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To many of us, the future of our football seems to be based upon the recent past and the present state of affairs, vis-a-vis World Cup results and a presence of a new slate of technocrats at the helm who are attempting to improve the quality of the current stars. Both aspects of assessment are relevant to the future, the first being an analysis of what went wrong and how it should be corrected. The second is the positive move by the present coaching staff to look towards a number of youngsters for a better performance at the training sessions and matches leading up to the Digicel Gold Cup tournament in Martinique later this year. But we should not ignore that the development process must take place in the teenagers who are now being given the opportunity to express themselves and demonstrate how the large number of young coaches are working towards a better class of footballer for the next decade.

The T&T Cup, an age group tournament which was inaugurated in 2001 with a group of 64 clubs who were exposed to the use of the country’s prestigious stadiums, has been much of a success story in terms of the number of young football players getting a chance to be exposed to the national stage through an organised method. No doubt, the participation by the Pro League clubs, plus the large number of community teams, brought out an increased number of kids playing the game and by extension, offering more options for the selection process at the national level. It is interesting to note that more than 85 per cent of the selected national youth teams over the past seven years have been players from teams in the T&T Cup tournament.

Further to that, the actual squads which were chosen to represent this country in Korea in 2007 at the world Fifa U-17 finals, plus the U-20 Fifa finals in Egypt in 2009, consisted of more than half of the former T&T Cup participants. The T&T Football Federation, through its special advisor Jack Warner, had the foresight to give the green light for this project, which also benefitted by the recent embrace of this now fully-expanded tournament by the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, through the honourable Minister Gary Hunt. What was created here is an exciting tournament which is organised free for all the age group clubs in T&T to play in the country’s stadiums, an honour which only the recognised clubs and national teams were able to enjoy in the past.

The management of the country’s top clubs, such as Joe Public FC, W Connection FC, Jabloteh FC and Super Star Rangers, led the way into showing the value of this type of competition being used as a catalyst for a better football program at the international level. Clearly, the feeder system has worked for the clubs across the land and if one is to judge by the increasing number of teams for the year 2010, we should not be surprised if this country is engaged in youth football activity in every town, village and city within the next few years. Thankfully, the fans of the clubs have given support to the project over the years, but the sports lovers should be encouraged to show appreciation to the youngsters who may one day make the people of this country proud. The tournament begins tomorrow at seven venues across T&T and runs toward the finals on April 11 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.