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Corneal not surprised by early elimination; slams dependence on magic in successive youth tournaments

It would have come as no surprise to Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) Technical Director Anton Corneal that Trinidad and Tobago’s hopes of going to the Under-20 Women’s World Cup came crashing down yesterday evening.

Having lost 2-3 to Haiti in their opening CONCACAF qualifier at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on Thursday, the Junior Women Soca Warriors could not get the positive result they needed against Group A favourites Canada, who beat them 4-1 in yesterday’s second outing.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Shenieka Paul (centre) pressures Canada midfielder Sarah Stratigakis (right) during CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship action against Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva on 20 January 2018.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

Corneal suggested to Wired868 in an interview between both games that Trinidad and Tobago has been hoping for magic. In vain.

“There is no magic formula; it is only work,” he stressed. “It is time spent on the ball, it is time spent playing games and getting exposure over and over so we could develop all areas of the game. Not just technically and tactically but the mental and physical side of the game also.”

Convinced that the country’s football administrators must be able to move past the mentality of playing from tournament to tournament and map out a long-term development plan for young players, Corneal says that he shares his vision for the game nationally with the relevant coaches—including the ones handling the Under-20 Women.

“I’m in constant discussion with the coaches, especially of the Under-20 team,” Corneal said. “We have had discussions. And right after the game [against Haiti], we had a chat about development. One team was more ready and we discussed why…”

“After [watching] the game [against Haiti],” he added, pointing to the tactical and technical superiority Haiti displayed in the Thursday game, “I thought there were areas that we needed to address and areas which should have been addressed four years ago.”

Photo: Haiti forward and captain Nérilia Mondésir (right) tries to get away from Trinidad and Tobago defender Shaunalee Govia during CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship action at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 18 January 2018.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Although coach Jamaal Shabazz’s charges stormed into a 2-0 lead after only ten minutes against Haiti and again scored in the opening minutes in yesterday’s game against Canada, they never got their passes together in midfield and were guilty of too many errant long balls.

So is there a certain style of football the TD would like to see played consistently in the girls’ football programme? And is there a shared vision?

The only way the two-island republic can maximize the full potential of its burgeoning football talents, the TD is quite certain, is through years of sacrifice, coaching, scouting and diligent work on the training field. Merely continuing to focus on competitions and tournaments, he emphasizes, simply will not get us where we want to be.

“It’s about total development and understanding the game properly,” said Corneal. “It’s about covering the four components of the game, the technique, tactics and mental and physical aspects of the game. And as we grow and we start seeing our strengths and weaknesses and what players we have available to us, then we can decide what’s the best way for us to play to maximize our strengths.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) technical director Anton Corneal.

Corneal pointed out that the Haitian team, now under the watchful eyes of former France youth team coach Marc Collat, have had years of continuous planning and preparation through their Goal Project.

Reiterating his belief that the key period in a player’s development is during the five years from age 12 to 16, the Technical Director suggests that the TTFA would do well to try and emulate their Caribbean counterparts.

“There is some room for growth and growth which has to be done right away […] in order to close the gap,” he said. “We have to realize the importance of what we do outside of tournaments and not just (when we are in) tournament mode.

“When we are out of a tournament, there is so much work to be done after a tournament […]. I think [that game] gave us a clear idea into the type of preparation that a team like Haiti would have done and why they are now reaping the rewards.”

He zeroed in on where he thought the real problem lay.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Ranae Ward (centre) tries to wriggle free from a trio of Haiti opponents during CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship action at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 18 January 2018.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“Anytime you address the Under-20 team, we are really looking at a development process from five to six years before,” he explained. “And that’s the golden learning age of a player, from 12 to 16 years old. If we don’t address it properly there, we will not get the players to their true potential. And that affected us and I think it will continue to affect us.

“We first have to decide how much we are willing to sacrifice when the players are younger and [recognize] the type of work that needs to be done, the concentrated type of work that needs to be done.”

There are two 16-year-olds in the current Under-20 set-up in the persons of defender Nathifa Hackshaw and lively attacker Aaliyah Prince. Only two years ago, both girls were members of a Trinidad and Tobago team which went to the CONCACAF Under-15 Championship in Orlando.

How does Corneal think these girls have adapted themselves to the demands of Under-20 football?

“I am not one of the staff members on the team so to make a comment like that will be ill-advised of me,” Corneal told Wired868. “What I could say is that I’m happy certain players were able to close the gap from the Under-17s to Under-20s. It’s good when you see a few players could do it […]

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago attacker Aaliyah Prince (left) tries to control the ball while Canada defender Jessica Lisi looks on during CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship action at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva on 20 January 2018.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“Our way of addressing this is the National Elite Youth Program with 12-, 13- and 14-year-old girls from all the zones coming together to do a little more concentrated work so we could address these problems now.”

