IN THE 2002 League Cup final, Ayr United chased the impossible dream against Rangers at Hampden and John Hughes chased Russell Latapy’s shadow.
Dick Advocaat’s Rangers, featuring Claudio Caniggia, Barry Ferguson and Tore Andre Flo et al, squared up to Ayr’s Paul Lovering, Pat McGinlay and Marvyn Wilson.
Latapy, paraded yesterday for the first time as Inverness Caledonian Thistle assistant manager, retains the memories, the medal and, no doubt, the scars from that final, won 4-0 by the Ibrox club.
Twelve years on, the Trinidadian is happy to be heading into another big League Cup date in the same camp as his great friend Hughes. Latapy, who has signed a two-and-a-half year deal in Inverness, was a flamboyant performer in that Advocaat side – and one Hughes was clearly intent on kicking.
Latapy said: “Do I remember playing against Yogi in the final in 2002? I can’t forget him trying to come after me! John came in to kick me as much as he could.
“It will be good to go to Easter Road this weekend on the same side as him,” added the 45-year-old, who left a coaching job at Portuguese side Boavista to join Inverness.
“Yogi says a lot and jokes a lot, but he talks about how the people you hang around with reflect your character and he goes on about being in the trenches. I would say that if I had to be in the trenches with anyone, he’d be one of those I’d like in there with me. That’s because of the kind of person he is. Also, if he’s on the same side as me, he won’t be swinging that boot at me!
“We had a really strong Rangers team at the time. Ayr did well to get there but we were just too strong for them. Yogi and I haven’t spoken about that day this week. We’re busy trying to sort out training sessions and prepare for the game on Sunday.
“So what we did in the past isn’t really important, it’s about preparing the team for the game against Hearts.”
Latapy had a playboy reputation during his playing days. A hero in his homeland of comparable stature to his cricketer friend Brian Lara and football cohort Dwight Yorke, his full potential was perhaps never realised on the biggest stage. Yet, for all the talk of excess in his private life, he played professionally until he was almost 40, savouring Champions League football and winning 79 caps (scoring 29 times) for his country. Just what would Latapy, the coach, have made of Latapy, the gifted, wayward player?
“The game has changed nowadays but a lot of the things people read in the papers about me were not true,” Latapy said with a wry smile. “If I had done even half of the stuff they said I did, there was no way I would have been able to play professionally until I was 39. Which ones were true? How long have you got?!
“As you get older as a player, you realise there are things that are physically impossible to do any more. I figured out there were things that would have shortened my time in the game.
“As a coach, there are a lot of things you begin to understand as you get older, including what makes players tick and perform to their best.
“My responsibility is not only to help make the Inverness lads better players, but also to make them better people. The kinds of coaches who were best for me were the ones who let me do my own thing, I guess, and that let me perform on matchday.”
Latapy’s decision to join Hughes required him freeing himself from his Boavista contract. It also involved concluding a court action against the Trinidad and Tobago FA for unpaid money relating to his time as national coach, with Latapy winning an out-of-court settlement.
He added: “I speak Portuguese very well but English is my first language and sometimes it was difficult to get the essence of what I was saying across to the boys. So there were a couple of factors in the decision to come here, but most of all it was because I have had such a good working relationship with Yogi over the years. We have achieved a fair bit together.
“Once he called me up and told me the ambitions of the club I knew this was an opportunity I wanted to take.
“Time will tell what I can bring to the club but, what I will say is, I will do everything I can to help the players and bring success to the club. I’m fortunate it is a big first week in the job. I just want to make sure I can contribute and help the guys get the desired result on Sunday.”