A delegation from DIRECTV North East Stars were invited to the Brazilian Embassy last week to meet the Brazilian Charge D' Affaires, Mr Alirio de Oliveira Ramos.
The invitation followed the signing by North East of Brazilian coach, Emerson Alacantra. The delegation comprising Alacantra, C.E.O. Brent Sancho and Operations Director, Kevin Harrison also met George Ramos, the embassy's Head of Commerce and Culture and were given a tour of the building.
"This was a great honour for me" said Alacantra, who took the helm at North East after coaching positions in Brazil, South Korea and Austria. "Obviously, I miss my home country, so it was nice to visit this little piece of Brazil in Trinidad & Tobago!"
"I think Emerson was happy just to hear his native tongue for an hour" said Harrison. "He is learning to speak more fluent English, and this is coming along very well. The players respect him and understand his football philosophy and there is a very good relationship developing."
"Football is an excellent medium to bring whole countries closer together" said Sancho. "With Trinidad & Tobago looking to forge closer trading links with Brazil, one of the big four developing economic powerhouses known as the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India & China), this is a fantastic opportunity to extend the hand of friendship."
At the hour long meeting, various subjects were discussed including options to visit schools in Sangre Grande to introduce children to the culture and industry of Brazil and the possibility of enticing Brazilian footballers to the Pro League. There are also plans to approach Brazilian companies to become involved in some of North easts' community projects.
Sancho said "Aside from the obvious attraction of Brazilian football, there are fantastic opportunities for our citizens to develop careers in Brazil, as the country's economy is set to overtake the G7 countries in the next 15 years. With that kind of economic growth ahead, this country must take every opportunity to benefit from a closer relationship."
With a new Ambassador due to arrive in the next few weeks, plans are already in place for further meetings between the Sangre Grande club and the embassy. "These days, so much of a clubs success in football is due to work off the field" said Harrison.
"Brent is very keen to explore every avenue that can bring revenue to the club or enhance the clubs image. These kind of meetings are essential to the growth of North East Stars, and the development of the C.E.O. as an ambassador, not just for North East, but for T&T. Its no easy task to make the leap from footballer to administrator, but Brent has the charm and intelligence to project club and country in a positive manner."
"But in the end, the conversation still turns back to football" laughed Sancho. "Mr Ramos's first comment concerned Peter Crouch and the hair pulling incident at the World Cup!" Sancho said that although the incident, which saw the England striker grab a handful of Sancho's locks to gain an unfair advantage and score England's first goal, was something he has tried to forget, he now accepts it as a positive.
"It was the worst moment of my career" said Sancho. "We had held on for 82 minutes - a fantastic achievement - and I couldn't believe the officials didn't see the foul. But now, I have to admit, it was a godsend. Everyone remembers me because of that moment, and when you first meet people from overseas, including football legends like Ruud Gulitt, its the first thing they mention. It certainly breaks the ice!"
Meanwhile, Alacantra is busy eyeing up talent from home and overseas. "There are several local players I would like to bring to the club" said Alacantra. "I don't understand why you can't sign players who are free agents at any stage of the season. This is something that must be unique to the Pro League."
Only last week, English Premiership side, Everton signed James McFadden who was a free agent.
"We have been paying players to train with us, but can't put them into a match until December. This is restricting the ability of footballers to earn a living. You wouldn't tell an out of work builder that he can only start a new contract at certain times of the year."
Alacantra has also identified targets from Latin America. "The talent in the Pro League is much higher than people, or even the press seem to recognise" said the coach, who spent time as a player in Portugal "There are some stunning young players coming through and this looks good for Trinidad & Tobago's 2018 World Cup campaign.
I have players like Jeromie Williams and Kaydion Gabriel who have made great contributions to the Olympic squad. But I would like to bring over some established players from Brazil and Latin America to stimulate further development in our local players.
I have seen the effect that Stern John has had on the education of our younger players. Its not that overseas players are better than ours, but they bring something new to our game which can only benefit our youngsters."
North East Stars' next Pro League game is on Friday 18th November, when the Sangre Grande club take on St Anns Rangers at the Larry Gomes Stadium. Both teams have 4 points from 4 games and a win from either side will see them climb to 3rd place in the Pro League, 2 points behind second placed W.Connection.
"No team is assured of a win in the league this season" said Sancho. "Apart from T&TEC, who are having a fantastic start to the season, every team is taking points from each other. Its going to be an interesting, exciting season, and the introduction of Defence Force and Police F.C. after the curfew will add a new and exciting dimension to the Pro League."
Harrison added "We're not even a third of the way through the season yet, and I firmly believe the league will really kick off in December with the addition of the protective services teams as well as clubs acquiring new players. The best is yet to come."