Sun, Aug

Atiba Charles is on a mission to be the first local footballer to play professionally in South Korea.
 Last Friday, the Trinidad and Tobago national defender played his final match of the season for local club W Connection and left next morning with Brazilian teammate Gefferson Goulart for a trial at South Korean champion club Busan I'Park. The two T&T Pro League footballers will be on trial until December 8.

Charles, a 28-year-old defender, hails from Point Fortin, but now lives in Morvant with his family of three. He had played football with Point Fortin Civic Centre and Trinity Falcons before joining W Connection, the 2005 Trinidad and Tobago Professional League champions six years ago. Charles' improving play with W.Connection landed him national selection under sacked former national coach Bertille St Clair and he was able to make an impressive T&T debut against Costa Rica. However, a poor performance against the United states in Connecticut-a game where most on the T&T team played badly-saw Charles lose his starting spot first to Silvio Spann, and later Cyd Gray, and has since been placed on the periphery of the squad which new Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker led to World Cup Finals qualification.

Charles believes a successful trial in South Korea will not just land him a contract with Busan I'Park, but will get him back into the World Cup Finals team as well.

"The team really needs to have that experience and international exposure which he (Beenhakker) thought that the T&T Pro League was lacking. Obviously, if I go out and

play at a higher level, he will probably look at me. It was unfortunate that I have not been in the final squad that played Bahrain. I really wanted to be there, but the coach knows what he wants to do and I still wanted to support them. My aspirations really is to go out and play international football. I guess that will raise my level and give the coach a better understanding of where I am in terms of fitness and experience," Charles says.

David John Williams, owner of W Connection, believes Charles and Goulart are capable of continuing a trend that has seen them successfully place local players in overseas leagues. Among them captain Earl Jean (China); Silvio Spann (Perugia-Italy/Yokohama -Japan), Kenwyne Jones (Southampton/England); Gefferson Goulart & Ronaldo Viana (Zelenik/Croatia) and Lyndon Andrews (Hibernian/Scotland).

"I feel very confident these guys have what it takes to land contracts," John Williams says. "Atiba is very excited about the opportunity and Goulart has a lot of experience, having played in Europe with Zelenik. We hope Atiba Charles will be the first local footballer to play professionally in South Korea. It will also continue a trend of firsts we have set. We had Silvio Spann, the first local player in Japan, and Earl Jean, the first St Lucian in China."

Charles is also hoping that the contract will not only improve his own situation, but will boost his chances of seeing World Cup Finals action as well. He said he was overjoyed when T&T beat Bahrain 1-0 to reach its first World Cup Finals.

"Having been a part of the squad, I was thrilled when we qualified for the World Cup Finals because it means a lot of openings. Obviously a door opened for me, because the team (Busan I'Park) showed interest in me after they saw me play in World Cup qualifiers. I feel confident since I got a little experience in the World Cup qualifiers. I'm really confident going into this thing because I have been around Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy and they have really inspired me to improve to that international level. I can't really say I have experienced Korean football, but I have seen it on television. But I have seen I have a little knowledge about it. "

Charles' trial was arranged through Ian Potterfield, who was Trinidad and Tobago's national coach during the World Cup campaign four years ago. Potterfield led the team successfully through the second round where they scored a 1-0 win over Mexico; but they faltered and came last in the final round of qualifiers.

The well-travelled Potterfield is now coach of Busan, which has had a good season and reached the semifinals of the 2005 AFC Champions League by defeating Qatar's Al Sadd club by a 5-1 margin, only to be crushed 7-0 on aggregate by defending champions Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia.