Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) technical director and caretaker Women’s National Senior Team coach Anton Corneal will seek assurances about his future from president David John-Williams before he begins plotting in earnest for the 2018 Women’s Concacaf Championship, which kicks off on 4 October in North Carolina.
Corneal stepped into the head coach position last month after Jamaal Shabazz quit the post, just two weeks before the Caribbean Championship. His appointment was done without TTFA board approval.
The technical director told Wired868 he will insist that the next appointment to the women’s coaching role is sanctioned by the board. But he admitted that, even if the TTFA board wants to retain him as head coach, there will be at least one other serious issue to address.
“I haven’t been paid for three months,” said Corneal. “I feel this is so disrespectful but I can’t blame anybody but myself. I have to decide what I am willing to give up for country. Because this is not just about me but my family as well.
“So when I sit down with the president and general secretary [Justin Latapy-George], I have to stress that I available only if certain things are agreed upon regarding my personal situation with the TTFA.”
Corneal was hired as technical director by the John-Williams-led administration in August 2017—three years after he quit the same position under previous president, Raymond Tim Kee.
The local football body’s debt to Corneal is well into seven figures. However, the two parties agreed on a three year contract that would see the technical director receive a monthly salary on top of the money already owed to him. The TTFA also promised to pay off its debt to Corneal earlier, if possible.
Instead, in less than a year, the local football body was already missing payments to its employee.
National Under-20 coach Russell Latapy is in a similar position and his team has halted training—just two months before their Concacaf competition—while the National Under-17 outfit have not trained since April and do not even have a coach.
Despite the financial issues, Corneal—who drafted in Presentation College (San Fernando) and QPCC FC coach Shawn Cooper as his assistant—agreed to take the women’s squad to Jamaica last month. He coached the team previously and was largely a popular appointment, albeit an interim one.
“The honest truth is it was tough to do,” said Corneal, who started the Caribbean Championship with just 17 players. “It was very difficult to prepare that team based on all the problems we had, with injuries and players who had to go back to the States. At times, we had nine players alone training.
“[…] I had to play the game in transition. Which was when we win it, see if we can score right away against the weaker teams before they got organised.”
In the end, the Women Warriors defeated Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda and Bermuda but relinquished the regional trophy after a 4-1 loss to hosts, Jamaica. Corneal applied more nuanced tactics for the “Reggae Girlz” and Trinidad and Tobago led up until the 69th minute, through a brilliant Kayla Taylor strike, before crumbling.
“Against Jamaica, we tried to eliminate their strength, which was the flanks,” he said. “So we tried to send them inside and then eliminate space behind us by dropping deep when they were going to pass. And it worked like a dream in the first half.
“[…] But we lost a bit of concentration in the second half… Our fitness level wasn’t the same as Jamaica’s, which you saw in the last 20 minutes. And Jamaica capitalised.”
Corneal said injuries to iconic team captain Tasha St Louis and veteran defender Janelle Cunningham did not help in the Jamaica contest either.
“When Cunningham got injured, it affected us a bit because she had good synergy with Arin [King] in the central defence,” said the coach. “It is not to say the person who went in did badly but [Cunningham and King] had played the last three games together and you lost that understanding.
“[…] But I think you saw spurts of good football in Jamaica that showed we can compete.”
Trinidad and Tobago must now find another gear or two in quick time. Next month, the Women Warriors will kick off Group A with Panama, Mexico and formidable hosts, USA.
Only the top two teams advance to the knock out round; and, even then, second place means a potential clash with Canada in the semifinals. The third place play off represents a final shot for an automatic berth for the France 2019 Women’s World Cup with the fourth placed team left to face a FIFA Play Off with South America’s third best nation.
“It is a tall order, that is a tough group,” said Corneal. “That is going to call for careful planning. Is it impossible? No. On any given day, Mexico can be beaten. So it is not impossible.
“We would need a good opening result against Panama, just like we did against Cuba [in the Caribbean Championship]. It is going to be a tough road. We are now trying to get our team in better shape physically and, thankfully, there is a little time for injuries to heal up.”
Corneal said it is not automatic that he will be chosen to finish the job with the women’s team and he has “advised” that the next appointment be carried to the board of directors. In the interim, he set a physical programme for the girls to follow individually—so the players do not suffer due to potential delays at executive level.
But an important part of this afternoon’s meeting with John-Williams, general secretary Justin Latapy-George and board member Richard Quan Chan—who Corneal said was the head of technical department—would be the TTFA’s financial debt to its technical director.
“I have bent over backwards for too many years,” said Corneal. “So I will have discussions with them about that and I am prepared to take legal advice if necessary.
“[…] My heart is with the girls and that is one of the reasons I decided to go to Jamaica. I would love for the girls to qualify, just as I did four years ago.
“It is not the dream group; but it is not impossible.”