was allegedly frustrated by the football president’s perceived indifference to her phone calls or tardiness in responding to emails.
One possible option was that Morace would approach the corporate sector, as she had done in Canada, to raise money for the programme. It is uncertain whether she ever got the chance to broach such suggestions to the football president.
It was not, according to a source, that Morace felt John-Williams did not care whether she and her staff were paid or not. But she was concerned that the football president might be incapable—whether due to stubbornness or incompetence—of finding the required formula.
Wired868 has tried, so far without success, to ascertain whether the TTFA has an active marketing or finance committee at present and who is on either committee. Latapy-George has promised to prove the information at a later, unspecified date.
Morace’s own hard-nosed approach to her job is infamous. In Canada, players moaned that the Italian supposedly refused to make allowances for student/athletes, scorned their style of play and even banned peanut butter from their diets.
In Trinidad, veteran winger Ahkeela Mollon stopped attending sessions after she felt the coach mocked her request to leave evening sessions before the ice baths—and do them at home instead—so as not to tempt fate by driving into her crime-ridden Longdenville neighbourhood too late.
There were fall outs too with former captain Maylee Attin-Johnson, star attacker Kennya “Yaya” Cordner and equipment manager Steve “Pokeyman” Fredericks; although, to her credit, there were also good reviews from senior players like Mariah Shade and observers from within the football fraternity. And Morace insisted she had excellent working relations with the bulk of her squad.
One memorable story lingers of a cancelled screening in Tobago, which is used to typify Morace’s refusal to compromise her standards—even for the sake of her new employers.
Morace, according to an eye witness, arrived for the training session in the “Sister Isle” only to discover that the groundsman was still in the process of marking the field, despite at least a week’s notice of the event.
There were over a dozen eager young players waiting to show their stuff to the Italian. But, without a word, Morace and her assistant allegedly turned around and headed straight to the ANR Robinson International Airport for a flight back to Trinidad.
Morace is eyeing the departure lounge once again. And it is likely to mean a huge bill for the TTFA, which is already facing legal action and/or struggling to pay former employees like Russell Latapy, Anton Corneal, Kendall Walkes, Stephen Hart, Ramesh Ramdhan and Sheldon Phillips.
“The Italians had brought a vast improvement to the women’s game with the programme they put in place,” one football insider told Wired868, on condition of anonymity. “This has nothing to do with the fact that they were foreign. They just have more knowledge than us and you could see it. And they were bringing it to the programme.
“Everyone was talking about how well the under-20s were doing, for instance, because [Nicola Williams] is a teacher and she was very good at getting ideas across.”
The Trinidad and Tobago women’s programme looks like it will now have to do without their services on the field of play—although the TTFA could still end up footing the bill for their expertise.