Fenwick’s mountain to climb

The honeymoon period is over for National Head Coach, Terry Fenwick and this morning he will be greeted by a barrage of criticism in both the mainstream media and the more vociferous digital platforms, following the embarrassing 7-0 mauling of the senior men’s national team by USA.

While much of this criticism will be a result of the emotional impact of such a defeat, there will be some informed tactical analysis which will ask genuine questions of Fenwick’s selections and performance.

While this is to be expected and, in fact, Fenwick himself was very outspoken about the performance of previous Head Coach, Dennis Lawrence, the USA result should be taken in context, given the unusual circumstances surrounding the preparation for this game.

Playing one of CONCACAF’s top nations in your first game, after 12 months of inactivity for the squad, I’m sure, was not Fenwick’s first choice.

The fixture only came about because USA’s original carded opponents, Serbia, decided to opt out. Clearly, the Serbians saw no real value in arduous international travel during a pandemic, to face an experimental USA outfit in Florida – which has suffered four times more Coronavirus cases than the whole of Serbia.

With T&T struggling to find opponents, and Fenwick itching to get his team into action, the invitation from USA was, perhaps, too tempting to resist. 

But was it wise?

It certainly gave Fenwick the opportunity to work with some of the USA based players for the first time – and gain important knowledge about the player pool available ahead of the crucial Gold Cup qualifiers in March. The problem is that those players are currently playing way below the standard of their opposition, and while it is true that they have trained regularly with their clubs, their match fitness – or lack of- was clearly noticeable.

But what choice would Fenwick have when his local players have not played any serious club football for 12 months?

Aside from the outrage of T&T’s supporters, one wonders about the damage to the confidence and morale of the players involved. The pride of making your international debut would surely be overshadowed by the criticism aimed at them in the public forums.

Joshua Trimmington, awarded the captain’s armband on only his second international outing, has been the target of much criticism, not least because of his overweight appearance. Was the decision to make him captain, too much pressure for such an inexperienced international when there were several more senior options available?

Fenwick, however, is renowned as a coach who can unite a dressing room. His teams never perform better than when they have something to prove. Was this baptism of fire a tactic to fuse his players together in preparation for somewhat easier opponents to be faced in the next few months?

The challenge for Fenwick is immense. No one can predict when the world will return to a normal footing. At home, there are no solid dates for professional football to restart and overseas, international travel restrictions are often introduced with less than 24 hours notice.

The temptation to select overseas players who have more chance of match fitness and better training regimes must always be in the fore front of Fenwick’s mind.

Without local fixtures, team tactics and formations are difficult to test. However, simple training field exercises such as offence vs defence can be very effective. Solidifying the back line must be a priority. And Fenwick’s trademark as a coach is the creation of a mean defence. That must be the starting point, the foundation for Fenwick’s future teams.

Practice games using four defensive players instead of five, focusing on positioning rather than tackling, denying space to attackers, all require improved fitness and increased tactical awareness and vision from defenders, and can be perfected on the training field as well as in practice matches against even the weakest opposition. 

Forget winning. Fenwick’s first target should be a clean sheet and a match fit squad.

Meanwhile, with a lack of attacking opportunities available, perhaps focusing on set pieces may produce a winning goal? Beginning with creating a reliable penalty taker!

Fenwick is aware of the task ahead and he has the experience to build a solid tactical shape. Whether he has the available players capable of following his instructions, remains to be seen.