Russell Latapy could arguably claim to be the most skilful player to ever grace the Easter Road turf. He quickly became a fans' favourite with performances of tremendous vision, impressive dribbling skills and terrific composure in possession. The Trinidad and Tobago internatioal possessed the ability to kill a ball stone dead with his first touch.
National team Trinidad and Tobago
International debut 30th October 1988 (versus Honduras)
All too occasionally Hibs find a genius who lights up Easter Road and gets the fans off their seats every time he gets the ball. In 1998, Alex McLeish found two such men; one being the great Franck Sauzee, the other Russell Latapy who could arguably claim to be the most skilful player ever to grace the famous stadium.
Russell was born on 2nd August 1968 in Laventille, Port of Spain, in Trinidad, and quickly developed his football skills in the warm Caribbean climate, playing in the Trinidad and Tobago Secondary School's Football League whilst attending San Fernando Technical Institute and Tranquillity Government Secondary.
Even at an early age, Russell's talent brought him to the attention of the Trinidad and Tobago selectors and he broke into the national scene as an Under-10 footballer, producing many a sparkling performance that inspired onlookers to dub him "The Little Magician, and subsequently represented his country and various age levels, along with his friends Dwight Yorke who later won the Champion's League with Manchester United, and cricket legend Brian Lara.
When he was 19 years old, Russell had an opportunity to attend Florida International University, but he chose to continue with his football career, playing with Trintoc and Port Morant United in his homeland.
In 1990, aged 22, Russell moved to Portugal and signed for Académica de Coimbra, where he played for four years in the second division. During his spell in Coimbra, he appeared in nearly 150 games, scoring 18 goals in his last two seasons combined, however the club failed to win promotion.
Russell's performances with Académica brought him to the attention of F.C. Porto, where, under Bobby Robson, he helped the club win back-to-back league titles and earned the distinction of being the first Trinidadian to play in the UEFA Champions League.
In 1996 Russell signed with city neighbours Boavista FC, and scored twice in a 5–0 home win against FC Dinamo Tbilisi in the UEFA Europa League. He was also part of the squad that won the campaign's Portuguese Cup, even though he did not play in the final against S.L. Benfica.
In 1998, Tony Rougier mentioned to Hibs manager Alex McLeish that Russell was available and may be interested in playing for Scotland. McLeish invited him for a trial, and Russell made his debut as a trialist in a closed door match against Brechin, but it only took a few minutes for 'Eck' to realise that he had found a player with outstanding ability.
Russell's competitive debut came at Somerset Park against Ayr United in a 3-3 draw with Hibs scoring two late goals to secure a point.
He quickly became fans' favourite showing tremendous vision, impressive dribbling skills and terrific composure in possession, with the ability to kill a ball stone dead with his first touch; skills seldom seen in Scotland.
Following his debut, Russell played in a further 22 games, winning an incredible 19 times and losing only once, to secure promotion as champions. He contributed with six goals including a memorable double at Firhill on 3rd April 1999 in the game which ensured SPL football for the following season, although it could and should have been a hat-trick but uncharacteristically he missed a penalty.
The following season, McLeish built a team to be proud of, and although they started slowly the fans could see the potential and Russell scored his first top flight goal with a penalty against Hearts; a goal which was later shown on national TV as part of a BT advert.
Hibs finally started to hit form in October with three consecutive wins against Dundee, Dundee United and Kilmarnock, scoring ten goals in the process, four of which were scored by Russell.
The highlight of that season came with the 'Millennium Derby' at Tynecastle on 19th December 1999 and Russell helped the team to a never to be forgotten 3-0 win, thanks to goals from Dirk Lehmann, Franck Sauzee and teenager Kenny Miller.
Three months later, Russell scored against Hearts once more in a 3-1 home win, and McLeish's men reached the Scottish Cup Semi-Final where they took the lead against Aberdeen, but the Dons proved to be too strong and eventually fought back to win 2-1. Despite that, the fans were more than satisfied with the progress of the team.
The following season started with a 0-0 draw at Tynecastle which will be remembered for an incredible miss by Didier Agathe who miss-hit the ball from six yards in front of an open goal, after dribbling past the Hearts goalkeeper.
After that Hibs went on a run of six straight wins, playing some of the most attractive attacking football seen at Easter Road since the early seventies, with Russell and Franck in sparkling form.
On 14th October 2000, a David Zitelli goal saw off Rangers and then a week later, Russell inspired Hibs to one of the finest results in the Club's history, this time against Edinburgh rivals Hearts. When the teams took the field that night, the Hibs end erupted whilst the Dunbar end was only a third full as the Hearts' fans clearly weren't confident of beating McLeish's team.
Despite Hearts taking the lead in the 5th minute through former Hibs star Gordon Durie, the Leith side fought back and Mixu had a goal disallowed before equalising, driving home a Russell Latapy cross whilst added a second just before the break.
The second half was possibly the finest 45 minutes of football ever seen at Easter Road, as Russell, Franck, Mixu, John O'Neill and David Zitelli tore the Hearts defence apart. Russell released Zitelli who scored the third, Mixu completed his hat-trick and celebrated with a massive somersault, and John O'Neil lashed an unstoppable shot high into the net before Russell completed the route with a goal many consider to be their all-time favourite. He had been outstanding all night, and capped it off with a sumptuous one-two with Mixu before firing a sensational volley past Niemi from the tightest of angles. Cameron pulled one back for Hearts in the last minute, and the result has gone down in the annals if Easter Road folklore.
