Time for TT football to reboot

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Levi Garcia, (far right) vs the Bahamas in a WC qualifer earlier this month.

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By Veersen Bhoolai,

June 23, 2021

 

On November 11, 2011, Trinidad & Tobago reached what I considered its lowest possible

point in football.

 

We were defeated 2-1 by Guyana in Georgetown and knocked out in the preliminary round of the WC qualifiers. A country that had not defeated us in more than three decades and never in a WC qualifier.

 

I thought we could go no lower.

 

I was wrong.

 

TT somehow found a way to struggle to a goalless draw with the Bahamas on June 5, a country that has never won a WC qualifier.  No one would have known that the Soca Warriors’ WC future was on the line. Anything less than a win would have meant that St. Kitts would qualify for the next round before even playing TT. Yet, the players exhibited the nonchalance of a team that seemed supremely confident and may have had a few games in hand.

 

Bahamas had collected 15 goals, scoring 0 in its previous three WC qualifiers this year against opponents, St. Kitts, Guyana and Puerto Rico. TT had beaten Guyana (3-0) and struggled to a 1-1 draw with Puerto Rico. However, despite Coach Fenwick having problems getting pitches  for training, no warm-up encounters and some players either not available or arriving at the last minute, NO ONE expected TT to struggle vs a team that had lost to Guyana 4-0, St. Kitts 4-0 and PR 7-0. With TT boasting players from the MLS, as well as Levi Garica (AEK Athens), Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen) and Aubrey David (Saprissa), they somehow found a way to give the Bahamas their biggest result in WC qualifiers. The way their bench was jumping and shouting after the match it was as if they had actually qualified for the WC.

 

Other countries had their fair share of problems dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, yet countries like St. Kitts, Canada

and Curacao despite severe challenges persevered.

 

TT handed St. Kitts their first defeat just days after the Bahamas debacle, showing the intensity they had lacked in the

previous encounter. But it was too little too late.

 

For TT football fans, it’s yet another anticlimactic let down. As a nation, we once again emit a collective sigh and ask

“Where do we go from here?

The local Federation has been disbanded by FIFA partly due to financial mismanagement amounting to a deficit of

almost one hundred million dollars (TT).

 

The local Professional League lost its luster long before Covid-19 came along. On more than one occasion, clubs have

won a title only to find out they would not be getting their prize money. A lack of revenue and the inability to pay

bonuses can naturally create havoc in a minor league like the PFL.

 

Other than England visiting TT in 2008, basically an overture to the FIFA VP, Jack Warner to support their bid to host a future WC, no

country or club of note has played an exhibition in TT since the last century.

 

Many football fans are simply at their wits’ end. Corporate TT would understandably not want to come around the mess known as the

TTFA and if the Ministry of Sport felt the same way, could you blame them?

 

Simply put the TTFA has no credibility based on decades of mismanagement.

 

It is time for the TTFA to hit a reset button and reboot our  football at all levels. After a forced Normalization  Committee, a massive debt and an embarrassment vs the Bahamas, it would be logical to start from ground zero and work our way upward.

 

The one positive is the people of TT love their football. If we have a proper program, the crowds will come and corporate sponsors will follow. The product is there and the market is available. The only lacking ingredient is proper management to merge the two.

 

The TTFA needs to rebrand and reimage itself. This is something that cannot have been lost on the learned individuals of the NC.

 

Transparency is the key. As was proven in a court of law regarding the TTFA, a little more than a decade ago, having an accountant does not necessarily mean your books are balanced. If they expect taxpayers’ money and they do, then have an accountant that is approved by both the MOS and the FA. In addition, have the MOS pay directly the salaries of all coaches that they have approved of in the FA budget. This would certainly mitigate the problem of owing millions to ex National Coaches.

 

The FA should assist the PFL and the Super League finding a Marketing Officer that can get them legitimate sponsors. That meaning not entities that enjoy having their names linked to the leagues only to renege on their agreement to pay any sponsorship.

 

The owner of North East Stars, Darryl Mahabir, alleged in 2004 that when his team won the FA title, not only were they not given their prize money, they also were given no part of the gate. How can this be happening in a civilized country in the twenty-first century? The fact that clubs have tolerated not being paid their winnings and continued in the PFL is admirable indeed. It is the job of the TTFA/PFL to encourage rather than discourage them.

