Youth football coach Imran Roberto Gopaul more affectionately known as ‘Gopz’ is a strong believer in using sport as an avenue toward success for the youth of T&T. With this belief, and his love for football, the 28-year-old Gopaul has set out to establish his own youth club called Goodwood/La Puerta Eagles F.C which is an under 18 boys club team.
“I was always passionate about football. My parents say I learned to walk and kick a ball before I learned to speak,” he said.
But Gopaul’s venture into coaching started well before Eagles F.C came into being in 2016. Two years earlier, he assumed the role of assistant senior team coach at his alma mater, St Anthony’s College while he also held the position as head coach of both the under 14 and under 16 teams
While he was a student at St Anthony’s College, his own football career only reached the level of the school’s under 16 team as injury ruined his dream of playing for the seniors and further injury ruled out a shot at football beyond school.
Now a Mathematics teacher at St Anthony’s, Gopaul explains that being pulled under the wing of the iconic Nigel Grosvenor was a turning point. “The coaching aspect of it came along when I was in UWI and I used to show some kids how to play in my spare time, and it really bloomed when Mr Grosvenor asked me to be part of his technical staff at St Anthony’s College.” he said.
He added, “He gave me my start, was always there to converse with me, and up until this day even on my own now he is still there for me calling, checking up, lending an ear giving advice and generally being a great support.”
Soon after joining the West Moorings Tigers’ technical staff, where Grosvenor assigned him the responsibility to bring the under 16 and under 14 players through the ranks and eventually into senior team, it became clear to Gopaul that his niche involved training and developing youth in football. That led to the formation of his Eagles F.C team which he explains follows the model of a club more than the more popular coaching schools or football academies. In Eagles’ first year, the club entered the West Penn Diego Cup under 18 division and swept the league and knock-out double, playing unbeaten throughout the season. For this year’s edition, their title defence has started off with a three match winning streak, yielding 16 goals with just one against.
Gopaul insists, however, that the organisation is more interested in the work of exposing young players than it is in winning trophies.
“I see it as more of a feeder club although we do have plans to expand and grow into an academy. But for now, it is about getting our players seen. For instance, recently we played against Russell Latapy’s national under 17 team and afterwards he asked about some of my players so that is what we aim to do. Get the players exposed and get them seen.”
Even with such noble intentions however, there are some very real challenges being faced; such as, finding forums for talented young footballers to be displayed.