Football's Workaholic from the Caribbean

Scott Gleba
Date Published: 

It is hard to believe six years have already elapsed since Jack Warner's election to the presidency of CONCACAF. For the weeks and months following that memorable April 28, 1990 day in Guatemala City, have seen the Confederation grow at a passionate pace, inspired by the man from Trinidad & Tobago.

Time has literally flown. There can be little doubt that Warner's vision has lifted CONCACAF to heights never previously explored in the region. Under his leadership, new competitions have been created, while others were overhauled and improved.

He is the catalyst and architect of CONCACAF's new maturity, a continuing process to which Warner has thoroughly committed himself.

"It is imperative to understand where we were six years ago in order to appreciate our position today," says Warner, who was born on January 26, 1943 in Rio Claro, a small village in south Trinidad. "We have improved by leaps and bounds, but our work is far from finished."

The words "work" and "Warner" are synonymous.

The former General Secretary of the Trinidad & Tobago Football Association, who maintains an office in Port of Spain, is a tireless labourer in his pursuit to make CONCACAF a better and stronger sporting organization.

Those who know Warner best are fully aware that his day starts as early as 5:00 a.m., and does not end until late into the evening. "It would be too much of a cliche to say that my work with CONCACAF is a labour of love," he says. "The truth of the matter is that strengthening this great organization consumes me."

[photo caption]
Jack Warner talking to Oliver Camps, president of the Trinidad and Tobago association.

The challenge of taking a 38-member structure, split into three distinct regions, and each with varying economic capabilities, has been quite demanding.

While the exploits of Mexico and the United States over the last few years have been well chronicled, Warner must also find ways in which to bring those not so fortunate up to the next level. "My goal is to make sure that all of our national associations perform at peak efficiency. All too often a lack of money is used as an excuse for poor administration. The reality is that sponsors will find it difficult to dedicate money to an organization if suitable administrative mechanisms are not in place. A basic infrastructure must be installed with a proper office and staff. If this can be accomplished in the shortest period of time, then my objectives will be achieved. This point is critical."

How then, can national associations hope to compete against a Mexico or USA? "The fallacy is that the USA and Mexico are rich associations and that they thus possess a natural advantage over the others. Neither is what you would call rich, but they do know how to make the most of what they have. It is often felt those countries which have never played in a World Cup or reached the finals of a FIFA tournament should not be looking to compete against Mexico or the United States. I totally disagree. They should attempt to mirror them."

Warner points to the example of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) as a source of great pride for CONCACAF. After all, the JFF won the FIFA Best Mover of the Year award for the most improved national team in 1995 due to a combination of strong leadership from both the administrative and coaching perspectives. "When one looks at the JFF, you do not see great riches. What overwhelms you, though, is a commitment to becoming the best that they can be within their limitations. They didn't wait for success, they pursued it vigorously. When you devise a programme and stick with it, good things tend to happen."

A concerted development programme

When a JFF does well, Warner gains great satisfaction. He wants to see every member of CONCACAF achieve sustained improvement in all facets of football. That is exactly why he travels, endlessly, throughout CONCACAF region. He is easily accessible and on a continuing basis listens to the concerns of those who put him into office. "When visiting, for example, Nicaragua, I want them to realize that I am there to work for them. I put much effort into making all our national associations comfortable with the notion that CONCACAF exists as an organization for their benefit. I want to see them all succeed and be happy with their endeavours."

To that end, Warner has initiated programs to help lift the standard of CONCACAF football. In 1995, he hired Marcos Falopa, a Brazilian, to the position of CONCACAF Technical Director. Falopa's duties include identifying areas in which national associations need specific coaching assistance. "Not every national association has the benefit of maintaining a full-time national coach. This is where Marcos Falopa can become a tremendous asset. His experience and technical intelligence can be applied to any situation. He will be able to teach the coaches so that they can pass this new found knowledge on to their players. Hopefully, this will result in CONCACAF producing increasing numbers of skilled players that can perform anywhere in the world."

In that same vein, Warner has also presided over the development of the CONCACAF Centre of Excellence, the single most ambitious project in the Confederation's 35-year history. The Centre of Excellence will be a facility based in Trinidad & Tobago, open to all members of CONCACAF for training purposes.

It will contain world-class practice fields, classrooms and lodging space for all those who will take advantage of this unique opportunity. "I am extremely proud that the Centre of Excellence will come to fruition. This facility will rival any of its kind in the world and has been created specifically for the use of our membership."

The drive to succeed

While it seems that Warner already has much on his plate, he also finds the time to be President of both the Caribbean Football Union and the Eastern Football Association of Trinidad & Tobago. If you combine those roles with his FIFA Executive Committee duties, it is a wonder that he has time for anything else.

[photo caption]
Jack Warner with his wife, Maureen.

Despite all that, the 53-year-old is devoted to his wife Maureen, a retired mathematics teacher, and sons Daryan (28) and Daryll (21). He also plays Sunday football in a masters competition whenever his travels allow. To top it off, he is also a qualified referee and from time to time can be seen officiating at village matches throughout Trinidad.

An endless drive to succeed motivates Jack Warner. It is a trait that has marked his life in football.

As a young player, Warner would take note how football was organized and think of ways to make it better. Many times his team would arrive at a field without markings or match officials, occurrences that would leave him bothered. When he brought those concerns to the attention of Wilmot Mottley, General Secretary of the local Central Football Association (CFA), Warner was told that if he could do a better job he should take over the organization.

Warner took him up on his offer and became the General Secretary of the CFA at the youthful age of 24. From there he served in every administrative capacity imaginable in the local football association, gaining valuable experience.

Gold Cup - thanks to Jack Warner

Before he headed CONCACAF, Warner was the General Secretary of the Trinidad & Tobago Football Association during its greatest period of success. In 1989, the Trinidad & Tobago national squad was a draw away from qualifying for Italy '90. The dreams of a nation were dashed, however, when the USA's Paul Caligiuri scored an improbable goal to eliminate the Trinidadians.

Trinidad & Tobago's loss was eventually CONCACAF's gain, as Warner decided afterwards to run for the Confederation presidency. Once elected, the former history professor fulfilled a promise by instituting a nations championship - the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Gold Cup has become CONCACAF's most prestigious competition, played before tremendous crowds every two years. "Our national teams needed regular competition against each other. Unfortunately, they would only meet during World Cup qualifying, which was totally insufficient for continued evaluation and improvement. That is why I was compelled to develop a tournament that could create the same opportunities that a Copa America or European Championship does for their teams."

Needless to say, the Gold Cup has exceeded all expectations, drawing many fans to stadia wherever the finals have been played. "It has thrilled me no end, watching the Gold Cup become an event that draws hundreds of thousands of fans into the stadia. People must remember that before 1991, there was no Gold Cup. In five short years, it has become one of the best attended tournaments in the world. Believe me, it will only get better."

Meeting the challenges

In 1994, at the 19th CONCACAF Congress in New York City, Warner was re-elected unopposed to a second four-year term as President. Obviously, the membership was pleased with the changes he implemented and wished to continue on the same course. "To me, serving the CONCACAF membership is a calling," Warner confided. "This position is one of the joys of my life and the relationships that have developed from it are priceless. From our positive interactions with FIFA and all of the confederations, I hope to keep CONCACAF in the forefront for many years to come."

Warner realizes that there is still much work to be done for the good of CONCACAF and for football in general. He is without question up to the task and looks forward to facing each challenge with unparalleled enthusiasm.

"As we grow and dedicate ourselves even more to improving CONCACAF, a consequence of success has been the increasing expectations of others. Our challenge is to meet and exceed those hopes. Indeed, I know we will."