Debuting in your country’s top flight at the tender age of 15 would be a daunting experience for any player. But then again, Levi Garcia was no ordinary youngster. A lightning-quick winger with pace to burn, Garcia relished the chance to hone his skills against more physically dominant opponents in Trinidad and Tobago’s Pro League, fearlessly dribbling at defenders and getting the better of them.
Garcia’s impressive performances at club and international youth level caught the eye of European sides and the talented teenager eventually signed with Dutch Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar. It was in the Netherlands in 2016 that Garcia became the youngest Trinidadian to play and score in Europe, a feat previously held by one of his boyhood footballing heroes, national legend Dwight Yorke.
"As a boy, Dwight Yorke was a player that I looked up to,” said Garcia, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com. “Breaking his record is not a matter of competition, but rather it’s a privilege to break a record like that. It also says a lot about where I can go from here.
"It was a big decision to move to the Netherlands but to be honest I was just full of excitement and wanted to fulfil my dreams," he continued. "The second the opportunity came, I said I was going. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here and I still have a lot more to learn."
- Youngest Trinidadian to play in Europe: 18 years and 65 days
- Youngest Trinidadian to score in Europe: 18 years and 71 days
- T&T’s youngest player and scorer in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying: 18 years and 127 days
When Garcia moved from the Caribbean to the Netherlands as a 17-year-old, the agile winger was given a footballing mentorship that most youngsters could only dream of. Marco van Basten, then assistant manager at AZ, took Garcia under his wing, helping the prospect’s development with specialised sessions.
"It was an unbelievable experience," recalled Garcia. "Every time he spoke to me, my confidence went from zero to 100. I just felt happy being in his presence and I was doing things on the pitch that I’d never done before."
Now 19, Garcia is still very much learning the game and at international level can draw on the experience of Trinidad and Tobago head coach Dennis Lawrence, a stalwart of the Soca Warriors’ only World Cup venture at Germany 2006, not to mention his assistant; three-time FIFA World Cup star Sol Campbell.
"Sol Campbell is a legend of the game and Dennis Lawrence helped take us to the World Cup," said Garcia. "They are guys that I’ve learned a lot from and I’m hoping that I can continue to learn from them."
World Cup dreams
With Lawrence as head coach, Stern John as one of his assistants, and Carlos Edwards and Kenwyne Jones having played a part of the current World Cup qualifying campaign, shades of the Germany 2006 odyssey are very much visible within the Soca Warriors dressing room. For fresher faces like Garcia, who was only eight years old when Trinidad and Tobago took to the world stage for the first – and to date – only time, their positive presence cannot be overstated.
"When you see the guys that helped take our country to the World Cup, it gives everyone a lot of motivation," he said. "I don’t remember too much about it [Germany 2006] but I remember the country being red – everyone was wearing red. It was amazing to see."
T&T’s remaining World Cup qualifiers
Trinidad and Tobago-Honduras
Panama-Trinidad and Tobago
Mexico-Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago-United States
While the Soca Warriors, currently bottom of CONCACAF’s Hexagonal with just one win from six games, may face an uphill battle to reach Russia 2018, they still have a chance of reaching their second-ever World Cup. Lawrence’s men next face Honduras (1 September) at home in Couva before a trip to fourth-placed Panama four days later.
Garcia, who missed June’s qualifiers with a hamstring injury and will also sit out September’s games, insists T&T’s Russia 2018 dream is still alive.
"We still believe we can get there. You can see it in everyone’s eyes – there’s 100 per cent belief and I think that we can do it," asserted Garcia. "It would mean everything to us to get six points from the next two games."
While Garcia may not be able to remember too much about the last time his country reached the World Cup, he will be hoping to make some fresh memories with the Soca Warriors at the global finals should they get to Russia next year.