 

Once upon a time, the best clubs in the world visited TT and played against the NT or other clubs. During the 1980s in the space of just a few years, Arthur Suite brought down the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspurs, Manchester United, Santos and Corinthians Paulista to play against his club Aviation Services Ltd. (ASL) or  TT.

 

If minnows like Thailand and Indonesia can have the top clubs in the world visit them, why can’t we? If the TTFA has the ability to organize top internationals, they have hidden it well. Encourage local promoters to do the job.

 

There are many ways to raise funds in addition to hiring a Marketing Officer but that would be an article for another time.

 

However, in improving the infrastructure of local football, one can automatically enhance the coffers as well.

 

It is unfair to expect clubs to have an U-23 system when they barely have enough money to run a pro team and don’t have a Second Team. Have screening sessions in the respective zones. If there are limited funds for internationals, then have an U-23 team in training during different times in the year, playing exhibition games vs the National U-19 team, a TT A team and even the National Team. Take these games to the people, have them play in areas like Pt. Fortin, Arima, Sangre Grande, communities where the people will be happy to have the nation’s footballers come to them.

 

Do the same with an A team, adding any foreign based when necessary (to the U-23s as well). Not only would these be unofficial national trials but the better home-based players can be seen whilst playing a higher level of football.

 

The Secondary Schools’ Football League has always captured the public’s attention. At the end of the SSFL season blend the best school players with any other U-19 players and have them play against a visiting U-19 club/National Team. The schools have their followers and you can bet that such a team vs the U-19s from clubs such as Santos, Argentine Juniors, Liverpool etc., will draw the masses.

 

Why not have a Trinidad vs Tobago clash every year at the end of the season? Alternate the matches between the two islands. Again, this would be a great scouting opportunity for the National Coach and pro clubs in TT.

 

The SSFL continues to retain its fan base both at home and abroad. Despite its problems there are still the foreign based nationals who are interested in the PFL and the local encounters. Why not offer a live internet stream of these matches to those abroad with the option  for local/foreign subscribers to be able to watch full matches after the fact.

 

The previous TTFA of 2020 had announced a scouting program in different countries. Terry Fenwick when assuming his role as National Coach last year boasted of some talented European based players who were interested in playing for TT. Other than Nicklas Frenderup and Daniel Phillips (Watford), we have not really seen anyone of note. However, with the administrative chaos of the TTFA combined with an international pandemic, perhaps such players will come to the fore later.

 

If we expect any eligible foreign player of note to leave his club in Europe and come to TT, it would be wise to have our house in order. What player would want to risk his place for a disorganized administration and a  country that is in no way ready to qualify for a World Cup?

 

As a nation, we have stood by for decades along with our government as the FA has mismanaged both teams and finances.

A cuss here an editorial there and then it’s business as normal. Although the TTFA enjoys a fair degree of autonomy, this is

OUR football. When it is obvious that funds have not beenproperly managed where is the MOS or the Fraud Squad. The USA’S

FBI investigated CONCACAF back in 2015. To summarize, at least 14 individuals were indicted. CONCACAF Secretary General,

Chuck Blazer was banned from FIFA for life in 2015. He died in 2017 before he could be sentenced by a US court.

The FBI is still patiently waiting for Warner to visit their shores so that he can be questioned about his role with FIFA,

CONCACAF and other footballing matters and pertaining finances.

 

We in TT, both government and the public must stand up. We must let the TTFA know that the unfettered incompetence of the

past will not be tolerated. If the FA cannot satisfy the government’s demand for transparency then by all means deny them of

funds, have the public boycott them. Let us get as motivated about this as when we fought against Apartheid forty odd years ago.

 

Yes there might be a negative effect on the national game but a short term fall out is preferrable if we are to achieve long term gains.

 

The TTFA must be made to understand that this is OUR football and nothing less than total transparency and efficiency will be tolerated.

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Robert Hadad, Chairman of the TTFA Normalization Committee

Chuck Blazer, former General Secretary of Concacaf whose financial deviancy caught up with him.