Many people overlook the man behind the success

Author: Andre Sooklal, Flow Sports Host, Opta Core Correspondent

 Many people are still celebrating from the recent 6-0 victory over St. Vincent & the Grenadines which, as a result, has put Trinidad and Tobago at the top of their qualifying group. However, many people overlook the man behind the success. Little did the Trinidad & Tobago public know that on the 18th of June 2013 things were going to change. Stephen Hart was appointed as Head Coach of Trinidad & Tobago’s Senior Men’s National Team with much skepticism from the local football fraternity. In tribute to this victory here are 6 reasons why Stephen Hart is the right man for the job.

1.) Steadying the Ship

Let’s be honest! Trinidad and Tobago has been on a downward spiral ever since the 2006 World Cup euphoria. All the football personalities in the country said all the right things, but to be frank none of them had any idea of how to execute such ideas. We had blank cheques and a budget which all of the Caribbean envied (the source of these funds are another matter). The team that took us to glory had wage issues and were eventually blacklisted, just to name a few of their issues.  When we were at our lowest Stephan Hart was appointed with many criticising his appointment. Ironically, critics were questioning why were we hiring another foreign coach when in fact he is originally from South Trinidad. Hart gave us a respectable showing at the Gold Cup and, even though he had minimal time to prepare, the signs were there and we narrowly lost out to Mexico in a 1-0 defeat. He managed to take a team that was at its lowest ever and started to build the solid foundation that would eventually lead to the very respectable places in the Caribbean Cup finals losing to Jamaica on penalties and the recent Gold Cup 2015.

2.) The Progression
This was a team that could no longer beat teams like Guyana and Bermuda, as they were getting knocked out in the initial group stages of World Cup qualification, yet they transformed into a team that gave World Cup 2014 runners up Argentina a good run, and had Mexico so frustrated at the 2015 Gold Cup that they resorted to throwing bottles at our players when they realised Trinidad and Tobago were no walkovers...
The team went from one in disarray to one with an organised system that was starting to define a style of play as a result. The Soca Warriors were no longer sitting and hoping for a result; they became a team that took initiative.  A pool of players who were previously unknown to the general public were now starting to shine and even though it was far from perfect it was clear to those who understand the game that something special was taking shape. Players who were no longer getting attention from foreign clubs were starting to make international moves again. The passing and composure of the team showed a managerial sophistication and execution that had not been seen for a while. Many tend to disagree but Hart’s methods, while heavily criticised, get results. So, as stated before, from a team that could not beat what the nation arrogantly dubbed as “minnows” in football to once again reaching finals and performing well in international tournaments is no easy feat and must not be overlooked.
 3.) Psychological Approach
An area which is very much overlooked is Stephen Hart’s understanding of the psychological components of the game.  His players have come out with glowing praise of his ability to not just communicate effectively but to instil self-belief in players and the team as a whole.  Those who follow the national team can see that often he is seen having individual conversations with players and the players respond to this in a very receptive manner.
When Hart was hired many in the local fraternity questioned his knowledge of the local talent pool and also cast further doubt about his ability to communicate with players as a result. The team now plays with an emotional intelligence and composure that has not been seen in a long time. Many theorists of the game love to speak about team selection and tactics but many forget that the game is played by human beings and without a proper understanding of how to get players, who have different personalities, to effectively execute the instructions put forth is a an attribute that deserves praise.

4.) Media Friendly

For the casual fans, you will find it hard to find anyone who would disagree that Stephan Hart’s professionalism and ability to do his job, while being media friendly, was a pleasant surprise.  There was no arrogance (this is not an accusation to previous coaches) but the aura of humility and seriousness about the job was a pleasant surprise. In a time where interest in football was at an all time low this was a welcome surprise. His willingness and understanding of how interaction with the fans and the public is an essential component shows, that besides his tactical acumen, he is also very much aware of the other aspects of the job. Often many coaches are unapproachable and snub opportunities to engage the very target audience that they dismiss. Also, his handling of the well documented salary disputes was dealt with with such professionalism, class, and dignity, when the norm in Trinidad and Tobago is to lash out at the media and make malicious comments. He has done a lot to improve the wounded image between football and corporate Trinidad and Tobago. Admittedly, that is a task that is still far from being accomplished.
 5.) Unifying a Football Environment in Disarray
There is a cold, hard truth that the local football scene is not united at all. Agendas, corruption, and clashing philosophies (to put it lightly) are all factors which have caused the lack of unified vision that is currently HURTING football at all levels.  Barring a few malicious parties, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who can argue that since Hart’s appointment many people in various areas of the football environment have bought into Hart’s way of doing things. His interest in all levels, not just the Pro League, but personally going to youth camps all over Trinidad and Tobago, has done a lot to endear him to the general public. His unbiased yet pragmatic method of selecting players and building a strong pool is also something to be admired.  Players who would have probably been overlooked are now being actively observed and integrated into the national team in a pragmatic and responsible manner. The progression of some existing players in terms of performances are hard to ignore.  Considering the well documented lack of resources, this is no easy feat!

 6.) Belief in the Team!  – Perhaps the most important of them all! When one asks the general public about their thoughts of the national team many remark, usually without hesitation, “Trinidad just going to loss anyway”, “We are rubbish”, “I rather watch EPL or La Liga than watch poor quality football”, “We can’t even beat Guyana”. This mind-set has now changed. People speak about the team with an enthusiasm that was not there before. Even the most romantic of football fans cannot deny that in this rather cynical game, at times, results are what matter. The results came, the style of play has improved, players are now more accessible and relatable than they were in the past due to social media, etc. Yes, one can say the people who left the team when things were down and returned when the team wins are bandwagon fans. But there can be no denying that the belief and a sense of hope has returned. This was very evident in the game against USA. The fans roared from start to finish.  It was pore raising for someone who had to sit through games with a handful of people in the stadium. It evoked feelings of unity and joy which were believed to be dead for years.  In a country that at present is not in the best state this is quite a feat and should not be ignored. He has taken us from being a joke in recent years to us now being a force to be reckoned with against some of the world’s best.
Check out EXTV’s interview with ESPN FC Shaka Hislop about Stephen Hart’s replacement.

Stephan Hart has given the country hope, gained us respect as a football team again and all this through tremendous adversity. He has taken a team from footballing darkness to a team that once again inspires hope. The Copa Centenario loss: was it painful? Of course! But few can argue what this man has done for our football and if we are not careful and don’t give him what he needs, we may lose him to another country that does!


Author – Andre Sooklal

Twitter – @AndreSooklal

Instagram – @AndreSooklal

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