Former Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) technical director Anton Corneal will re-assume the post he quit three years ago, as part of a settlement with the local football body of a seven-figure debt owed to the former national youth coach.
His appointment means a portfolio change for current technical director Muhammad Isa, who now becomes the TTFA’s “director of football.”
Corneal initially quit as technical director on 1 April 2014 after going two and a half months without full pay. He told Wired868 then that the TTFA and the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SPORTT) had agreed that each would pay half of his salary. Instead, what allegedly happened is that SPORTT paid half of Corneal’s salary for eight months before stopping while the TTFA never gave him a cent.
Corneal, hired as the TTFA’s youth director in 2004, was appointed technical director under acting president Lennox Watson but when he finally walked off the job, Raymond Tim Kee was serving as president.
He now hopes for better luck under a third president, incumbent David John-Williams, although he admitted that it was in some respects a marriage of convenience.
“We came up with a long-term agreement to pay me off on a contractual basis,” said Corneal. “The courts would have done nearly the same thing, so this is a better way. We are still working out the details between our two lawyers.”
At present, the TTFA appears to be offering Corneal the job for three years with an option to pay him off more quickly if possible. He will receive a monthly salary on top of the money already owed to him.
Corneal said that, as technical director, he will oversee all of the TTFA’s football programmes, which include national youth football, the Elite Football Programme, grassroots football and women’s football.
However, in the TTFA’s announcement of the changes to its technical staff, the local football body suggested a split in duties between Corneal and Isa.
“Under his portfolio, Corneal will oversee the TTFA’s long-term football development plan, with a special emphasis on the National Youth Teams, accreditation of academies, registration of coaches, research and coach education.
“Muhammad Isa will assume the role of Director of Football and will be accountable for all aspects of the Grassroots and National Elite Programs, which are fundamental to the future of football in Trinidad & Tobago.”
Corneal insisted, though, that he will have overall charge although he pointed to the positives of the current set-up—which also includes Russell Latapy as “staff youth coach”, Stuart Charles-Fevrier as head coach of the Elite Youth Programme and Jamaal Shabazz, who acts as a de facto technical director of the women’s game and was, up until a month ago, head coordinator of technical programs with special authority over the Elite Youth Programme.
Since Corneal was not responsible for hiring any of the people who will now presumably report to him—and the TTFA did not make it clear whether he or Isa will have responsibility for recommending the hiring and firing of national coaches—was he concerned that it might have an impact on his effectiveness as supervisor?
The incoming technical director admitted that it was “not an ideal situation.” However, he suggested patriotism and love for the game could make it work and transform a muddle of job responsibilities into an efficient technical department.
“This is a chance for a real technical department because, when I was there before, one person did almost everything,” said Corneal. “So now it is about putting a technical department in place, which is important. It is not the best-case scenario but, once we put Trinidad and Tobago first, it should work out and I have always done that.
“I am going to go into it with a very positive frame of mind.”
Corneal noted that, as youth director, he took charge of a National Under-14 Team that went on to qualify for two World Youth Cups at Under-17 and Under-20 level and included current Soca Warriors players like Kevin Molino, Sheldon Bateau, Khaleem Hyland, Daneil Cyrus, Curtis Gonzales, Leston Paul, Aubrey David and Sean De Silva.
Corneal said his first action as technical director will be overseeing a situation analysis of all current football programmes to see how they can fit a common agenda. He explained that he will ensure feedback from all stakeholders, including the various leagues and schools bodies, academies, referees and media.
“I know there will be hurdles, with the main one being financial,” he said. “We will need finance to put certain things in place, such as ensuring the exposure of young players, who we must get to play at a level comparable to CONCACAF.
“If we can’t do that, then it slows down their progress and we have seen in the past how teams have excelled with the right exposure. Youth development is about patience, consistency, monitoring and evaluation—because you may have an 11-year-old player but it is only when he is 19 that you can see his true potential.”
Corneal’s impending TTFA appointment resembles a deal struck by the local football body with Latapy, who was owed a significant sum from his time as head coach between 2009 and 2010.
According to an informed source, the John Williams-led football body has fulfilled many—though not all—of its promises to Latapy so far.
Close to TT$14 million is believed to be the TTFA’s debt to past employees, including former men’s head coach Stephen Hart, technical director Kendall Walkes, women’s head coach Carolina Morace, general secretary Sheldon Phillips and referees head Ramesh Ramdhan. The football body will contest all of the claims but has already suffered at least partial defeat to Phillips and Ramdhan.
Hart, Walkes, Morace and Ramdhan all fell out with the football body during the John-Williams era.
Corneal, who worked as a FIFA technical development officer (October 2014-December 2016) and CONCACAF coaches’ lecturer (2017) since leaving the TTFA, said he has no qualms about returning to national football service.
“It is a great feeling to know you are part of developing your own [football infrastructure],” said Corneal. “[…] If I had any apprehension, I would not go into the job. I always believe in a positive mindset in life.”