YOU could take it as read that tips about tippling on the eve of a cup final would never be orthodox when coming from Russell Latapy.
Not when the Inverness Caledonian Thistle assistant manager, infamously, was sacked by Hibernian two weeks before the 2001 Scottish Cup final. Latapy’s crime was an unauthorised night out with Dwight Yorke which ended in a drink-driving charge for the Hibs player.
Inverness will contest their first national final this afternoon when they go head to head with Aberdeen for the League Cup and Latapy, a fabled lover of the high life, didn’t preach abstinence when asked what he would say to his squad about any plans for rest and relaxation ahead of the big day.
“The best advice I can give the players is: obviously you know yourselves better than anyone,” he says. “Whatever you need to do to get yourself in the best possible shape to win the cup final, get it done. If that entails going out and having fun, don’t get caught.”
Latapy’s fondness for partying was a Scottish media staple during his playing days. It didn’t help that his high-profile clubbing chums included childhood friends Yorke and cricketing great Brian Lara. Latapy’s cigarette habit didn’t help either but he has always had one ace card to prove that the impression of him was more smoke than fire. “Once you have a reputation it is very difficult to lose it,” he admits. “But the truth is I played professional football until I was 40. So there is no chance I could have been all that bad. If I had done all that stuff I would never have played till I was 40. It’s about choosing what you want to do at the right time.”
Now 43, Latapy pitched up at Caledonian Stadium two months ago as second in command to his long-time associate John Hughes. It is a potentially momentous time for the club, a point not lost on Latapy. Across 25 years of a professional playing career in which his sorcerer-like skills won him admirers at Portuguese clubs Academica, Boavista and Porto, as well as at Falkirk, Hibs and Rangers, in particular, he calculates he appeared in only “four or five” finals. Only one brought a winners’ medal, the 2002 League Cup final in which Rangers ran out 4-0 victors over Ayr United. That record is perhaps why his stand-out cup memory is of being the only one of nine players to miss a penalty in a shoot-out that allowed Sampdoria to progress to the semi-final of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup at Porto’s expense in 1995. “I let myself down in that particular instance,” he said.
Latapy doesn’t dwell overly much on the possibility he let down Hibs in 2001, with regret not a word he seeks to apply to the events that brought his days at Easter Road to an abrupt end. “I don’t know if I would say that I regret it,” he said. “What I would say is that I wish things had turned out differently. These occasions are rare. Especially for Inverness – this is our first – so we are hoping the boys can go out, put on a good performance and get a result the whole of the Highlands can be proud of. I also want those boys to come back having enjoyed a special day in their career.”
Latapy will experience it thanks to the special relationship he enjoys with Hughes, who was captain of Hibs when the Trinidadian signed in 1998. They hit it off immediately and Hughes signed Latapy for Falkirk when he moved into management in 2003, and later brought him into his coaching circle at that club. On recruiting him for Inverness, Hughes said it was not a “pally-wally” relationship, a fact confirmed by Latapy.
“We’ve always had a very strange relationship,” he says. “I suppose you could say it’s a love and hate relationship. Sometimes we love each other and at other times we are down each other’s throats. I think that’s one of the ingredients you need in order to move things forward. You can’t always agree.
“When I came to Scotland for some reason they put me next to Yogi on my first day in the Hibs dressing room. Our relationship developed from that day. Even when I’ve been out of Scotland we have spoken to each other. It’s a mutual respect that we share and we also know that neither of us got anything easy in football. We both had to work very hard. If you see somebody else who has put in the work and has achieved a certain amount of success you respect that.
“We both really want to play football in a way that has brought success in the past. That involves getting the ball down and passing. Obviously that is a way of playing that doesn’t come overnight. In the management business the job is about getting results. So yeah, you want to get that identity and play a certain style of football but the reality is you only have so much time before things turn on you.”
Latapy knows that from bitter experience. He was coaching at Boavista when Hughes’ latest call came but between 2009 and 2011 the 79-capped player was given the reins at his international side in what was his first senior coaching post. Across 23 games in charge, Trinidad and Tobago recorded only nine wins. Latapy points to mitigating circumstances and the shadow cast by Jack Warner, the controversial FIFA vice-president and a “special advisor” to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation until 2011. Three years ago FIFA’s ethics committee suspended Warner and he stepped away from the game shortly afterwards.
“I think every manager’s goal or dream is to manage their national team at some point and I’m no different,” Latapy says. “I was offered that job before I was offered a job in club management and I had to take it. After 20 years representing Trinidad I wasn’t going to turn my back on them. There was a transition happening at the time in Trinidad football. The Jack Warner saga was going on. It was the end of his era and it was always complicated. In terms of sponsorship from the government and the private sector, with all the things that were alleged against Jack Warner nobody was putting any money in. If I had the opportunity to get into club football first I suppose I would have. Getting back into the game was not the easiest thing to do.”
Sometimes, reputations do not help.