|World Cup close to climax, what about TT football? |
By STEPHON NICHOLAS Sunday, July 6 2014
The 2014 FIFA World Cup reaches its climax in seven days, bringing to an end a month of some of the most exciting international football ever witnessed. Football fever has truly gripped this nation with persons proudly donning official and bootleg team replica jerseys and even sticking miniature flags onto their vehicles. But while such fanaticism is quite common all around the world, where does that leave us? How far behind are our Soca Warriors in the grand scheme of things?
Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of CONCACAF can truly be proud of the way Costa Rica, Mexico and the USA have represented this region with distinction. Gone are the days that our teams go to the World Cup with the hope of not being embarrassed.
Mexico, Costa Rica and USA have not only shown grit and heart in their performances but a bit of style and panache that has certainly not gone unnoticed.
But when the World Cup is done and a new champion crowned what exactly have our players and coaches learned? Definitely, the task of taking Trinidad and Tobago back to football’s promised land seems an even more arduous journey considering the level our CONCACAF neighbours have reached.
But that should not be seen as a problem but further motivation for our coaches and players to improve significantly as well.
TT, under coach Stephen Hart, has made strides and last month got a taste of top class action in a friendly against World Cup semifinalists Argentina which they lost 3-0. Facing the likes of Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Giguain and Ezequiel Lavezzi all at once is no easy task as Belgium realised yesterday.
Speaking to Sunday Newsday yesterday, Hart acknowledged that his job is a difficult one and says players and administrators can learn a lot from seeing the other CONCACAF teams in action.
“I think what this World Cup has done is open our eyes as to how everyone is advancing. It’s opened our eyes about player development and investing heavily in youth programmes. Look at Costa Rica, most of the players on their side were on the team that finished fourth in the Under-20 World Cup (in 2009),” he said.
Commenting on what is needed for TT to make a second appearance at the World Cup, Hart said, Yes, it’s never going to be easy. CONCACAF is so hard to get out from because (qualifying) is so long and teams can gain and lose form. What we have to do is strive for consistency, be a team that is difficult to beat and then we can get our results right.”
Meanwhile, Hart lamented that there are no Trinbagonians currently playing in the top leagues around the world as he stressed on the significance of individual quality even in a team setup which he says can tilt the balance in a match.
“If you look at the teams in CONCACAF that have done well and look at the players that have carried those teams, they are playing at the highest standard necessary. They are playing Champions League football; they are playing top level football in Europe and right now we don’t have that. If you look at our team in 2006 we had that. We had Marvin Andrews, Dwight (Yorke), Stern John and a number of players playing at a very good level so our players have to strive to get in the best environment possible because that way you are challenged in a very competitive manner,” the former Canada head coach pointed out. Hart also commented on what he has seen tactically from the CONCACAF teams and hailed their brilliant efforts. “It’s been absolutely fantastic to see.
They’ve shown a high level of preparation in terms of fitness, tactical adjustments and ability to fight hard for results...You know for yourself what’s happening (out there) but seeing it is justification for your thoughts. Nowadays teams have to be teams,” he added.
The 54-year-old Hart was quite frank in his comments on the support or lack thereof of club football in this country when compared to Trinbagonians' unwavering support for other countries and clubs such as Manchester United, Barcelona FC, Chelsea and Real Madrid to name a few.
Trinis regularly fork out close to $500 for a jersey of their favourite team but some find it too expensive to pay $200 to see a national team play. Recently former national coach Jamaal Shabazz on a local tv station criticised locals for not attending Pro League games which cost a mere $30 on average.
“I think that is the most disappointing thing. My time (as a player) in Trinidad and Tobago, our local football was extremely popular but it’s a new era. People can sit down at home and watch the best players play twice a week now but it’s extremely disappointing that our own local product cannot get a foothold fan-wise because the fans would force players and clubs to raise the standard,” Hart concluded.The local players have an excellent opportunity though to get the fans excited and supporting TT football again if they can win the 2014 Caribbean Cup.
The winner will automatically get a spot in the 2015 Centennial Cup featuring teams from CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. The tournament will be held in the US and offers our players the possibility of taking on the likes of Brazilian star Neymar, Messi, Chile’s Alexis Sanchez and Colombian starlet James Rodriguez. It is not an unrealistic possibility as the Soca Warriors were beaten in the 2012 final by Cuba but need to be one better this time around.