JOHN Hughes is urging his Caley Thistle players to soak up every trick in the repertoire of the man they still call “The Little Magician” in Trinidad, as Russell Latapy will today finally put pen to paper on a deal to become Hughes’ assistant manager.
Weeks of wrangling over the terms of departure from his past club Boavista in Portugal caused a delay in Latapy’s return to Scotland. The 45-year-old former Porto, Hibs and Rangers midfielder was also embroiled in a $5 million court action against the Trinidad and Tobago FA.
That disagreement over past payments as coach of the nat-ional squad has finally been settled out of court, leaving Latapy free to fly into Inverness. He was scheduled to arrive last night.
Latapy will be on the training ground at Fort George this morning and Hughes, who worked with his close friend at both Hibs and Falkirk, believes he will prove invaluable to the club. Above all, Hughes will tell Thistle’s youngsters and attack-minded players to grasp the opportunity to watch and learn.
Hughes will never forget footage of Latapy bossing the midfield for Porto against Sampdoria in the 1995 Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-finals. And he also remembers Dwight Yorke placing Latapy above Manchester United colleagues David Beckham and Paul Scholes in his best-in-the-world team.
Hughes views Latapy as a world-class talent whose lengthy years in Scotland belied his true status. While he joked about supplying a wheelbarrow for Latapy and his court case pay-off, Hughes was deadly serious when assessing what he would bring to the training ground.
The Inverness manager said: “Russell, I’m delighted to say, is flying up to Inverness at tea-time tonight, so he will be on the training ground with us tomorrow. What does Russell bring? He will be a perfect part of the team here and fit right in to the dynamics of the club.
“He is very clever on tactical work and his philosophy on how the game should be played.
“I’ve spoken to him about where we are as a club, and where we want to be. He totally understands that.
“He’s just a fantastic character and a very approachable, humble guy. He’s the sort who would give you the last penny in his pocket. He was a world-class footballer and, trust me, I don’t say that lightly.
“People ask how could he be a world-class footballer when he played much of his football in Scotland. But, believe me, Russell was world-class. To back that up, I watched a programme on Manchester United TV where Dwight Yorke named him in his all-time greatest team.
“He had Latapy in there before Scholes and Beckham, the lot of them – that’s how good he was.
“Russell once gave me a DVD of him playing for Porto in Europe against Sampdoria, where they lost eventually on penalties.
“Russell was up against two Italy internationals in Attilio Lombardo and Roberto Mancini, the ex-Manchester City boss, but he just ran the show.
“He can work with the so-called technical players at the club and pass on wee bits and pieces, individually and collectively. If any kid here doesn’t take the chance to grasp it and learn from Russell then he’s a fool. I can remember the young lads at Falkirk really taking to him and he has this great trick on him which Scott Arfield picked up and made part of his own game.”
Latapy’s seriousness about coaching is underlined by his work on backing up his talent and experience with hard coaching qualifications.
Hughes stressed: “Russell is just finishing his Uefa Pro Licence as well, so he is mad serious about his coaching.
“A lot of what we did at Falkirk was down to him. He will be a kindred spirit here, that’s for sure. He’s a tough cookie. Don’t ever underestimate him. I just think he will be a fantastic fit for this club.”
Hughes, meanwhile, is looking to add a striker as back-up to Billy McKay before the January transfer window shuts. But he stressed he would not be too upset if the month passed without fresh signings.
He said: “We are wanting good footballers with a good character, no matter what position they play in. But the position we will probably be looking at is centre forward.
“You don’t really want to bring anyone in to sit on the bench, but if anything happened to Billy Mckay it would be a mad rush to go and get someone.
“But there are so many players coming back to fitness, even if we didn’t bring anyone in I would be happy with what we’ve got. We have players who can adapt and play in a number of positions.”