Wed, Oct

Photo: St Benedict’s College coach Leonson Lewis points the way forward for his team during SSFL Premier Division action against East Mucurapo at Mucurapo Road on 6 October 2016. ...Lewis is also a Trinidad and Tobago National Under-13 Team assistant coach and W Connection youth coach. ...(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

San Juan Jabloteh are one win away from sweeping the three categories of the Flow Youth Pro League (FYPL) for the third straight season.

However, with the decisive match carded for the San Juan North Secondary School compound in Bourg Mulatresse today, some people in the Jabloteh ranks feel as though their accomplishments at youth level are not being duly recognised at national level.

The club’s Under-15 and Under-17 units have already wrapped up their FYPL divisions for the 2017 season. Today, the Under-13 squad will bid to complete the unprecedented triple triple for the “San Juan Kings.”

Currently level with Police FC atop the FYPL’s standings on 46 points, the Under-13’s have the wind in their sails because of their superior goal difference; astonishingly, they have already racked up a total of 102 goals.

But despite that proud record, Jabloteh’s coaches aren’t being summoned for national duty or included in the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s (TTFA) Elite Youth Development Program. And Dave Weekes, the man responsible for overseeing the club’s Under-13 and Under-15 teams in the FYPL, simply cannot understand why.

The National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB)-sponsored Elite Youth Development Program is geared towards discovering Under-13 players and nurturing and harnessing their skills with a view to preparing them for future national teams.

The head coach in the Elite Youth Development Program is Stuart Charles-Février, head coach at W Connection whose junior coaches, Clyde Leon and Leonson Lewis, serve as assistants in the TTFA Grassroots Program.

At present, Earl Jean and Elijah Joseph—both former St Lucia international players; like Février—are the only established Connection coaches who do not also have jobs with the TTFA, which is presided over by Connection owner David John-Williams.

After TTFA technical director Muhammad Isa informed Février that he would be the person responsible for overseeing the Elite program, the Connection coach—who is also one of Dennis Lawrence’s assistant coaches at national senior team level—said he decided to bring former national players Leon and Lewis on board.

Février noted that both men were competent enough to do the job and that he and the pair had already established a good working relationship.

However, Weekes, who has been a coach at Jabloteh for almost two decades, is questioning the TTFA’s method for assigning coaches to the Elite Youth Program. And he is not alone in raising these concerns.

Former TTFA Technical Committee chairman Dexter Skeene previously told Wired868 that the local football body did not follow proper protocol  in hiring Williams for the Under-20 job last year. And now former National Under-20 coach Derek King is making noises similar to Weekes’.

“This thing in Trinidad about elite and elite. How we could have an elite program?” Weekes asked Wired868. “Jabloteh winning every year—if we ain’t win all three, we taking two—and none of the coaches could coach a national team? Something have to be wrong.

“Why we doing such good work and our coaches cannot even get a water-boy work coaching a national team? We are doing something wrong then; we have to be doing something wrong!”

Weekes suggested that Jabloteh head coach and technical director Keith Jeffrey along with Under-17 coach Gilbert Bateau are both capable of steering national youth teams to success. And in support of his claim, he pointed to Jabloteh’s quarterfinal finish at last year’s CONCACAF Under-13 Champions League tournament.

In recent times, the National Men’s Under-17 and Under-20 teams have had indifferent returns as the Russell Latapy-led Under-17 unit failed to get past the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) qualifying stage last year while the Under-20’s, under the stewardship of coach Brian Williams—another W Connection employee—failed to advance from their group at CONCACAF level.

The National Under-20 coach Derek King also wondered aloud to Wired868 whether the David John-Williams-led administration is continuing in the same vein as the questionable appointment cited by Skeene.

“It’s really sad. Nobody ever contacted me knowing I’m from the East/West corridor to help out with the Elite Youth Program,” said King. “I don’t know. It’s really strange and it’s sad to know that nothing ever really came out advertising that coaches were needed for these positions. So I don’t know if it’s a personal agenda against coaches who were there under the previous administration.”

Skeene and two other technical committee members vacated their posts after Lawrence was hired as national senior team coach in January. It is uncertain who replaced them on the committee or if indeed there were any replacements at all.

TTFA general secretary Justin Latapy-George told Wired868 that a technical committee was indeed in operation at the TTFA. However, he stated that Isa, the technical director, would be better placed to say exactly who was on the committee and explain their functions.

Wired868 tried unsuccessfully to reach Isa for clarification on the process used to hire Février as Elite Youth Program head coach and the current composition of and goings-on in the Technical Committee.

King, however, who led Trinidad and Tobago’s Under-20 team to Caribbean success in 2014, has already concluded that certain coaches are being sidelined.

“We haven’t heard anything since we resigned,” he told Wired868. “[Former national senior team assistant coach] Hutson Charles and I have never received a letter from the organisation thanking us for our service and stuff.

“It’s really sad because we have served the country as coaches for quite some time and we had success at youth level. I personally feel that they have sidelined certain coaches who were there with the previous administration.”

Weekes, who said he helped to nurture the likes of Jason Marcano and Warriors standout Kevin Molino, echoed King’s sentiment while ex-national stalwart and current Club Sando coach Angus Eve also indicated that he had not been contacted concerning the National Elite Program.

“They condemn Jack Warner and now the new president come in and like it’s only South people [being hired],” said Weekes. “What these fellahs have over us? We are not in the clique. […] Either the [technical] director [Keith Jeffrey] too mannish or they find the coaches are too mannish.

“They are overlooking the Youth Pro League. I cannot see why W [Connection’s] coaches alone are being selected and they cannot beat us in any competition. I could vouch for that. When teams come to play Jabloteh, I always tell my players that they are coming to beat the name so you must have that pride.”

King feels that more transparency in the selection process of coaches, inclusive of advertisements detailing the positions available and the requirements to be met would help improve the TTFA’s relationship with eager coaches and the general football public.

But transparency regarding their coach selection process is not the only issue being raised about the TTFA these days. Veterans Football Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (VFFOTT) president Selby Browne has sent an official request to the umbrella body asking for answers to a slew of questions about how the administration is utilising the funds received from the NLCB’s TT$8 million sponsorship.

In a document containing dozens of incisive questions revealed at the TTFA’s EGM on Wednesday 5 July, Browne’s asked the TTFA inter alia, “What is the total cost of salary and administrative expenses of the NLCB grassroots program?”

And he also asked the TTFA to reveal the names of the directors of the NLCB grassroots program.

Février, who suggested that the Elite Youth Program was still in its teething stage, vowed to do his part as he and his staff try to find the best crop of youngsters to develop into future national standouts.

“The Elite Youth Development Program is two-fold,” he told Wired868. “Yes, we want to have a good Under-13 team but we also want to develop players for the future of Trinidad and Tobago football. It’s a means to an end. And the end is the national team […] in the next six to ten years we want to see them competing at the international level.”

The TTFA has scheduled a zonal Under-13 tournament to run from September to November. At the end of it, the plan is to select an ‘elite’ pool of about 50 players to work with Charles-Février and company in the future.

Weekes, King and Eve will hope that there’s room for them—and maybe Jeffrey—in that company.