The FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia will undoubtedly grab the attention of the world.
But here in Trinidad and Tobago, a fortnight before the biggest show on earth kicks off halfway across the globe, the domestic TT Pro League 2018 season will begin on June 1—a relief for many locally-based football athletes on the twin-island republic that have waited since the turn of the year to return of top-flight competition.
“The Pro League is very important to a lot of young men like myself,” said winger Jomoul Francois. “It’s an opportunity to be positive and stay away from negative even when you have little to nothing.
“For most of us it’s a chance to train professionally, and for exposure towards better opportunities such as the national team and hopefully to move our careers abroad to earn a better living for ourselves and our families. No other level of football in the country gives us this opportunity.”
Francois, 22, and his girlfriend April Gooding will welcome their first child in August—a girl he says. But a third female will also be anchored in his heart every time he takes to the field this season.
“My mother,” said the former St. Anthony’s College student and footballer.
Francois’ mother passed away on February 27 of this year. And while it stands the biggest loss in his life, Keisha Francois will be his inspiration to press on.
“This season will be dedicated to her,” vowed the former North East Stars winger who has made a switch to San Juan Jabloteh for the upcoming 2018 season.
Francois’ new club will not be in action on the opening day, June 1.
But his former club and defending Pro League champions North East Stars would, when they tackle W Connection, First Citizens Cup champions of last season, in the 2018 curtain-raising Charity Shield.
Connection were in fact one of the earliest teams to kick off pre-season despite uncertainties over the start of the new domestic season.
And the Savonetta Boys had not allowed the lengthy wait to detract from ambitions, according to longstanding technical director/head coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier.
It has been business as usual said the longstanding Connection coach. “And we will always be interested in the business side of football—that’s the priority.”
But although known for their business side in the export of players, Fevrier said the Savonetta Boys have not escaped “financial challenges” and are forced to operate on a “minimal” group of players.
Despite this, Fevrier believes the existence of the Pro League and top flight clubs remains beneficial to T&T, which qualified once for the World Cup, becoming the smallest nation to do so back in 2006. Iceland now holds the record after booking their place at Russia 2018.
“Professional football is important if we (T&T) are to stay relevant in world football,” Fevrier believes. “Since the commencement of the professional league, we (T&T) have made it to almost every (World Cup qualifying) CONCACAF HEX. We must keep pushing on, without the Pro League it’s obvious we’d go backwards.
“At Connection we focus on improving the players, doing our part in providing better opportunities for the players but they must then take the chance to secure themselves abroad. They can benefit and the club (Connection) can also benefit.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t focus on winning titles too. We will always prepare to try and win everything that we compete in, but to remain relevant as a professional club you also have to focus on the business side of football.”
Fevrier, the most successful coach of the Pro League era, admitted that the long wait for the new domestic season has been frustrating for his players.
“It’s a little frustrating for our players because they have been training for the past two months and haven’t had football to play,” he stressed. “But once the season commences they would be happy.”
Defence Force FC head coach Marvin Gordon echoed similar feelings.
“It affected the players mentally not knowing when [the start would come],” he said. “But now there is a date and they are at a better frame of mind knowing it’s a month away.”
Gordon, whose side began preparations in February, did however stress that he and his trainers were forced to alter the training programme at times “because we didn’t want the players to peak too early.”
Judging from Francois’ “anxious” feelings over the new season, Defence Force promising some “exciting new players”, and the registration window closing on May 14, it’s indeed interesting times ahead.
SOURCE: T&T Pro League