DWIGHT Yorke's career seemed to be on a downward spiral when he moved to Australia and joined Sydney after difficult spells at Birmingham and Blackburn, but now at 34, he is smiling again and living the dream as captain of unsung Trinidad and Tobago.
Yorke helped Manchester United win the treble of Premiership, FA Cup and Champions League in 1999 when he had a knack of scoring crucial goals.
These days, though, he has been handed a free role in midfield by the nation's shrewd coach Leo Beenhakker.
Yorke is relishing his new position and is ready to face England on Thursday after Trinidad and Tobago's gritty draw against Sweden.
He said: "I feel I can contribute to any team with a role in the middle of the park. I have learned the game and managed to play alongside some great midfielders.
"Leo Beenhakker has given me that great belief in myself.
He told me I have the brain to play the game that way and I am enjoying every moment."
Trinidad were expected to be the whipping boys of Group B but dug in to snatch a point despite having Avery John sent off a minute into the second half. In fact substitute Cornell Glen almost scored the winner, only for his effort to hit the bar.
Trinidad were grateful to Shaka Hislop.
The 37-year-old West Ham goalkeeper made a string of superb saves to stun Sweden, who had scored goals for fun in the qualifying campaign.
Hislop was also helped by Sweden's inability to produce the killer final ball. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson both had chances, the best one coming in the first half when Ibrahimovic's cross-shot eluded the former Celtic striker, who had an open goal to aim at.
The frustration eventually told on Larsson, who was booked for a petulant foul as time ran out for the Swedes.
Trinidad and Tobago: Hislop, A John, Sancho, Lawrence, Gray, Birchall, Edwards, Theobald (Whitley 66), Samuel (Glen 53), Stern John, Yorke. Subs not used: Andrews, Charles, Cox, Jack, Ince, Jones, Latapy, Scotland, Wise, Wolfe.
Sweden: Shaaban, Linderoth (Kallstrom 79), Mellberg, Lucic, Edman, Ljungberg, Alexandersson, A Svensson (Allback 62), Wilhelmsson (Jonson 78), Ibrahimovic, Larsson. Subs not used: Alvbage, Andersson, Elmander, Hansson, Isaksson, Nilsson, Rosenberg, Stenman, K Svensson.
Attendance: 65,000. Referee: S Maidin (Singapore).
Late injury hijacks Kelvin's dream
FOR Trinidad & Tobago goalkeeper Kelvin Jack, one of the greatest days in his country's sporting history was a strange combination of frustration and joy, with the former understandably most potent in this mingle of emotions.
In a conversation yesterday, former Dundee player Jack relived the moment his dreams of playing in his country's first-ever World Cup match were sabotaged by a calf strain. The injury flared up during the warm-up ahead of Saturday's goalless draw with Sweden, with the hard work of having kept his place in the Trinidad & Tobago team already successfully completed.
Jack admitted he could not sleep or even eat on Saturday night. Not out of excitement at having helped his team-mates to their first-ever World Cup point but in annoyance at having been forced to pull out just minutes before kick-off. Jack is no stranger to injury, and missed much of Dundee's disappointing First Division campaign last season due to a knee problem. The season before that, he was forced to limp out of a derby match with Dundee United in the opening minutes.
"In the World Cup you can't afford to leave anything to chance," he acknowledged to The Scotsman yesterday. "There are some injuries where it's possible to play on, but if you are talking about hamstrings and calf muscles you need them to do the explosive work. I tried to soldier on but I don't think that would have made sense. I wouldn't have done the team or myself justice."
Perhaps vexing Jack further on Saturday was the sight of replacement Shaka Hislop giving one of the performances of the tournament so far. The West Ham goalkeeper made the most of his chance and must now be considered the man in possession of the jersey Jack had been handed on Saturday in a move which confounded some observers.
However, manager Leo Beenhakker's display of faith didn't startle Jack, who reasoned that as first-choice keeper during the qualification process he fully expected to start as No 1 in the World Cup. That was until a familiar tale of woe unravelled, the result of which was the sorry sight of Jack caught by television cameras sitting with a tea towel over his head and a large ice-pack wrapped around his calf at kick-off.
"It's the saddest moment of my life," Jack admitted, though he is keeping his fingers crossed that the four days between now and Thursday's clash with England will allow him ample time to recover. But even then he knows Beenhakker will be disinclined to change a team that played so well against Sweden. Jack, though, can count on the support of the manager, who ignored his sometimes erratic form with Dundee to select him as first choice ahead of both Hislop and Coventry's Clayton Ince.
"I don't mean to be funny but anyone who has followed Trinidad & Tobago football knows I'm the No 1," he said. "I am surprised people were surprised I was picked. I played all the qualifiers and the most important friendlies and yet people still don't think I'm the No 1. We laugh about it among the squad, the fact that people still doubt my ability when you just have to see what I've done over the last year and a half for Trinidad & Tobago. I'll be like a lion out of a cage hoping to regain my place.
"Of course I congratulated Shaka after the match, because we get along well and he's a good professional," he continued. "He is an experienced guy, who came in and was focused."
Jack revealed that the injury to his calf had been sustained in training last Tuesday but an intensive course of treatment had helped convince both himself and the medical staff that the problem had been rectified.
"However we came up just short," he reported yesterday from the Trinidad & Tobago camp near the northern city of Bremen.
"It felt good on Thursday and Friday but before the match yesterday there was too much pain when I was kicking during the last part of the warm-up. The pain was unbearable so as hard as it was I decided there and then that I should step aside."
Asked whether he didn't fall prey to selfish thoughts and consider struggling on, with the tantalising prospect of making history as his country's first World Cup keeper just minutes away, he said: "It's a team game. Of course you have your personal goals but I am just 30 years old, with at least one more campaign left in me. As far as we know it's a calf strain - at the stage just before a tear. And because as a goalkeeper you have to do a lot of kicking it really does hamper me."
Jack is desperate to make up for the disappointment by appearing against England in Nuremberg, and what would be the high point of a career spent largely in the obscurity of domestic football in his homeland, before a move to Reading and then, most recently, Dundee. He has promised Scottish fans something special on Thursday, and in an interview in these pages in January mentioned wearing a Scotland tee-shirt beneath his top in Germany.
"I have something planned," he said. "And I still have that planned, whether I am playing, on the bench or whatever. All I will say is that it will make all of Scotland proud."