Former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke told young Caymanian footballers he is “living proof” that a kid from a small Caribbean island can make it to the highest level in the sport.
Yorke, from Tobago, the most successful player to come out of the Caribbean, led a training session with youngsters at the Academy Sports Club’s mini-slam tournament over the Heroes Day holiday weekend.
Hundreds turned out to see him and have their picture taken with the famous FA Cup trophy during the youth tournament.
The cup was brought to the Cayman Islands as part of a Caribbean tour organized by FLOW as part of its partnership with Manchester United, the current holders of the trophy.
Yorke is a global ambassador for Manchester United and part of the squad that won a historic and unprecedented treble of the English Premier League, European Cup and FA Cup titles in 1999.
The 45-year-old, who also helped lead Trinidad and Tobago to become the smallest country ever to qualify for the World Cup, spent the day at the Academy field in George Town, chatting to youngsters, passing on coaching tips and stopping for photographs with fans of all ages.
From shin pads and football boots, to shirts and water bottles, the affable Yorke signed everything that was thrust into his hands by scores of young footballers and their parents.
Speaking to the media, after leading a short training session with youngsters from the Academy’s Under-11 side, he said he was impressed with the talent he saw in the Cayman Islands.
“I’m sure the young fans are excited to come out and see the cup,” he said.
“It is a great privilege for me to interact with these kids, to give them hope, try to encourage them and to let them know that they can fulfil their dreams.”
With hard work, discipline and natural talent, he believes anything is possible for Cayman’s young players.
“These are young kids that love the game of football, some of them probably have aspirations to go on to be professional.
“I’m living proof to these kids that you can do it. I come from a Caribbean island. I never thought I was going to make it to the level that I did, but there is hope.”
Yorke was spotted by Aston Villa scouts as a teenager, already playing for the Trinidad and Tobago senior national team. After a five-week trial he signed for the Birmingham club and went on to become one of the most formidable strikers in the Premier League.
He signed for Manchester United in 1998, forming a deadly strike partnership with Andy Cole that helped United win the treble a year later. Yorke, now 45, also played for Blackburn, Birmingham, Sydney FC and Sunderland before his retirement in 2009.
He said the globalization of the game would make it easier for talented kids in the Cayman Islands to get spotted by scouts than it was when he was coming through.
“The transition from the Caribbean now to the Premier League and the global sports arena is very accessible. Back in my day it was more difficult to get in.”
Yorke was clearly impressed by the skills on display at Academy field on Monday, picking out two or three youngsters as potential stars.
He added, “I see potential but we have seen that potential so many times. Kids have to be committed to make it in their sport. The Caribbean has always been a place that is full of talent. I have met players with tons of ability buy if you don’t have the right mentality, the discipline and the work ethic, that’s not going to take you very far. If you combine those things, you have a chance.”
A total of 207 youngsters played 32 matches in the seven-a-side tournament Monday. Cayman Prep won the Under-11 boys tournament, Academy Jaguars won the Under-13 boys title and Sunset FC won the U-13 girls tournament.
The FA Cup also made stops at Fidel Murphy’s and Mango Tree during its visit to allow fans watching English Premier League football in those bars a glimpse of the trophy. The cup, which travels with heavy security, was even afforded its own seat on the plane traveling to Cayman.