1998 June 30.
While it is true that a comprehensive plan for the 2002 World Cup Campaign has not been finalized as yet, the Technical Staff of the Senior National Team began to focus on the challenge ahead from the time it was appointed in May 1997. We initially undertook a review of the recent World Cup campaigns (1994 and 1998) to ensure that some of the mistakes would not be repeated. Despite a million dollar budget and two foreign coaches, our national team performed poorly in our last campaign, gaining one point from a possible eighteen. Clearly there are issues beyond the acquisition of a foreign coach that determine success or failure. Several factors accounted for the dismal performance in the last World Cup effort, including an absence of long-term planning, weak management, indiscipline and a general lack of commitment among the players.
From the outset the new Technical Staff recognized that it had inherited a team that was demotivated, disillusioned and riddled with divisions and cliques. The legacy of that ill-fated campaign is still having it's impact today and it will take some time before all the wounds are healed. Additionally, we realized that some of the players who had served Trinidad and Tobago for many years would not be around in 2002. Consequently a decision was taken to begin the initial process of transition and introduce a new generation of footballers to international football.
The Shell /Umbro Caribbean Cup was a mere three weeks off at the time and Coach Bertille St. Clair selected a team that was unfortunately described as "second-rate", simply because it did not have some of the better known players in the lineup. The team eventually captured the championship title and confounded its many critics. What the team may have lacked in talent and experience, it certainly made up with grit and determination.
Since then, some twenty-one youngsters have been introduced to the Senior National Team as part of our plan to identify the best available talent for 2002. Despite the lack of success at times, we are determined to continue the process until the end of this year. We are convinced that now is the time to introduce new players . We cannot wait, as in the past, until the next World Cup is just around the corner to begin preparing the team.
Several overseas-based players have already indicated their fervent desire to represent Trinidad and Tobago and the coach intends to look at them and see if they have what it takes. Coach St. Claire continues to stress that what he is looking for is not only talent, but moreso commitment, ambition and mental toughness. He is not interested in "prima donnas" who shine brightly when things are in their favor but fade rapidly when the going gets tough.
He emphasizes the importance of team work and insists that country must come before self at all times. More importantly he consistently promotes the virtues of hard work and self-discipline as the vehicles for success. It may sound old fashioned to some and a throwback to a less sophisticated era, but the response of the players themselves has been encouraging. Since training sessions resumed three weeks ago, more that forty players including several overseas-based players have been in attendance on a regular basis.
At the end of this year, the Technical Staff intends to establish a pool of approximately forty (40) players, the "Top 40" so to speak, from which will emerge the 2000 Olympic and Gold Cup Squads and the 2002 World Cup Team. Since qualification for 2002 World Cup begins in 2000, less than two years away, 1999 will be an extremely important year for the Senior National Team.
A program of international matches, initially one per month is currently being developed. Many of our top players are now playing overseas, either in the United States or Europe and the program will seek to accommodate their various Club commitments. However players must be prepared to spend sometime training with the team and playing practice games.
The Technical Staff is also looking at overseas professionals who are of Trinidadian and Tobagonian parentage and who wish to represent the country. We feel that any player who is eligible and who has the talent and the desire to play for Trinidad and Tobago should be given the opportunity.
There is a considerable amount of work to be done if Trinidad and Tobago intends to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. The talent is indeed available but that is only one part of the equation. Substantial financial support is also required, not in two or three years time but as soon as possible, certainly by the end of the year, when the training program intensifies. On the technical side, the establishment of a Technical Department within the T.T.F.A. is a positive development. This Department is expected to pull together all available technical expertise, local and foreign, to assist in the development of the game at club and national level.
The Semi-Professional Football League continues to grow from strength to strength and the Technical Staff is particularly pleased with the improved relationship between Club coaches and National coaches. We firmly believe that strong, dynamic clubs are necessary for the development of a successful National Team and we see no need for conflict. The history of local football reveals that our national teams are more successful when the standard of club football including the Colleges League, is high. An objective review of the 1989 and 1974 World Cup campaign will easily demonstrate this. It means therefore that the T.T.F.A. must devote time to developing club football and ensuring that clubs are properly organized and capable of producing players with the basic attributes. In this regard, the emergence of clubs like Joe Public, Jabloteh, AIA Caledonia and Queen's Park is an encouraging sign. Together with perennial stalwarts like Defence Force and United Petrotrin (formerly Trintoc and Trintopec), these clubs will provide a important resource base for the future. It is at this level that foreign expertise is needed not only by bringing in foreign coaches, but by sending local coaches overseas to work with their foreign counterparts.
We need to avoid simplistic solutions like "bring a foreign coach" as the only answer to our World Cup dreams. There is no football messiah with a magic wand who will come here and make all things bright and beautiful and there is no easy route to World Cup glory. Trinidad and Tobago has already had more foreign coaches than any other country in CONCACAF, but have failed to benefit from their presence because we have ignored the other key components of success. Let us not fool ourselves, it is going to be a long and difficult road to 2002. Only the combined efforts of players, coaches, administrators, spectators and sponsors will take us there. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done and not much time left.
Manager, Senior National Team
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