There is already a girls’ National Elite Youth Program (NEYP), which has Marlon Charles—Shabazz’s Under-20 team assistant—as head coach and Trinidad and Tobago Women’s Senior Team winger Ahkeela Mollon as one of its coaches. Corneal says that the response to the NEYP has been decent up to now but he would still like to see a strengthening of the player involvement on the girls’ side of things.

“I’ll be guessing here but the Elite Youth Program will have about 50 to 60 players coming out from the zones,” he said. “The zones fluctuate with the number of players and the age-group fluctuates [as well] because, as I said, we don’t have a lot of girls playing.”

So is there a plan to address this, to get more girls involved in football from the grassroots level right up to national team level?

“One of the ways we have been doing it is in the primary schools,” said Corneal. “There is a grassroots programme that is going to be done every Wednesday where we will try to target as many as 2,000 kids between the ages of nine and ten. We have made it compulsory that half must be boys and half must be girls.

Photo: Adrenaline FA attacker Lu Ann Craig (left) takes on the Febeau Government Primary defence during RBNYL Under-11 action at Constantine Park in Macoya on 6 May 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“Let’s grow the number of young girls playing the game and, hopefully through the primary schools, we will get a growth right there.”

The Senior Women’s Team narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2015 Women’s World Cup after falling to Ecuador in a play-off on home soil. Now, another Women’s World Cup is just one year away. Is there any plan to phase new players into the team so that there will be no problem when some of the core players withdraw from international duty?

Corneal recalled that years of persistent attention and scrutiny had gone into the development of key players such as Mollon, Maylee Attin-Johnson, Kennya Cordner and Tasha St Louis.

“We have some girls coming through but of course I would like it to be more,” Corneal said. “That era of players, they were part of good long-term development. A lot of time was put in with those players many years ago and a lot of them blossomed to become quite competent players.

“We just have to make sure that we put in that development to make sure that we have players continuously going through the programme and we would be able to get them to their fullest potential.”

Photo: Pleasantville Secondary attacker Aaliyah Pascall (centre) holds off Carapichaima East Secondary midfielder Annalicia Williams (right) during Coca Cola National Intercol Semifinal action at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella on 29 November 2017.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

He suggested that there was some confusion about what the real goals of the different age-group programmes are.

“You are not producing a player for the Under-17 or Under-20 level,” he said, “you are producing a national player. You are aiming to produce a national senior player and he or she should be able to produce for many years.”

The National Elite Young Program aside, Corneal reckons that the TTFA plans for additional training pitches and dormitories at the Ato Boldon Stadium site put the country on the right path to future player development.

“We could have more than one national youth team […] or more than one elite team training on the day,” Corneal said. “That can be our way of bringing them together and this goes for both girls and boys. […] That is something we probably should have had 15 years ago. But everything happens in its time.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago attacker Dennecia Prince (left) drives the ball across the face of the Canada goal despite the efforts of opposing goalkeeper Lysianne Proux and Caitlin Shaw during CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship action against Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva on 20 January 2018.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“It takes patience and it takes planning. Or it takes planning and it takes patience. We are working on a plan and we have to wait and see what will happen in the next three to four years.”

About Roneil Walcott

Roneil Walcott
Roneil Walcott is an avid sports fan and freelance reporter with a BA in Mass Communication from COSTAATT. Roneil is a former Harvard and St Mary's College cricketer who once had lofty aspirations of bringing joy to sport fans with the West Indies team. Now, his mission is to keep them on the edge of their seats with sharp commentary from off the playing field.

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50 comments

  1. Every tournament we go to and fail too qualify we have to learn from our mistakes. Endurance conditionings have been our problem for how long now.

  2. Chloe Paul so you are telling me that Shabazz did not go for broke.Then why is he the coach.

  3. How much notice did we get to prepare for this tournament????

  4. Hannibal Najjar

    Gentlemen, I read through every comment here and may I say, many were of 1. a high and insightful caliber, and 2. show that the leaders of the football Association ought to know that, “no wool go get pulled over people eyes as easy as before” – well done and thank you all. I especially identified with comments made from, Brain Harry, Roger Prince, Trevor Bridgelalsingh, Earl Best, and Sean Powder. The responses (R), that the TD gave, the conclusions (C) that he drew, and the recommendations (R) he made, seem to belong to someone who just arrived from another country, totally removed from everything and only now observing the proceedings and pieces. These RCRs from the TD, do not belong to or, ought not to have been allowed to be ushered by a decades-old and several-times TD and, every-level national coach, not to forget, a well-celebrated college and national team player as well. Lasana, beautifully contested with your 10 of 100% success referencing – bars shall never be lowered in order to generate a sense of success; participation trophies flank many-a-wall.

