Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Calypso Capers

As our new Dutch coach prepares for the challenges of a gruelling World Cup qualifying campaign, another Dutch national coach of similar vintage has been sampling the unique joys of working in Jack Warner’s Caribbean realm.

Incurable World Cup buffs, such as yours truly, will remember Wim Rijsbergen as the sturdy, blond central defender in the famous Dutch side of 1974. It was Rijsbergen, one of the unsung heroes of that side, who regularly made the saving tackle when the exuberant Oranje had left themselves vulnerable to a quick counter (he was also their man of the match, by some distance, in the final against West Germany).

Rijsbergen is now, like many Dutchmen of his era, a well-travelled coach, with a CV that includes stints in Chile, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. Last year, he became the manager of Trinidad and Tobago, the nation whose football despot is FIFA’s chief headkicker. You may remember that this lovable rogue, when not getting involved in ticketing scams, has recently been accused by his nation’s players of fibbing outrageously about the revenues accruing from T&T’s first World Cup appearance.

As a result of that contretemps, the players in question were blacklisted from the national team, and Rijsbergen has since claimed that, during that awkward period, his own salary was not paid for three months.

Despite fielding a scratch squad, the Dutchman managed to guide T&T to second place at the Caribbean Cup earlier this year, which was considered a reasonable achievement. Although the CONCACAF Gold Cup was less successful for the Trinidadians, it was generally considered that Rijsbergen had done a reasonable job in often intolerably difficult circumstances (see here, for instance).

Now Rijsbergen has been suspended from his job as national coach. Sacked, you say? No, erm, “suspended”.

Rather a novelty. Why has the T&T football federation (whose officials barely scratch their ears without Jack Warner’s prior approval) taken this unusual step? Could it possibly be that, given the likely necessity of coming to an expensive settlement with the “blacklisted” players, they are trying to avoid paying out the remainder of Rijsbergen’s contract?

The whole episode, including the alleged bout of fisticuffs that prompted Rijsbergen's exit, is mysterious enough to warrant plenty of questions. It deserves wider attention, too, given that it again concerns the dealings of the enormously influential Warner (now, apparently, known colloquially and aptly in his home country as “Jackula”).

This is the man, folks, who probably wields more power in the football world that anyone bar Sepp Blatter, and who may one day, God help us, sit where his close ally Blatter now sits.

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