Barnes, Thuram, Tresor
The Caribbean has produced a number of footballers who went on to become household names in Europe such as Jamaica-born former Liverpool and England winger John Barnes, Barcelona and France defender Lilian Thuram, Guadeloupe-born former French star Marius Tresor and Trinidadian Dwight Yorke, who won the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League with Manchester United.
But Rutter believes talented youngsters are now being diverted away from European clubs. “There are loads of very promising young players out there but they are often snapped up by talent scouts from the United States who are trawling the Caribbean looking for up-and-coming players. But they’re not representing MLS clubs. Rather, they are looking for footballers for the American colleges where football – or should I say soccer – has proved to be such a big hit. The trouble is, though, these guys aren’t then making the transition to professional football in the States. Instead, they are setting their sights on becoming doctors, lawyers and architects and so forth. To address this, football in the Caribbean needs to develop something of an exit route so that kids with promise and ambition know how they can make the step-up to a career in professional football.”
Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago are currently the top dogs on the Caribbean football scene but FIFA’s Dumortier is convinced that Cuba are ready to mount a serious challenge to their rival’s dominance and thus intensify competition and public interest in the region.
There have indeed been signs recently that new regional powers are beginning to emerge, with Haiti defeating eight-time champions and hosts Trinidad & Tobago in the final of the 2007 Caribbean Cup. Former French international Jocelyn Angloma also recently came out of retirement to help Guadeloupe reach the semi-finals and qualify for their first CONCACAF Gold Cup alongside third-placed Cuba in a competition won by the United States. The grassroots of the game are also looking very strong with Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago both securing places for the first time in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup 2007 in Korea.
The teenagers’ arrival on the global stage in the Far East revived memories of past Caribbean heroes who have graced the FIFA World Cup™ finals on four occasions. Cuba were the first Caribbean team to reach the finals in 1938 following the withdrawal of Mexico and United States and they managed to spring what was regarded is the biggest shock of the first round at ae tournament in France. The Cubans managed to hold a more experienced Romania team to a 3-3 draw before securing a passage to the last eight by fighting back from a goal down to secure a historic 2-1 win in their next match. Unfortunately for Cuba, overcoming their European counterparts took its tool and they were hammered 8-0 in the quarter-finals by Sweden.
The Caribbean had to wait until 1974 before another one of its countries booked a berth at the FIFA World Cup™ when Haiti made it to West Germany. Their idol proved to be Emmanuel “Manno” Sanon, who secured his own place in football folklore by giving the underdogs a shock lead against the mighty Italians at the imposing Olympic Stadium in Munich, beating legendary goalkeeper Dino Zoff just after half-time. Sanon became the first player in 13 games to find a way past Zoff, and for six minutes a sensational result was on the cards until Italy recovered to seal a 3-1 win.
Sadly, Haiti, deprived of defender Jean Joseph who had tested positive for a banned substance, then fell apart and were beaten 7-0 by Group 4 winners Poland, who eventually finished third in the competition, and 4-1 by Argentina, with Sanon scoring again.
In 1998, Jamaica, coached by Brazilian “Professor” Rene Simoes, secured a place at the finals by tapping into the country’s overseas resources and using players of Jamaican descent who were playing in England in the shape of Robbie Earle, Paul Hall, Fitzroy Simpson and Deon Burton, whose goals went a long way to leading the country into uncharted territory. Jamaica were beaten 3-1 by Croatia in Toulouse with then Wimbledon captain Earle scoring for the underdogs before they suffered a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Argentina at the Pare des Princes in Paris, Gabriel Batistuta hitting a hattrick and Ariel Ortega striking twice. The Reggae Boyz recovered to overcome fellow debutants Japan 2-1 thanks to Seba United’s Theodore Whitmore’s brace of goals, upsetting the odds in the process and prompting their supporters to dance in the stands in Lyons.
Their journey had ended in victorious fashion and their European exploits had a massive impact back home with a huge rise in the popularity of football in a place where cricket is regarded as the national game.
“Sport is a Jamaican obsession, hardly surprising in a country that has produced so many world-class athletes,” says Adam Vaitilingham, who co-authored the Rough Guide to Jamaica. “In bars, buses and taxis, if the music isn’t blaring from the radio then the chances are that they’re tuned into the cricket, football or horse-racing while the newspapers are awash with sports reports and statistics from Jamaica and overseas. Since the Jamaican national team, the Reggae Boyz, qualified for the World Cup, football has become another national obsession; it has become as popular with young people – if not more so – as cricket. Although international matches at the National Stadium in Kingston — popularly known as “The Office” – are relatively rare, the team’s success has inevitably boosted local interest with league games, mainly in the semi-professional Wray and Nephew Premier League, attracting large and passionate crowds at grounds across the country. These games are well worth attending for the atmosphere as much as for the action on the pitch. The teams to look out for are Kingston-based Waterhouse, Harbour View, Tivoli Gardens or Montego Bay’s Seba United.”
The highly-respected Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker enabled the footballers of Trinidad & Tobago to fulfil a dream by guiding his adopted country through to the finals of the last World Cup in Germany when they overcame Bahrain in a tense play-off thanks to colossal defender Dennis Lawrence’s goal on opposition territory in Manama.
As well as gaining the distinction of becoming the smallest country population-wise to reach the finals, their reward was a place in Group B alongside highly-fancied England, Paraguay and Sweden. They held the latter to a 0-0 draw in front of 65,000 fans in Dortmund despite playing almost the entire second half with ten men due to the dismissal of defender Avery John.
It augured well for their campaign and another point seemed likely against England until late strikes by Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard condemned the Soca Warriors to defeat in Nuremberg. The adventure ended for Beenhakker’s team in Kaiserslautern when they were beaten 2-0 by Paraguay but they left with their heads held high.
It should have provided the foundations for a bright new era of football in the twin-island country but instead, their efforts have been overshadowed by a dispute between the players and the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation over payments to the World Cup stars.