  5. Very well said, we have to learn from our mistakes,and move on, what we need is more matches and endurance conditioning, not negative remarks.

  6. They Failed and the Failure started within the Home and if not addressed it will continue year in and year out. The Men teams are the same with lack of fitness and discipline. The game is approximately 100 mins and you cannot even play 40 mins of high intensity football?

  7. They did not fail.Making those statements to young people kills the spirit. Endurance and killer instinct has to be worked on.When you can accept defeat and still kick back you are deserving of the prize and you have matured. Thanks Coach Shabazz and the young ladies.Go for broke next time.

  8. I have to laugh …the people in charge not in charge

  9. These people have been in charge for 20+ years talking the same things and delivering the same results-FAILURE at every level and form of the game.. go back and review their many interviews over the years journalists

  10. These are the same people who felt that teams did not need specialist physical trainer as coaches were capable.. I saw them them with my own eyes attempt sessions and it was absolute failure.. to date I still work with footballers from national teams to club teams and they’re way sub zero

  11. There is obviously a disconnect between the President. TD and coaches. The application, energy, resources and hype during preparation solely for tournaments clearly has not worked for us and clearer more comprehensive approach must be adopted. We have the talent but unfortunately not the mindset and culture which supports or facilities international athletes.

  12. Whatever he says is hollow! He’s been a part of the infrastructure for quite a while. Our football is suffering from a lack of leadership and vision at the highs levels. If those were present, then good stewardship can cascade them down onto the field. As technical director let him outline the development plans he’s put into place. Let him detail the outcome of the consultations he’s held with coaches at all levels and what our style and play should look like. He needs to retreat to a quiet place. And he should take all the TTFA with him.

  13. ..The lines bro. Read between the lines..

  14. I can not understand how Mr. Corneal, our current TD can speak of technical, tactical, emotional and physical development of our players in such an abstract and almost disconnected manner. Having spoken to Anton on several occasions, he is knowledgeable and competent to develop and implement program’s however the comments here suggest that he has no control over the technical development of the TTFA.

  15. I don’t think Haiti was superior to our girls but they wanted it more. Was a good game

  16. ..Not only that. What brings a plan to life is people. And those people need an effective structure within which to operate. TTFA does not have a texhnical structure. And certainly not one that encompasses technical operations throughout the country. You know what? Money spent on this tournament would have been better spent on ensuring we do have a national technical structure that is geared towards the development of the game. This thing requires far more than a TD with some ideas..

  17. Is the plan being implemented documented anywhere? Is it a static or dynamic plan, open to periodic review and correction, if necessary? How does one track to plan milestones in the short, medium and long term? Lots more questions I can come up with, but let’s start there…

    • Earl Best

      This is Trinidad, brother. A plan does not need to have any more substance than an election manifesto…until, of course, election time rolls around again.

  18. ..Yes. This is the theory. For the referees, the head of the refereeing department is supposed to be the lead. The PRACTICE is, shall we say, somewhat DIFFERENT?..

  19. Lasana Liburd right, so by FIFA’s definition soldier have some reflection to do.
    However our standards are nowhere near international standards, so maybe TTFA TD has some different bullet points.

  20. “The technical director, sometimes also
    called a director of technical development
    or a sports director, is the person in charge
    of defining and leading the national
    technical development programmes,
    therefore preparing the football of
    the future. He proposes to the general
    secretary, the president and possibly the
    executive committee (ExCo) a long-term
    vision and develops a technical strategy
    over several years in order to improve the
    level of the game within the country and
    achieve identified targets on and off the
    pitch. He and his departement are likewise
    in charge of the implementation of all
    activities related to technical development,
    as well as the control, monitoring and
    assessment. In other words, he is for the
    technical side what the general secretary is
    for the management side…”
    http://resources.fifa.com/mm/document/footballdevelopment/technicalsupport/02/84/00/08/fifa_td_2016_e_low_neutral.pdf

  21. This is the short version according to FIFA:
    “The Technical Director is in charge of defining and leading the national technical development programmes, and developing long-term strategies in this regard for all aspects of the game, be it grassroots, women’s football, coach education or youth football, and to bring them together in synergy according to the development pyramid.”

  22. Uhmm, maybe i dont know any better, could you put your hands on the roles and responisibilities/duties of the TD in the TTFA?. Because alot of the stuff he laments lacking, i would’ve thought are his responsibility.

  23. ..Finally. An honest man in TTFA. (I did not know he is the TD. When was Isa replaced?). He refers to plans and programmes. Anton has the general idea. He needs decision makers who understand the need to facilitate progressive ideas..