New Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team and Under-20 Team head coach Jamaal Shabazz believes he is the right man to steady the ship as the Women Soca Warriors attempt to recover from the abrupt departure of Italian head coach Carolina Morace and her three assistants.
Morace and assistant Nicola Williams handed in their resignations last Friday and Morace, who has a law degree, told Wired868 that the most accurate description of what happened is to say that “the contract [is] terminated for just cause.”
The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), which is headed by president David John-Williams, is already bracing for legal action and the value of the part of the football body’s contract with the foreign coaches which is still unpaid is estimated at TT$4.3 million (US$648,000).
But even as the TTFA braces for a fresh lawsuit—and the local body is already dealing with at least a half-dozen cases—the Women Warriors still have a programme to maintain and three World Cup qualifying campaigns to contest at Senior, Under-20 and Under-17 level.
Shabazz, a former Trinidad and Tobago Women’s Senior Team coach as well as head coach for the Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana Men’s National Teams, backs himself to make a success of the current challenge.
“I think the programme right now needs some stability and, given what they have asked of me, I can provide stability,” Shabazz told Wired868. “Most of these girls I know as kids and saw them grow into womanhood. I have great respect for them and I think there is mutual respect.”
Shabazz spent his first day on the job by erasing one of the more controversial aspects of Morace’s tenure—the suspension of former captain Maylee Attin-Johnson and star attacker Kennya “Yaya” Cordner and the self-imposed exile of ex-Europe-based winger Ahkeela Mollon.
Morace said Attin-Johnson and Cordner were both suspended for violating team rules; Shabazz will overturn that decision.
“Today, I am going to meet with Ahkeela Mollon and Maylee Attin-Johnson and talk to Kennya Cordner on Skype to see how we can mend some broken fences,” said Shabazz, who claimed he had previously kept his distance from the issue. “There were players on the Under-20 Team and the Senior Team who are not in the programme right now and I intend to meet with everybody, hear everybody and try to start with a clean slate.”
Ironically, Shabazz took credit for the TTFA’s decision to hire Morace in the first place although he admitted that their relationship soured during her time in Trinidad.
“I was the person that took her resume to David John-Williams—myself and [team manager] Jinelle James—as co-ordinator of programmes for the TTFA at the time,” said Shabazz. “I felt the women’s programme needed a high-profile female with a high level of competency. [But] at some point in time, I fell out of favour with her.
“I have the utmost respect for her and the work she tried to put in in the last six months. […] I have nothing bad to say for her and I tried to keep out of her way because I understood how she wanted to deal with matters.”
Shabazz withdrew from the women’s programme in 2011 and said then the team needed fresh ideas. And he repeatedly insisted that he was not interested in a coaching position under the current football administration.
So what has changed?
The Morvant Caledonia United head coach said his time on the bench in the Pro League this season stirred his competitive juices while the resources provided for the women’s programme under Morace also caught his attention.
“Given the resources that I know were made available to the last technical staff, I am confident we can do this,” said Shabazz. “Because this bunch of girls used to sleep on the ground in the Larry Gomes Stadium when we had double sessions [and] they never got friendly matches and contracts and stipends.
“With all these things in play, I think the onus is now on us to step up to the plate and give it our best possible shot.”
Shabazz said he intends to copy the structure of the coaching set-up under Morace and currently used by men’s coach Dennis Lawrence, which, he suggested, makes better use of assistant coaches than has always been the case at local level.
“We are going to demonstrate, based on the example of Dennis Lawrence and his staff, that men and women can work together for the benefit of the programme,” said Shabazz, “because we see the master come here with an entourage and they operate under leadership and loyalty. I have been a slave for many, many centuries and now I have become a free man, I understand how to make it work; I feel even better than the master.
“When you look at how Ms Morace ran it, […] I feel we can replicate that working together and try to get the results.”
Shabazz admitted that he had a personal relationship with the current TTFA president but dismissed any suggestion of favouritism, insisting that his CV spoke for itself.
“If a man or woman could look at my track record and think [that my appointment] is a (case of a) job for the boys, then I think that there is nothing I can do or say in my own defence,” said Shabazz. “[…] Yes, I supported John-Williams in the [TTFA] elections and I ask the question: did I commit a sin? Who did Keith Look Loy support in the election? Who did other people support?
“Election is one facet of the football dynamics [and right now] I am concerned with what happens on the field.”
At present, Shabazz holds an armful of jobs as, apart from being coach of two national women’s teams, he is also the TTFA Youth Football Co-ordinator and Morvant Caledonia United head coach.
He suggested he was likely to give up the Youth Football Coordinator post but would continue to run the Morvant Caledonia team.
“In terms of Morvant Caledonia, I see no conflict there at all,” Shabazz told Wired868. “It has always been a mentoring with [assistant coach] Abdallah Phillips and that will continue… I did those jobs and more when some of my critics were in charge of the technical aspect of Trinidad and Tobago’s football. But I do not know if it was because Jack Warner was in charge [but] not a dog barked then.”
Shabazz tried to explain how the responsibilities of the Elite Development Programme, which is funded to the tune of TT$8 million by NLCB, are shared between technical director Muhammad Isa, National Senior Team assistant coach and W Connection head coach Stuart Charles-Février and himself.
It means that instead of the TTFA hiring one person to oversee the programme, they have hired several persons who juggle duties between the Elite Youth Programme and other jobs within the football body or at their respective clubs.
Charles-Février and his assistant coaches Leonson Lewis and Clyde Leon are all employees at the W Connection football club, which is owned by John-Williams.
Shabazz insisted that the managerial structure of the Elite programme was a practical one.
“Stuart Charles was selected by the Board to be the head coach,” said Shabazz. “My role was to supervise the programme and make sure the zones were training and so on. I work alongside Isa, who focuses more on grassroots and coach education and supervising the national teams in training.
“The Elite Programme was a specific programme that needed specific attention… [With] the magnitude of the work, I think having more coaches is better rather than less.”
For the immediate future, Shabazz will juggle his time between two national teams and his Pro League outfit. But he is confident about what he can bring to the Women Warriors and is anxious to resume professional relations with the likes of Tasha St Louis, Karyn Forbes, Dernelle Mascall and Attin-Johnson, whom he credited for their exceptional understanding of the game.
“What is needed is someone who can come in and get these girls working again and focusing on football and giving of their best for the country,” said Shabazz, “and I am not just talking about players but staff too. There are three things we need to juggle here: individual needs, needs of the group and the mission and what it requires.
“We need to be able to juggle the three. I feel with the little I know about management and the Senior Women’s team, I am very confident that we can do this.”