At the press conference before the game, Russell told how much he loved the Hibs and how he had become so immersed he was reading up on its history. On that night, he contributed his own chapter.
In this form, Hibs would have beaten anyone, and hopes were high that this could at last be the year to end the Scottish Cup hoodoo. Their campaign started with a 6-1 win over Clyde then a 3-2 win over Stirling Albion in the fog at Forthview. A late Tam McManus goal at Rugby Park saw Hibs back in the Semi-Final where they comfortably saw off Livingston 3-0.
Martin O'Neil's Celtic were to be the opponents at Hampden, and although Hibs lost 5-2 to the champions at Easter Road a few weeks before the final, the fans remained confident.
Unfortunately disaster struck two days before a derby match, when Russell was 'led astray' by fellow countryman and Manchester United player Dwight Yorke. A night on the town ended with Russell being arrested for drunk driving, which represented a breach of the code of conduct for Hibs players, who were forbidden to drink for 48 hours before a match.
When the news broke, Hibs fans hoped that missing the Hearts' game would be sufficient punishment, but the club decided that his contract should be terminated, and the hopes of a cup win vanished.
Russell Latapy HibsHibs dominated the derby without Russell, but the game ended in a 0-0 draw after Mixu missed a penalty, which would normally have been taken (and scored) by Russell.
Whilst McLeish's reaction was understandable, it was in hindsight an over-reaction and had he been a more experienced manager, he may have re-considered his draconian punishment whilst Hibs fans could have had another seven years admiring his skills.
Rangers boss Dock Advocate however could not believe his luck, and immediately snapped Russell up although he failed to reproduce the form he had shown for Hibs. He did however win a League Cup medal against Ayr United.
Ironically Alex McLeish replaced Advocate at Ibrox and Russell eventually moved on to Tannadice with Dundee United for a short spell, before former Hibs team-mate John 'Yogi' Hughes spent the close season tracking him down in Portugal and persuading him to sign for Falkirk.
Russell made an immediate impact with The Bairns scoring 14 league goals in his first two seasons helping the team to promotion in 2005, as champions; and for the second time was named the First Division's Player of the Year.
When Trinidad and Tobago were struggling through the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, a phone-call from Dwight Yorke saw Russell return to the international stage where at the ripe old age of 37 he helped the Soca Warriors qualify for their first ever Finals.
Russell was inducted into the 'Falkirk Hall of Fame' on 29 November 2008, and too mark the occasion the club hosted a 'Russell Latapy Day' which appropriately was against Hibs at the Falkirk Stadium.
He left the club in January 2009, having appeared in 194 games, scoring 29 goals before signing with Caledonia AIA in his homeland.
In September 2011, Russell returned to Easter Road where he took part in a Hibs Legends team as part of Ian Murray's testimonial match, and aged 43, still looked as though he could play at the highest level.
At one point, with the ball out of play and the crowd quiet, a lone voice shouted out 'I love you Russell' and the fans immediately roared their agreement.
The following month, he came out of retirement to sign for East of Scotland Football League club Edinburgh City, ahead of its Scottish Cup tie against Irvine Meadow, and hundreds of Hibs fans turned out to watch the master at work. Once again he didn't disappoint.
Russell Latapy Personal Honours List
- Along with Pat Jennings and Dwight Yorke, Russell holds the record for number of participations in different World Cup competitions with six in 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010.
- Inducted into Trinidad & Tobago's Sports Hall of Fame in 2011
- Inducted into the Falkirk Football Club Hall of Fame in 2008
- GLOSS (Gems, Laventille, Outstanding, Spirit and Soul) award in 2006
- Scottish Premier League Player of the Month (for August) with Falkirk in 2006
- Trinidad & Tobago Chaconia Medal Gold (World Cup Squad) in 2006
- Scotland's Division 1 Player of the Year in 2004/2005
- Scotland's Division 1 winner's medal with Falkirk in 2004/2005
- Bell's Cup winner's medal with Falkirk in 2004
- Nominated for the BBC Scotland "Off The Ball" Overseas Player of the Year in 2004
- Scottish First Division Player of the Month (for April) with Falkirk in 2004
- Scottish League Cup Winners Medal with Rangers 2002
- Trinidad & Tobago Olympic Committee Sports Personality of the Year in 2000
- Nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2000
- Scotland's Division 1 winner's medal with Hibernian in 1999/2000
- Scotland's Division 1 Player of the Year in 1999/2000
- Hibernian's Player of the Year in 1999/2000
- Edinburgh Evening News Sports Personality of the Year in 1999
- Hibernian's Player of the Year in 1998/1999
- Portuguese Super Cup winner's medal with Boavista in 1996/1997
- Cup of Portugal winner's medal with Boavista in 1996/1997
- Trinidad & Tobago Humming Bird Medal Gold (for Sport) in 1996
- Trinidad & Tobago Footballer of the Year in 1996
- Portuguese SuperLiga winner's medal with FC Porto in 1995/1996
- Portuguese SuperLiga winner's medal with FC Porto in 1994/1995
- Trinidad & Tobago Chaconia Medal Silver (World Cup Squad) in 1989
- Trinidad & Tobago Footballer of the Year in 1989
- Trinidad & Tobago Footballer of the Year in 1985
- Trinidad & Tobago Footballer of the Year in 1983
Full name Russell Nigel Latapy
Date of birth 2nd August 1968
Place of birth Port of Spain, Trinidad
Height 5ft 7in