26 jan 2001
By TERENCE HILTON CLARKE
FOR local clubs, the biggest
problem with the Confederation/CONCACAF Club Championship, at one time,
was that the early rounds usually took place around March/April, two
months before domestic action got underway.
Hence, amidst Trinidadian
successes in the competition - like Defence Force, champions in 1978
and 1985 - there were also many instances of failure. Failure that occurred
when under prepared teams struggled against lesser-talented opposition
from countries such as the Netherlands Antilles, St. Lucia and even
Suriname. Even when ties were won, performances were sub-par and eventual
elimination came as no surprise.
This was the scenario up
to eight years ago. Have things changed much? You bet they haven't.
Even with ever-changing formats (the Confederation Championship has
never had a consistent time frame) Trinidadian clubs are still unable
to get things working for them. In 1997 and 1998, the final stages of
the competition took place in August - when the SPFL was on its break.
The lack of competitive action affected United Petrotrin and Joe Public
and both were beaten by MLS club, DC United, in successive quarterfinals.
Joe Public would lose again, the following year, to the Chicago Fire
and, with the final stages now moved to January, made it a hat trick
of quarterfinal exits last week.
The 1-0 loss to Mexico's
Pachuca saw a much improved performance over the 8-0 and 2-0 defeats
to United and Chicago: but it was still a loss, nonetheless. Team manager,
Richard Abraham acknowledged his concern to the Trinidad Express
over Public's preparation for the game - all of eight days - and his
relief that things did not turn out really disastrous, once again: "The
fellows made a tremendous effort and anybody from Trinidad and Tobago
would have been proud of their performance."
That may be. But Joe Public
are not exactly making a big impact on this competition.
Like other continental club
tournaments, the Confederation Championship could be used as an indicator
as to the level of a country's domestic football and the strength of
its top clubs. But, is it fair to make an assessment of local clubs,
knowing that they have frequently gone into international action without
the proper conditioning?
Just as the presence of
proven, but under performing, players such as Brian Lara and Jimmy Adams,
negates against the West Indies being written off as a weak team, it
is hard to come up with a final verdict on the strength of Trinidadian
clubs, based on what has been pointed out, above.
To be perfectly honest,
the combination of factors does not work out in favour of local clubs.
Apart from playing outside of competitive periods, Trinidadian sides
are also coming up against opposition (particularly sides from Mexico)
that are in the midst of their domestic seasons. The only thing that
officials can do at this point is to devote more time and resources
to proper preparation. International friendlies against other club teams
is one option - but not many local club sides can afford to organize
these - tinkering with the domestic schedule, to help representatives
in the Championship is another.
Whatever way, something
must be done about the string of failures.