sin of omission
Now that the euphoria is subsiding ever so slowly after the
performance of the Soca Warriors in Germany, I for one feel
constrained to express my disappointment over the treatment
meted out to Russell Latapy by coach Leo Beenhakker.
The World Cup finals are, were and always will be about showcasing
the great players of the world. This is the one stage where
hitherto unknown countries and their respective players stand
equal with the traditional greats and have a chance to etch
their names in history.
Take Roger Milla, for example. Before the World Cup finals
in 1990 in Italy, the Cameroon was not particularly known
for its footballing prowess. But at the ripe old age of 38,
Milla announced his arrival from oblivion and coupled with
a dazzling display of skill and craft scored a memorable goal
for his country against the mighty Argentina.
From thence onwards, Roger Milla has become a household name
and he remains today one of the great ambassadors of the sport.
His name will forever be mentioned along with the greats who
made their mark on the world.
His contribution to Italia 90 embodied the very ethos
the World Cup, that is, hitherto unsung heroes could have
the opportunity to endear themselves to the world.
Russell Latapy, a legend in his own time, is a national icon.
He came out of retirement to inspire a struggling T&T
team and it was his equaliser against Guatemala when he wrong-footed
a defender that put us on course for an eventual 3-2 win and
kept the nations hopes of qualification alive.
Every country has its great players and coaches are obliged
to respect such players, whatever their eccentricities or
George Best of Northern Ireland was a genius in his time,
but was also given to a lifestyle more akin to a movie star
from Hollywood. So, too, Paul Gascoigne of England. A gifted
talent who only needed a few touches of the ball to stamp
his class on a game, but who had an equal passion for the
nightlife and its attendant implications.
But no coach dared leave them out of a team because they knew
only too well the fear that such players instilled, and that
their very aura and presence on the field were invaluable
tools against the sternest of oppositions.
Latapy is one of the greatest if not the greatest midfielder
this country has ever produced. It was his only and final
opportunity to show the world what we at home already knew.
He, if no one else, deserved to play in the World Cup. He
represented some famous clubs in Europe. FC Porto, Benfica
to name but two. His name is revered anywhere he plays, and
just the mention of his name conjures up a flood of emotion
His only transgression, according to Beenhakker, is that he
is not a ball winner.
Beenhakker achieved what no other coach was able to achieve
and for this the nation owes him a debt of gratitude. But
he lit the flame and then put it under a bushel. The brightest
and most charismatic star in the Soca Warriors firmament
was not allowed a chance to shine.
And so the world was robbed of seeing another great player
of the modern era in full flight.
Had he been given a greater opportunity to showcase his talent,
his name may well have been mentioned in the same breath with
Zidane, Vieira, Figo and Del Piero for years to come.
Little Magician earned the right to play in the World
Cup. Had he not returned, the Soca Warriors may never have
qualified. He is our Zidane, our Figo. The talisman whose
craft and cunning are the stuff of which many a World Cup
dream is made.
The world will never forget the full command of nerve with
which Shaka Hislop held the Swedish powerhouse at bay for
93 odd minutes. Such composure was invaluable and only comes
with playing the game at the highest level for a considerable
period of time.
Were it not for a twist of fate, with Kelvin Jack deemed unfit
only ten minutes before the encounter against the Swedes,
Hislop too would have been consigned to the bench, perhaps
without ever having had the chance to climax his outstanding
career with a meaningful World Cup appearance.
Hislops commanding performance in that crucial opening
game in Dortmund on June 10 created the belief in the T&T
camp that it was now possible to march to Nuremberg on June
20 and meet the English as equals.
How much more would have Latapys presence against the
auld enemy lifted our chances of victory from probable
to very possible.
One coach opined that Beenhakker appeared to be more interested
in preserving his own legacy than in forging an all-out victory
for the Soca Warriors. That is to say, he seemed resolute
in ensuring that the Soca Warriors played a defensive game
to the extent that if they lost, the margin of defeat would
not be great.
Upon reflection, and with the benefit of hindsight, this view
gains currency when one considers the team selected to play
against Paraguay. In a must-win game, Beenhakker elected to
field another defensive team, again leaving the nations
most charismatic, penetrative and attacking player on the
I was among the supporters in the Kaiserslautern stadium against
Paraguay, and I can attest that had it not been for chants
of Latapy, Latapy by the T&T fans around the
65th minute, which chants Beenhakker could not ignore, the
world may never have seen The Magician cast his
spell, albeit only for 25 minutes. But for those 25 minutes,
Latapys sun shone in all its splendid beauty and it
set the world alight.
Immediately upon his entrance to a deafening roar, the genius
began to weave his magic with captivating sweetness. Pores
raised and tongues began to wag in various languages when,
in a flash, he rifled a shot just over the Paraguayan bar
and then raised his hands to his face in anguish.
If Beenhakkers outstanding achievement was in ensuring
this countrys qualification for Germany 2006, then his
most glaring omission was in depriving the world an opportunity
to see another one of the games geniuses who, in the
twilight of his career, could have stamped his name in this
the beautiful game, indeed the game of the century, for all
time to come.