Otto Pfister, 73, has lost none of his passion for football, as FIFA.com found out in a recent exclusive interview. The newly appointed Trinidad and Tobago coach brims with enthusiasm about his new post in the sun-kissed Caribbean. “I love my job and will always give it my best,” he enthused as he prepares to revive the so-called Soca Warriors, who have been in chronic decline since famously reaching the 2006 FIFA World Cup™.
In a coaching career spanning 16 countries and four continents, Pfister is football’s purest man of the world. Named African manager of the year in 1992, his coaching career began in Switzerland at the tender age of 23. He has since led ten national teams and a handful of clubs in over five decades in world football, and T&T are set to become the beneficiaries of his vast knowledge and unyielding enthusiasm.
FIFA.com: You have coached all over the world over the course of many years in football. What brought you to Trinidad and Tobago?
Otto Pfister: I had a few options, other places to go, but I really decided on Trinidad and Tobago for a change of scenery. I have been in Africa, Asia, Egypt, Lebanon and this is a new challenge. I like an adventure. I have some good relationships here and at my age it is not about the money anymore, it is about building something good.
Do you expect any similarities between coaching here in the Caribbean and your previous experiences in Africa, Asia and elsewhere?
It is a new region for me, but in its essence, football is an international game. Each region has its own peculiarities and personalities, but at the end of the day it is the same game in Egypt, Cameroon or Togo as it is in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s the same family, the same ball and the principles are the same.
Trinidad and Tobago went to the FIFA World Cup in 2006 and it was the biggest moment in the country’s footballing history. Since then, though, the side has deteriorated and many influential players like Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy have retired. Do you think you can turn things around before Brazil 2014 qualifying begins?
Well, that is why I am here! This is my job. There is great potential here, like in all the Caribbean countries. What is needed is what I like to call a professional conception. I love my job and I will always give it my best.
Will you bring in your own coaching and backroom team?
One thing I have learned in my many years coaching outside of Europe is that you must, you absolutely must work with local people. You cannot come in and start telling these people how it must be done, how it must be your way completely. I will work with the local people, I will make friends and we will learn from each other. We will build something together. It is not about me; it is about us. Many coaches from Europe have made this mistake in the past, especially in Africa. You need to meld with the local people to become part of their culture. You have to find the balance. This is my philosophy. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but that’s life.
You famously guided Ghana to their first U-17 World Cup title in 1991. Will you also look after the youth teams here in T&T?
The youth teams need some work, and although it is not in my job title, I will certainly be working together with the youth coaches. Actually, I will be working with everyone here. Youth coaches, club coaches, I will work with them all so that we can find a general direction, a collective direction, for Trinidad and Tobago’s football. We need to work in all the same directions.
What would you say is the main strength of football in Trinidad and Tobago?
Skill, natural technique. You see a lot of that natural ability here. They have music and football in their blood. Now we have to ally that with physical discipline, tactics and all the other stuff. The technique is there, but now we need to have a more professional conception. In this region, the USA and Mexico have figured out the organisation and infrastructure and that is why they are the top teams. We have ferocious potential here in Trinidad and Tobago.
You are a German coach in the sunny Caribbean. Will you feel out of place?
It is true, I am a German. It says so on my passport. But I feel like a cosmopolitan. You cannot come here with a strict German attitude. If you do, you fail immediately. You have to respect the culture of a place, the religions and the particular way they love the game. You need to have an open mind. You need to leave your heart open.
It is clear from talking with you that you still have a great passion for the game of football. How have you sustained it through so many years?
Football is not a job for me - it is a passion! I can’t live without it. I live in a small town in Switzerland with my wife and I will sneak out on a Sunday morning and watch any football, even U-12s, it doesn’t matter. I watch all the time on TV; I can’t control myself! I have a lot of energy and football is my purest passion, a tremendous passion.
The last big European coach at Trinidad and Tobago was Leo Beenhakker, and he became a national hero by taking the side to the FIFA World Cup. Will this cause any pressure for you?
[Laughs] No. I am my own man and I do my own work. It’s funny, though, Leo [Beenhakker] was the coach just before me when I took over the job in Saudi Arabia, so I am used to following him.
You see a lot of that natural ability here. They have music and football in their blood. Now we have to ally that with physical discipline, tactics and all the other stuff.
What are the first steps for you to get the T&T team back on track?
In this part of the world it is the USA and Mexico, and the rest are fighting for third. We are in this group. We don’t have many big stars, but we should be firmly in this third position. Now it is a matter of finding and collecting a team. I will identify the top domestic-based players and I will travel to USA, Belgium, England – everywhere where Trinidadian players are playing. From this, I will assemble our team. It is the only way, and I love it.