UWI alumni: Former national football coach Hannibal Najjar, right, shares the moment with fellow alumni Dr Victor Coombs during the Distinguished Alumni Awards at the Teaching and Learning Complex, at UWI’s St Augustine Campus, on Thursday. —Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

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Najjar gives back to UWI

By Michelle Loubon

Sir Edwin Carrington, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Caricom,  challenged 25 outstanding University of the West Indies (UWI) alumni to donate their  funds and  resources to the tertiary  institution.  Occasion was the UWIAA Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony at the Teaching and Learning Complex, at  St Augustine Campus, on Thursday. 

At  the event’s cocktail reception, alumni Hannibal Najjar, former head coach and technical director of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF)   took up Carrington’s  challenge and pledged $10,000. Another alumni   Dr Victor Coombs, former Chief Medical Officer at Petrotrin for 21 years,  followed suit and pledged $10,000. 

Seizing the moment, Coombs said: “I happen  to be an alumni of three different universities.  The London and Massachusetts alumni respond in similar fashion. I have long felt UWI graduates should do a lot more. When the opportunity came, I stepped up to the plate.”   

In an interview with the Express, Hannibal, who read for his first degree an M Phil in Extension Management, at UWI, said: “When Carrington and Minnia spoke about the importance of giving back, I felt it was appropriate to do so. I immediately pledged $10,000.  UWI has given me so much. This country has given me so much. It was the least I could do.  I believe in the Biblical injunction: “God loves a cheerful giver.” We always like to receive something. But the cheerful giver understands the joy of the receiver and that is why we give. I believe if you give, give with a free spirit. I was glad to kickstart the giving on that special night. I believe in Mother Teresa’s (the Saint of the Gutters)  motto “The hunger for love is greater than the hunger for food.” 

He added: “It was an honour to have been selected to receive an alumni award.  UWI gave me a good break in my life. I met Dr Bobb, a Guyanese lecturer and he helped me get my life on the right track. I am grateful to him. Prof Imbert has always been supportive and a dear friend to me.”

Apart from his UWI degree, Hannibal, 60,  pursued three other Masters’ degrees-an MA Sports Administration, Business Education and Communication.  

Before his tertiary education, Najjar attended Tranquillity Government Secondary, Woodbrook Secondary and St Mary’s College, Pembroke Street, Port of Spain. 

Today, along with his spouse Annette, he straddles his time between Missouri, USA, and Trinidad.

 At Missouri, he works and lectures  as a management coach and sports coach/consultant at Adjunct Faculty, Lindenwood University. Before establishing ties abroad, Najjar worked with the Strike Squad during the glory days of local football. 

 His last coaching assignment was in 2002.  He succeeded Brazilian coach Simoes.  Dutch coach Leo Benhakker succeeded Najjar in  2004. 

Najjar  said: “The players graduated from my supervision into the legendary Strike Squad. I worked with Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy, Anthony Rougier, Philbert Jones, Leonson Lewis, Michael Morris, Clayton Morris and Dexter Francis.  It was the golden  days of the Strike Squad...Eighty-five per cent of the Strike Squad were under my tutelage.” 

Sharing his sentiments on T&T football, Najjar said: “I have been to about 75 countries. Brazil is loaded with soccer talent. It has a football culture. Trinidad has an abundance of talent. But the skills and mentality need to be honed. We have a large number of coaching schools who are serving a good purpose.” 

Sharing his sentiments on local youth, he said: “There needs to be more focus on the holistic development of  young people. They need to know where they are going. I agree with local songstress Ella Andall, we have a missing generation.”  

Although he is based abroad, Hannibal said: “I am a patriot. Even though I am not in the national spotlight like before, it does not say  I am not committed to my country’s development. I was in the panyard eating roti at 2 am on Friday night. A man without a country is a man without a soul. I hold onto that belief as much as I hold on to the red, white and black.”

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