If Angus Eve and Terry Fenwick, our first two Pro League luminaries, are household names, our third local coach, Ross Russell, is more understated but also quite successful.
Once described by World Cup 2006 hero Shaka Hislop as the most gifted Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper he has ever seen, Russell—the current goalkeeper coach for the Men’s National Under-20 Team—has made his mark as a coach too with two Pro League titles and an armful of knockout trophies at Defence Force while he also enjoyed stints at Central FC and North East Stars.
Wired868: What was your favourite season as a Pro League coach?
Russell: Definitely the year I won my first league title: 2011! I started off as a goalkeeper coach with the Men’s National Under-20 Team in 2000 under Zoran Vranes and got my first job as a head coach in about 2005 with the Defence Force Super League team.
I finished second for my last three seasons when I was asked to take the senior [Pro League] team from Kerry Jamerson, just before the start of the 2009 season. The 2010-11 season was my first full season and I remember that I did a lot of work on the mental of the players and their togetherness.
I broke the record with the longest streak of straight wins—14 games straight—and I was the most outspending coach for the year. I remember it was the year just before the State of Emergency, so I didn’t get a chance to defend the title.
Devorn Jorsling was my standout that season. I think he scored about 25 goals in all competitions. And Kevon Carter created loads for him. It was a team effort but they stood out.
Okay then, out with it. Who are the best XI players you worked with?
Goalkeeper: Glenroy Samuel (North East Stars)
I think he has a no-die spirit. Every time he goes on to the field, he wants to win. Trevor Nottingham was the goalkeeper coach at the time [with Stars] and we would instil in him that every day you train, you are training to be a winner and to get better.
He also had a wealth of experience by the time he came to us from playing in a World Youth Cup. I think he was fantastic.
Right back: Cory Rivers (Defence Force)
He has a unbelievable leadership quality, even though he was very silent. He rarely talked but he led by example—on and off the field.
Once he is on the pitch, he will give his all. And when he does speak, everybody listens.
Central defender: Jamal Jack (Central FC)
He brought an aerial ability that few Trinidad and Tobago defenders have. I don’t want to say he was vicious but he was brutal in tackles.
He put his body on the line to get the job done and he rarely made mistakes at the back. He didn’t hold back.
Central defender: Curtis ‘Boyo’ Gonzales (Defence Force)
His style is unique for a stopper. He possesses an ability to think out the game from the back like a midfielder would.
He likes having the ball and never panics in possession, he reads the game well and would outsmart plenty opponents. He is a natural leader as well.
Left back: Akile Edwards (Defence Force)
His strength was speed and the ability to overlap: every time! He was rarely ever unfit. His speed made him who he is.
He had a real work-rate and could go up and down the pitch. And even if you think you beat him, he would recover with his speed.
Midfielder: Sean Narcis (Defence Force)
For me, he is one of the best defensive midfielders I ever saw in terms of winning the ball. If you gave him a task to mark someone, he would stay with them whole day—but when he got the ball he could make a good pass too.
He would work his butt off for you.
Midfielder: Marvin Oliver (Central FC)
Working with Marvin is a dream for any coach because you have a fellah who leads by example. He works hard, he reads the game well and his ability to play the game is rare in Trinidad footballers. He always knew when to slow it down or speed it up.
He is one of the most complete footballers I have ever seen in the Pro League. Once he is on the pitch, you have a fellah who can carry the team.
Right wing: Kevon Carter (Defence Force)
His ability to go past players was amazing. He was the first guy I saw here who had an international rhythm in the way he went past players and saw danger behind an opponent’s back. With his ability, the players on his team loved him and opponents always hated to see him. He was always working and never unfit.
I never forced Carter to stay on one flank. I would tell him if you are not getting success on one side to go the next flank. You would hardly find that two full backs could stop him.
Playmaker: Ataulla Guerra (Central FC)
I shouldn’t even have to say anything about Ataulla! Ataulla was someone I just loved to see play. He sees passes that you and all don’t see and you wonder what he is doing. Also he had this ability to psyche out opponents.
Sometimes he would look like he is cheating but he always knew where to be to get the ball and to hurt the other team. And he had a real calmness in how he would finish opportunities.
Left wing: Gorean ‘Ratty’ Highley (North East Stars)
‘Ratty’ was not as quick as Carter but a little more shifty. Anyone he came up against, you had to fear him.
He could go past you with a fake or a pass or just knowing how to move off the ball. Just like how he lived his life is how he played: tricky! (Laughs)
He was always up to something and he knew how to finish. He left the game too early. He just quit suddenly and walked away; and that was that. He is one of the best youth players I have ever seen.
Striker: Devorn Jorsling (Defence Force)
Once he is on the park, you will know he is there. He has real presence and he always looks like he would score. He has a talent that plenty Trinidadians don’t have and that’s his free kicks. He kicks free kicks like he practises everyday and he doesn’t—that adds to his game.
Once he is around the box and you don’t mark him closely, he would score. He is one of the best finishers I ever coached.
And who were the three most dangerous Pro League players you ever faced?
Forward: Kerry Baptiste (Joe Public, San Juan Jabloteh)
He is a very tricky player and he knows where to be to score. It would seem as though he is out of the game and he would just pop up and hurt you.
When he’s on the field, you’re always begging your players to keep an eye on him. Somehow, he would always find a way to influence the game.
Winger: Josh Johnson (San Juan Jabloteh)
He was very, very tricky and he had great speed and an excellent understanding of when to cross early and when to go past his marker. He only spent about three years in the Pro League and then went away—but when he was there and you came up against him, you knew your wingers had to stay home on that day!
Josh could run up and down the line whole day and never seemed to get tired.
Playmaker: Joevin Jones (W Connection)
He was a torment to ‘Army’ when I was there. I think Joevin was a match winner. Once he is on the park, you have to pay attention to him. He was very decisive and he had a shot with a real quick back-lift. You wouldn’t even know he was preparing to shoot and the ball would already be flying to goal. He is a lot quicker than you might think too.
The year we lost the title to Connection [in 2013-14], we played as well as we could but he would just always come with something special. He was just outstanding.
And if you had to pick one stand-out individual performance from one of your players, which would it be?
It was a thriller against Ma Pau SC in 2009. I was on one side and [the late Michael] McComie on the other side. We won 3-2 and Kevon Carter got the winning goal with a flick.
Ma Pau had a star studded team with Lyndon ‘Chubby’ Andrews, Curtis Gonzales, Kevon Molino—fellahs who know the game and know how to work [the ball] and I just took over my team. It was a real game to see and everybody left the stadium happy.
To be honest, it was more of a team effort but Carter was doing well and tormenting their defence. He wasn’t a known goal scorer and he got the winner for us. I remember it was a cross from Akile and Carter just flicked it from behind his foot.
Knowing Carter, he doesn’t normally try things like that; but maybe with all the hype of the match, he decided to try it. And it worked!
Editor’s Note: Wired868 will continue its Pro League All Star series with a chat with a fourth coach on Sunday 24 May.