When will T&T’s football rise from this mess?

By Lance Whittaker April 10, 2020

FIFA’s latest football rankings published this week listed the Caribbean powerhouse Trinidad and Tobago at 105th in the world, their second-lowest in history.

A Normalization Committee appointed by FIFA is charged with sorting out dire financial and administrative affairs of the TT Football Association (TTFA) but will the virus that has seen the regional giants plummet to their lowest levels all-time be tackled as well in this process?

The eight-time Caribbean Football Union (CFU) champions have now spent a 10th consecutive month outside the world’s top-100.

The last time T&T’s Soca Warriors were the top-rated Caribbean team on the FIFA Coca-Cola Rankings was October 2016. From 65th in the world three and a half years ago, they have steadily plunged to embarrassing levels, not good enough for a football programme that had long been regarded as the best in the Caribbean.

Absorbed in a political football power war in the past year that included acrimonious election campaigning and subsequent unseating of David John-Williams (DJW) as President, T&T’s football results have been ghastly.

The Coronavirus has dismantled all sporting schedules globally and maybe it’s a good thing for T&T’s football since the inactivity may have eased their fans from some more painful match results.

Former England international and 1986 World Cup defender Terry Fenwick is the new head coach, replacing Dennis Lawrence and the straight-talking ex-defender’s job is likely to be negatively impacted by the current administrative turmoil.

Indeed, there are already media reports of heated exchanges Fenwick has had with the Technical team over dissatisfaction with efforts to sort out passports for foreign-born players being targeted for T&T representation.

T&T’s football fraternity is divided over FIFA’s intervention that sidelined last November’s elected executive, whose attorneys Matthew Gayle and Dr Emir Crowne have now gone to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) in an effort to annul FIFA’s intervention.

FIFA’s track record globally clearly indicates they are powerful enough and have the right to intervene in any of its 211 affiliates’ administrative affairs if they are deemed not to be following the FIFA Statutes -- rules and regulations – that they themselves have signed to.

Opponents of the FIFA intervention in T&T reason that it was indecently done, given the fact the new executive had only been in place for three months, trying to tackle massive financial problems that were largely inherited.

The fact that serious financial problems existed when John-Williams was boss and FIFA did not intervene, begs the question why didn’t they at the time? The answer is fairly obvious. John-Williams has a good relationship with the FIFA President Gianni Infantino and profited from FIFA’s support and understanding.

Days ahead of the November 24, 2019 TTFA elections, Infantino attended the glitzy opening of John-Williams’s biggest project, the “Home of Football” in Couva and he praised DJW as a leader displaying “wisdom and vision” with the project the FIFA President said represented “an investment in the future”.

Unruffled that T&T were just coming off setting all-time records for longest losing streak, winless streak and run of games without scoring, Infantino downplayed results in a SportsMax interview with George Davis, declaring firmly that when there is a heavy investment in stability with an eye for future development it was wrong to make a “sporting result (loss)” become a “tragedy” or a “catastrophe”.

Asserting obvious support for DJW’s team ahead of the TTFA Elections, Infantino defended the Home of Football investment as a building tool for the country’s football. “You need to build, you need to be stable … and that’s exactly what has been done and then the results will come because of the seriousness of the investment. We have now a solid foundation in this so that football can grow and be built and I am sure this will happen in the future with John-Williams,” Infantino said.

Infantino’s “future with John-Williams” narrative was ruined by DJW’s 26-20 loss to William Wallace’s men at the TTFA polls and I suspect that as far as FIFA is concerned, the wrong men are in charge.

A FIFA/CONCACAF audited study of the TTFA’s Finances in February apparently triggered the move to step in and remove the elected officials even though General Secretary Ramesh Ramdhan had reported to local media then that the mission was favourable and that FIFA were on their side.  

Leadership of major sporting organisations has long been about politics and power and football presidency at the global and confederation levels perfectly illustrate this.

I attended a few Caribbean Football Union (CFU) congress sessions that were open to the media during Jack Warner’s reign and saw the God-like sway he held over his subjects as a FIFA Vice-President and the CONCACAF Chief.

With that power, also came freedom to make unobstructed decisions, especially in a FIFA culture fashioned by Joao Havelange that while financially flourishing always had integrity question marks.

Brazilian Havelange, widely considered Warner’s mentor, enjoyed a 24-year reign -- before Sepp Blatter took over in 1998 – that boasted exponential football growth while never entertaining opposition. History shows you don’t fight FIFA and win so the odds are heavily against the relegated TTFA executive challenging this move by FIFA.

In the meantime, T&T’s football fans deserve more from their national team. Their October 2010 ranking of 106th in a brief sojourn outside FIFA’s top-100 almost 10 years ago, is the only ever weaker ranking position than they have now. Heading for a whole year outside FIFA’s top-100 as they are now, is unheard of in T&T’s glamorous football history.

How and when will the turnaround happen? Fenwick did not make it as a manager in his native England, but has had success in T&T, copping Pro League titles with Central FC (twice) and San Juan Jabloteh. He knows the T&T landscape well enough but appears short on the kind of talent that has propelled T&T’s International programme in the past.

Normalisation Committee chairman Robert Hadad, Judy Daniel and Nigel Romano along with the yet-to-be-named others on a five-member panel will have a tough job resuscitating T&T’s football, especially in this contentious climate fraught with bitterness and legal dispute.

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