Taking pot shots at one another and making snide remarks is definitely not the way to go, say four Trinidad and Tobago Pro League (TTPL) coaches. What is needed is for football people to come together and talk about the state of the sport in the country so as to better be able to diagnose and solve the root problems plaguing it.
St Ann’s Rangers owner Richard Fakoory recently suggested that, in a worst-case scenario where Government decides not to cough up the TT$50,000 monthly subventions to Pro League clubs, the League’s players should be prepared to go unpaid (by their clubs) and without prize money (from the League).
Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) president Keith Look Loy on Tuesday publicly disagreed with the suggestion, dismissing it as a “political” attempt to protect currently held turf.
Even before his talented team lifted the 2017 Pro League crown, North East Stars’ Derek King urged coaches to stick together and remain respectful to each other when the financial issues took varying tolls on clubs during the course of the season. And speaking to Wired868 yesterday in reaction to the above comments, King would have found his implied fears echoed by W Connection’s Earl Jean, Club Sando’s Angus Eve and San Juan Jabloteh’s Keith Jeffrey.
There was strong endorsement for the view that football stakeholders need to put their egos aside in order for the game to move forward in the near future.
“If we love football, then let us come together and make it right,” Eve told Wired868. “Let’s not go in the media and try to discredit each other.”
He stressed that he was not going to engage in any do-as-I-say-but-not-as-I-do behaviour by any direct response to either statement by the two footballing gentlemen. But, like his three colleagues, he did not seriously dispute the view that the recently completed 2017 season has been the TTPL’s most challenging one to date.
For example, former three-time Pro League champions Central FC had a steep fall from grace, finishing ninth on the ten-team table. Financial reasons forced the departure of several of their key players. In fact, things got so bad there that Stern John, catapulted into the position of coach by the sudden resignation of Dale Saunders, eventually had to dust off his boots and double up as player/coach.
Fifth-place finishers Jabloteh were unable to spread Christmas cheer to players who would arguably have experienced a bleak season after having to go home without their hard-earned financial rewards.
“Christmas is a time for children and family,” Jeffrey told Wired868, “and when we closed off the 2017 season, it was bleeding to the heart when we couldn’t give the players the financial packages they were entitled to.”
Former national midfielder Eve pointed out that both the TTPL and the TTSL have been running their respective operations smoothly for years without friction. He wondered wordlessly what had changed.
“The Super League does not have to compete with the Pro League for the Super League to run efficiently the Club Sando coach said. “And vice-versa. These are two different leagues and (there are) different criteria to get in to those leagues.”
Jean also pleaded for the various football heads to put their agendas aside because, according to him, the youngsters who dream of having professional careers abroad are the ones feeling the brunt of all the behind-the-scenes rumbling.
“Why the heads can’t go forward with one plan?” Jean asked. “Why all the bickering? […] How do we get the TT Pro League and the TTSL to develop to get players outside?”
“Everybody is fighting a battle for power and the players are being left behind,” Jean continued. “Young players are dropping by the wayside because nobody is taking them seriously. We should focus on getting an Under-20 team back in the Pro League because these young players are just bouncing around and being discouraged.”
Acknowledging that the League itself is struggling to remain afloat, even relevant and that the clubs are facing very difficult financial times, the foursome stressed that the success of the Senior Men’s National Team is dependent on the existence of a properly functioning and well-supported professional league. Moreover, they insisted, the TTPL’s importance for youth development cannot be underestimated.
But at the heart of any discussion involving the TTPL, TTSL, TTFA and sponsors, there is bound to be the mighty dollar.
Although all four coaches agreed that the Pro League clubs should continue to lobby Government for assistance in some form or other, Eve suggested that the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs should not be the only ministry backing the Pro League.
According to Eve, support for the League should also come from Community Development, Education and National Security.
Without directly disagreeing, Jean and King noted that Government should not be expected to foot the bill alone as clubs also need to find innovative ways to get funding. While King, who coached North East Stars to Pro League glory last season, saw the on-field product as the big charmer, Jean identified persistence and a good business model as the assets needed to attract sponsors,
“Players, coaches and administrators need to find ways and means to improve the football,” Jean said. We don’t want to put in the hard work; we want the fast buck!
“But you can’t expect handouts; you have to show them your business plan (although) it may not pay off right away.”
King expressed the view that the Pro League club owners would have to decide whether or not they can continue to foot the bill for a professional football outfit if the government subvention stopped.
Jeffrey called for the government to continue the subventions even if they had to be reduced. He said that the clubs would greatly appreciate any such move because the cut had hit the Jabloteh staff of some 33 persons really hard.
“And it’s not only Jabloteh,” he explained. “I have spoken to coaches from a lot of the clubs and they have expressed the same sentiments.”
King pointed to the fact that, even with the subvention, the salary some players were earning was inadequate.
“Pro League players are getting $3,000 [a month],” King said, “and that cannot be enough to support a household.”
Eve’s response was that the sum was not a king’s ransom but it was enough in his view to prevent players from turning to a life of crime.
“I think people look at a fellah getting a $3,000 [salary],” Eve told Wired868, “but that is $3,000 more than zero. Maybe he doesn’t have the degree or he doesn’t have the necessary passes or skills to hold down an office job and make that type of money…”
So is the TTSL a better option, as suggested by Look Loy? Both Jean and Jeffrey were unequivocal with their responses, both stating that it would represent a step backward for the local game.
“Going back to the Super League will be like going back to the stone age of local football,” Jeffrey said, “because players will be going to work from 8-4 or 6-2 and then you would ask them to come three hours after and train as hard as a pro player.
“That could never be the standard!”
Eve added to that the issue of the constitutional arrangements, whether the TTSL would be willing to dance around their League statutes in order to accommodate clubs from the Pro League.
“As far as I know, to get into the Super League, you are supposed to pass through the various zones. […] Are we going to circumvent the process for them to get in?
“The Pro League teams may have to go through the zones and go through the qualifying because the right thing has to be done.”
Jeffrey’s view was that Pro League players needed to be treated as professionals and so, like Look Loy, he wholeheartedly disagreed with Fakoory’s proposal.
“I do not agree with Mr Fakoory and his philosophy as to how the football should run,” Jeffrey said. “When a player comes to you for four hours and gives of his best, how that can be free? […] That’s a job like any other job.
“Previously, we used to have two sessions daily but, because of financial issues, we have now opted to do one a day.”
However, Jean said, a promotion and relegation system between the Pro League and TTSL would be no problem and he would welcome a constitutional change to make that possible.
The four coaches all agreed that, whether or not the TTPL or the TTSL win their respective battles, the game still does not get the respect it deserves. They feel that football’s achievement of taking the country to the 2006 World Cup has been undervalued and underestimated; no other sporting discipline or feat has been able to galvanize the nation like it.
And Jeffrey had the last word, attempting to shift the focus off the micro-issues and put it where they all agreed it properly belonged, which is on the big picture.
“I don’t think the government understands how important sport is to the development of young men and women,” he said. “Football is part of life and sport is part of life and the government just neglecting their duties. I am disappointed, not for me, but for the young men and women.”