Sat, Dec


Dwight Yorke is unquestionably Trinidad and Tobago's most famous football export. But he should have been one of many more.



Eleven years ago in Portugal, Yorke was the captain of the history-making national Under-20 Youth World Cup side that earned T&T a small spot on the football map by their very presence at the tournament in Portugal.

It was the first time a team from the English-speaking Caribbean had qualified for a global tournament. But the rich promise that seemed stored up in the boots of those players only eventually bore rich fruit in Yorke's. It is one of national football's more painful tragedies.

"It definitely was a big loss to Trinidad and Tobago football," said Anthony "Hess" Alexander, who managed the team coached by Bertille St Clair. "The fact is that we didn't have a proper development programme in place. The team got back from Portugal and that was it. "We didn't keep them in training or say they would form the nucleus of the '94 (World Cup qualifying) team or anything."

The failure of the then Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) to utilise their potential and exposure proved a serious setback for the local game.

From the 18 players who left Piarco for Portugal, only four—excluding the already established Yorke—went on to earn regular senior caps.
It is arguably the most glaring example of mismanaged talent in the history of the local game.

Not pleasant reading for Nkosi Blackman and his mates. Three years ago, the local football administration- since renamed the T&TFF- received a second chance and "Team 2001" was born to represent the host nation in their second World Cup adventure.

And the likes of team captain Roderick Anthony, Kenwyne Jones, Devon Leacock, Marvin Phillip and Blackman were primed for battle against the best players in their age group in the world.

Their meticulous Brazilian coach Rene Simoes would certainly have warned his charges about his clever young countryman and midfield ace Leandro.

Simoes must have instructed his men as well to double up on portly Croatian dribbler Niko Kranjcar as well as to keep the ball away from Australian Fred Agius' educated left boot during their adventure which ended in the group stage.

But it is unlikely anyone advised them that their sternest test was yet to come. Will the Team 2001 players be given the opportunity to develop and mature by the T&TFF in a manner denied to players such as Anthony Sherwood, Kerwyn "Papa" Emmanuel, Nigel Davidson and Shawn Boney?

It is a multi-million dollar question—considering the cost of grooming the squad. Team 2001 manager Russell Tesheira is still unconvinced about the answer.
"I can't say I have much confidence that the right steps will be taken (for the continued development of the Team 2001 players)," he said. "Our football seems to be in turmoil right now particularly with all the problems concerning funding."
In the opinion of Tesheira—also a past national player, exposure, as individuals and as a team, is key for their development.

"I am definitely not (satisfied with their exposure)," Tesheira said.
"They should be playing adult football. They should be playing in the Professional League.

"Long time you had schools playing in the (top domestic football league) so it's possible. Maybe they should take the under-17 team and make them play in the Pro League at a regular basis because playing under-17s against under-17s won't get us anywhere...

"They shouldn't be playing just colleges' league and under-17 football because that's limiting them.

"They need to play first class football and they're capable. The T&TFF need to... be creative."
Already Team 2001's opponents have made notable strides in the development of their players.

Seventeen-year-old Nigerian flanker Femi Opanbunmi travelled with the "Super Eagles" to the 2002 senior World Cup co-hosted by Japan and Korea.
Others have already cemented their positions on adult squads in various respected global leagues.

While the journey of Jerol Forbes, Blackman and Jones to Old Trafford was most memorable for their trip to the Manchester United gift shop, stocky Argentine striker Carlos Tevez would remember a bruising encounter with the Manchester and Engalnd international Paul Scholes while playing for his club Boca Juniors.

His compatriot Maximiliano Lopez is a regular for another crack Argentine side River Plate and had the decisive goal in a clash with Glasgow Rangers- who fielded ex-national captain Russell Latapy- in a pre-season friendly at the Giants Stadium, New York.

Diminutive Brazilian dribbler Diego has a Santos first team shirt while Burkina Faso gazelle Wilfried Sanou and exciting Mali striker Lassana Diallo are regulars in European leagues.

In sharp contrast, not one of 18 Team 2001 members has managed even one Pro League appearance although they played regular warm-up games against PFL reserve teams almost two years ago.

Vibe CT 105 W Connection coach Stuart Charles, whose club signed four players including midfield star Devon Leacock, admitted that it is difficult for teams to give youngsters the chance to blossom when there is so much pressure to win games.
However, he also suggested that the players themselves did not quite possess the quality to push for a first team place.

"I believe a player must first prove he is capable of playing there," said Charles, who pointed out that four under-20 players must be fielded at all times in the President's Cup. "I think when I played here (1977-86), the players' technique was better. I find now the young players are not the same in the basics of the game like passing and controlling."

The celebrated St Lucia-born coach also said that the progress from youth to senior level was much smoother in established football countries like England, Brazil and Argentina. In his opinion, Latapy was an exception blessed with natural football intelligence far beyond his junior years.

"The big difference is footballing education and the level of football they're watching from an early age," said Charles. "In those countries, the quality of tutoring that players receive at a young age is far superior to what we have here."

Still, Charles confirmed the benefit of the young players testing themselves regularly against adults. "If you were to take them now, give them a good coach and put them in the Pro League as a team," he said. "I am sure they would benefit and their game would mature earlier at a faster pace. They would learn the dos and don'ts earlier.
"They would realise that look if we have to do well at this level of opposition, there are somethings we can do and some things we can't do, while, at their age, they might make errors and get away with it and feel it's okay."

CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh coach Terry Fenwick, a former English international, agreed in part. The Team 2001 players, he explained, had potential but should not be rushed.

Fenwick, who also moonlights as a sports agent, insisted that he had been using his own contacts to offer exposure to talented youngsters abroad.
But there was little he could do in the short term for the five Team 2001 teenagers at Jabloteh.

"Brazil have a long history of footballing talent," said Fenwick. "We have the PFL for barely four years and the infrastructure is not ready for players to come on quickly.
"Right from the 10 or 11-year-old age group, kids around the world are introduced to a professional organisation. So by the time they are 16, 17 or 18, they are already well developed in terms of the professional game."

For all their best intentions, though, it is the T&TFF who are entrusted with the mandate to produce and fully develop talented players. Fenwick and Charles will be judged on the trophies that their respective teams secure and not on the state of national football.

It is a challenge that rests with the football federation and their efforts towards the designing of a development programme can only be viewed as positive step.
But the road to doom is lined with such noble ideas and there is still much work to be done.

Alexander and Tesheira are both hopeful. So too are Blackman and 17 other starry-eyed youngsters.
Almost certainly, Team 2001 is a pale imitation of the Soca Babes who charmed a nation still smarting from the bitterness of that fateful World Cup qualifier on November 19, 1989.

Players like Yorke, Jerren Nixon, Richard Theodore, Clayton Ince and Angus Eve- to name a few- were destined for greater things.
The names do not roll of the tongue as smoothly from the 2001 crew whose participation were guaranteed as the host nation.

But they must be considered the most promising youth team that the country has produced since- if because for their exposure and experience.
It is imperative that the T&TFF guide them wisely.