With World Cup 2014 now but a memory, this is a good a time to reflect on the state of Trinidad and Tobago football. Two World Cups ago, this country was the toast of Germany as the smallest to make it onto football’s biggest stage. Whatever hopes this nation had for building on that momentum were dashed as T&T’s fairytale appearance in World Cup 2006 petered out without the storybook ending. Instead, we endured the sorry spectacle of the 2006 Soca Warriors having to battle tooth and nail through the courts to get money owed to them. To date, not even the court ruling in their favour has succeeded in forcing the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) to make good on its debt to the players. Alongside this has been the embarrassing collapse of the TTFA to the point of bankruptcy.
Club football has also endured its own challenges as one of the many victims of the collapse of CL Financial. Once the proud sponsor of the famed San Juan Jabloteh team, CL Financial was among the small handful of private corporations to give consistent support to football.
However, the biggest impact on football’s fortunes has come from Jack Warner, football administrator extraordinaire. Over the course of his remarkable rise from community league football to the vice-presidency of FIFA, Warner carried T&T football on a wild ride, moving from the depths of deprivation to the heights of glory, and back down.
Any objective analysis of Warner’s impact on the development of football in T&T and the Caribbean will have to weigh the positives and negatives. Which way the scales should tip would be a matter for debate. Suffice it to say, however, that T&T football urgently needs to pull itself together and chart a way forward beyond the ruins of Warner’s football career.
There is no doubt that Warner’s departure has left a huge void in football administration which cannot, and should not be filled by some other personality. For football’s sake, Warner’s exit should mark the end of the era of personality-led leadership. What T&T football needs now is an effective administrative machinery that reconceptualises the management of the sport and strategises the way forward towards clear developmental goals and targets. In this way, the management requirements for football are no different from any other area of national life.
A fundamental condition, however, must be the depoliticisation of football. In the context of the history between Warner and successive political administrations, going back to the Williams era, this is likely to be a tall order. Football and politics have become so intertwined that it will not be easy to disentangle the many knots in which its administration is caught. One consequence of this will be played out in coming months as the Soca Warriors intensify their quest to have the TTFA pay the US$1.3 million owed to them.
While the sequel to World Cup 2006 is played out in the courts, the real future of football lies out in the fields with today’s youngsters. Let us not fail them.