The following column, written by Lasana Liburd, was first published in the Trinidad Express Sport Magazine on 4 October 2007:
His long spindly legs give him the look of a basketballer. His long mane is more the rave at dancehall concerts than in sporting arenas. He wears the number 10, is used like a number nine and plays like neither.
His name is Marvin Oliver and he is the captain of the Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA football team.
It can be hard to decipher whether he is a midfielder or striker and exactly what his job entails from one minute to the next. Only one thing is certain. Whatever Oliver does, he does it very well indeed and Caledonia look like winning their first national league title as a result.
In an unofficial list of ‘Man of the Match’ winners, Oliver tops the Pro League with seven awards—five more than the next best Trinidad and Tobago playmaker, United Petrotrin and national under-23 midfielder Keon Daniel.
So why has he been routinely overlooked by national senior team coach and former Holland World Cup defender Wim Rijsbergen?
Rijsbergen barely hides his contempt for local football thinkers and certainly considers himself to be above fielding questions from the press—or this writer, at least.
But if Rijsbergen has overlooked Oliver because of his age, 32, and supposed inability to dominate games—and a Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) source suggested that truly was the Dutchman’s belief—then maybe his silence is indeed golden.
Not when the Soca Warriors, who performed so creditably in Germany a year ago, showed the benefit of experience with more than half the team already over 30 years of age including 37-year-old goalkeeper Shaka Hislop and three of his starting four defenders for Trinidad and Tobago’s historic goalless draw against Sweden.
Who can mock the contribution of 37-year-old icon Russell Latapy? To most critics, the veteran was under-utilised.
This is not necessarily ‘third world’ thinking either. Former German coach Berti Vogts, as he sought to replace his squad of pensioners after the 1994 World Cup, gave midfielder Dieter Eilts his international senior debut at the supposedly ripe age of 31.
No one was laughing, a year later, when Eilts was a key player in Germany’s successful 1996 European Championship.
Besides, CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh midfielder Trent Noel is 31 and deservedly among the list of invitees for Rijsbergen’s next international assignment. Perhaps, more weight should be placed on Oliver’s second supposed misdemeanour which is his perceived inability to dominate games.
Oliver is admittedly no Aurtis Whitley.
Whitley, Vibe CT 105 W Connection’s new midfield recruit, is blessed with eye catching dribbling skill and a booming shot to go with his work rate and tactical awareness. He is your classic all-action star.
Of course, Whitley, one of 16 World Cup players who have legally challenged the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) over bonuses, is not in Rijsbergen’s team either; but I digress.
The Dutchman is clearly unimpressed with Oliver’s more subtle offerings. He prefers Shoot Em Up to Sixth Sense.
And, considering that Rijsbergen infamously asked 41 players to try out for his 2007 Caribbean Cup team, a player must be without either a Trinidad and Tobago passport or a decent pair of boots to be omitted from his training camp.
Oliver has both and then some.
He does not seem to touch the ball enough but, most times, he does not have to. His ability to turn up at the right place at precisely the right time suggests his inherent football intelligence.
Oliver’s clever use of the ball when he does have it and shadow runs when he does not, is an education in movement.
Personally, I too would love to see more of him on the ball; to squeeze more enjoyment out of his silky touch.
But Oliver, who would be the country’s first Rastafarian international player since Strike Squad defender and United Petrotrin coach Brian Williams, is not for show and tell. He is for winning matches; and Caledonia’s performances this season—they are first in the league and play for the First Citizens Bank Cup tomorrow—testify to his value.
He is neither orthodox midfielder nor striker but he is a damn good footballer all the same.
Rijsbergen should be thrilled at the opportunity to get a closer look at him. He should be seen, like maverick midfielder Kerwin ‘Hardest’ Jemmott, to be a worthy and possibly rewarding challenge of his coaching ability.
But the European, who ex-national captain and Caribbean ‘Footballer of the Year’ David Nakhid once accused of close mindedness, just will not bite—even when the head national coach is banned from selecting most of his top overseas players.
It must be a source of embarrassment for Caledonia midfielder Stephan David and attacker Conrad Smith to turn up for national training knowing that their skipper was bizarrely ruled unworthy of even a training bib.
Rijsbergen’s predecessor and compatriot, Leo Beenhakker, remains Trinidad and Tobago ’s most successful coach after leading the Warriors into the 2006 World Cup and he will be remembered fondly for spearheading their courageous performances in Germany.
Perhaps Beenhakker’s sole blot was his inability to find room for the gifted Latapy in his team, which was built more on effort than enterprise.
Rijsbergen, thus far, has offered little to savour as head coach. Trinidad and Tobago do not celebrate second place in the 2007 Caribbean Cup, particularly when Jamaica were not invited, while the blacklist was his only feasible excuse after a hapless first round exit from June’s Concacaf Gold Cup.
In the midst of an uneventful international spell, up stepped the gangly Oliver. No one else does a better job of showing the effectiveness of marrying individual ability with team ethos.
Rijsbergen has so far chosen to look the other way.
Editor’s Note: Despite being a regular at national youth level, Marvin Oliver got just one cap as Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team player—which came under caretaker coach Anton Corneal.
A three-time Pro League champion with San Juan Jabloteh and Central FC, Oliver was 41 when he played his top flight game in 2016.
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