Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team coach Dennis Lawrence is set to become the longest serving football head coach in his country’s history, after the TTFA’s board of directors approved a two and a half year extension for him tonight.
The decision means that Lawrence is contracted to the local football body until mid-2021 and is expected to oversee the Soca Warriors’ Qatar 2022 World Cup bid. No coach has ever taken Trinidad and Tobago from one World Cup qualifying series to the next—in fact, no T&T coach has kept his job for an entire World Cup campaign since Everald ‘Gally’ Cummings in 1989.
At present, Trinidad and Tobago’s two longest serving coaches are Stephen Hart (2013-2016) and Bertille St Clair (1997-2000).
Hart led the Warriors to back to back Concacaf Gold Cup quarterfinal places and a FIFA ranking of 49th in the world.
St Clair was the first coach to take the Trinidad and Tobago football team into the knockout phase of the Gold Cup and got as far as the semifinal rounds in 2000, while he also snagged two Caribbean Cup titles.
The board’s decision to stick with Lawrence, which was taken via secret ballot, was overwhelming but not unanimous. Remarkably, the decision was made despite the board being denied the opportunity to review either Lawrence’s initial two year contract or the extension that will now be handed to him by football president David John-Williams.
The president did not divulge Lawrence’s salary to the board—as, for instance, Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte revealed TSTT CEO Ronald Walcott’s financial remuneration to Parliament—but, instead, offered a combined salary for the technical staff which supposedly included the head coach.
At present, the TTFA does not have a functioning technical committee or even a technical director. Anton Corneal, who fulfils the latter responsibility, has downed tools due to unfulfilled contractual obligations. Regardless, the board voted that John-Williams essentially award Lawrence whatever terms he sees fit.
Central Football Association (CFA) representative Collin Partap said he had no idea what the terms of Lawrence’s contract will be, even though the constitution mandates the the TTFA board—and not the president—to appoint the Warriors’ technical staff.
“No information was given to us regarding financial terms [and] there were some members who wanted a performance appraisal and key performance indicators placed into the contract itself,” said Partap. “But the board [collectively] decided to pass it as is… I don’t know what the terms will be.”
Partap said he agreed with fellow board members that the team should not be disrupted before the June Concacaf Gold Cup, which the Warriors qualified for automatically once former coach Stephen Hart got them into the Hex. However, he felt Lawrence should have been further assessed after the Gold Cup; or, at the least, that there ought to be exit clauses inserted in his contract for poor performance.
“I agree that we need a head coach and didn’t think we should have disruptions before the Gold Cup; but after the Gold Cup, I felt if we didn’t have the performances and results we wanted, we should have been able to look at the situation again,” he said. “Some of the board members, including myself, wanted to know what the expense would be if we wanted to change the coach within the next two and a half years—because we are $42 million in debt.
“But it was approved for two and a half years anyway, although the details of the contract I don’t know and don’t think I will ever know; and that was a bit frustrating.
“I am a lawyer, so I would love to see the terms of the contract and the exit clauses. I would love to find out if there were other applicants for the post of head coach or if it was even advertised.”
John-Williams did not have his way on the matter of the general secretary, though, as the board refused his proposed choice of Camara David as replacement for the incumbent, Justin Latapy-George.
“The way I see it, if the constitution wanted to give complete prerogative to the president regarding the hiring and firing of the general secretary,” said Partap, “he would have [explicitly been given] the authority to appoint or dismiss; and that would be the end of it.
“Myself and some of the members—if he tries to push through the hiring of [Camara David] without the board’s approval—have decided that we will take legal action; because he is trying to circumvent the power of the board.”
The TTFA president is not believed to have conceded and he declined the chance to put the matter to a vote tonight. Instead, he is likely to try to get his man appointed again when the board reconvenes next week.
Partap believes that, with just months left on his presidential term, issues like his insistence on a new general secretary—a decision taken by John-Williams after Latapy-George admitted that the president asked him to deceive the board on Salazar’s resignation—was an unnecessary distraction for the board.
“These are issues that we shouldn’t be dealing with,” said the CFA representative. “He has seven months left on his tenure and we have the Gold Cup coming up, the Under-17 World Cup qualifying series, we have grassroots football matters to deal with… This issue of him trying to force a change of general secretary at the moment is really trivial and wasting the time of the members.
“I also think we need a board meeting once every month on a statutory date set, like the first Tuesday or Saturday of every month—that way everyone keeps that date clear, instead of the way it is being run. This is the first board meeting since November and we are in the last week of February.
“One board meeting every three months? That doesn’t fly.”
The fate of the Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Under-17 Team, which is due to start its Peru 2019 World Youth Championship campaign in May, is undetermined as their case will also be discussed next week.
The Under-17 Team have not trained since April 2018 and they do not have a confirmed coaching staff at present.
John-Williams will also try to get two vice-presidents on the board next week, as replacements for Allan Warner and Joanne Salazar who both walked out on the TTFA boss over the past two years.
North East Stars director Michael Awai and San Fernando Giants president Anthony ‘Cla Tones’ Clarke are believed to be John-Williams’ picks for the vacant roles.
One thing that is settled is that Lawrence will head the Warriors for the foreseeable future.
A rookie when he applied for the job, Lawrence was initially the TTFA technical committee’s third choice behind Stuart Charles-Fevrier—Lawrence’s current assistant—and Terry Fenwick. The technical committee, headed by Dexter Skeene and Alvin Henderson, resigned after the board ignored their recommendations and appointed Lawrence instead.
Lawrence, who previously worked as assistant to current Belgium coach Roberto Martinez at Wigan Athletic and Everton FC, had a mixed spell in his first job as head coach.
In 20 matches, there were five wins, four draws and 11 losses while the Warriors finished at the bottom of the Concacaf Hex—six points adrift of the second from bottom nation, USA—and slipped from 80th to 93rd in the FIFA rankings.
However, Lawrence can point to a seismic 2-1 qualifying win over USA in Couva and a 2-0 friendly win over the United Arab Emirates in Spain as evidence of his value. The board agreed he was worth keeping.
Current TTFA board: David John-Williams (president), Ewing Davis (vice-president), Raeshawn Mars (Northern FA), Richard Quan Chan (Southern FA), Anthony Moore (Tobago FA), Joseph Taylor (Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association), Sharon Warrick (Women’s League Football), Julia Baptiste (TT Pro League), Collin Partap (Central Football Association), Keith Look Loy (TTSL), Bandele Kamau (Eastern FA), Sherwyn Dyer (Eastern Counties Football Union), Selby Browne (Veteran Footballers Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago).