ALMOST two years without football had left youths in Tobago despondent and pessimistic about achieving their football dreams. But their hopes were rekindled earlier this month with the start of national under-20 screening, which kicked off at the Dwight Yorke Stadium, Bacolet on January 3.
Football is one of many sports which have been negatively impacted by covid19 in Trinidad and Tobago. Contact sports have been banned since the virus reached T&T in March 2020. During that period, only domestic competitions in individual sports, such as golf and tennis, have been granted permission. Contact sports have been restricted to national training for regional or international tournaments, leaving many footballers without the means to earn an income.
For young players, it has meant making tough choices about what they want to achieve in life. But the Tobago Football Association’s (TFA) hosting of men’s under-20 screening has given some an opportunity to get back on track.
According to TFA coach Terry Williams, “Seventy Tobago footballers responded to the online registration process for screening.” Thirty players were later short-listed to continue the training programme, pending a visit by national coach Angus Eve, to assess their levels, towards selection on the national under-20 team.
Williams, who has a support staff of six coaches, said, “I am impressed with the talent and awareness shown by the players, considering they have not been engaged in constructive training or football since the covid19 pandemic.”
He said, “In the short space of time left, before the visit by the national screening committee, we are increasing the workload of the short-listed players, in an effort to bring their physical fitness and strength up to scratch.
Training sessions are conducted on Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays, Williams said, under current health protocols.
The players were excited to be out on the field and looking forward to hopefully a life-changing experience.
Omar Daniel, 17, of Mason Hall, said he was caught off guard by the screening programme. He said, “A friend sent me the flyer on social media, two days before the deadline. I did not think I was mentally or physically ready, but ah still sign up.”
Daniel, who is a member of Jaric Titans FC, had previously given up on an international career in football, but said he was elated to be named among the short-listed players.
“I feel motivated to make the final cut, and I think ah still have a chance to go further. I thought my aspirations to represent Trinidad and Tobago was done, because since the covid nothing was happening and ah was getting worried.”
Keanu Boatswain, 16, of Patience Hill, said he was happy when he heard about the screening.
“Football is my way to free up my mind from everything, so I was getting depressed, because of no football. So, hearing about the screening kind of ease the frustration,” he said.
Boatswain’s ambition is to play football in Europe. He was also named in the squad of 30 players and is optimistic about national selection.
“I feel excited to make it, because ah hear it start off with 70 people. Ah trying hard to make the team, but ah not taking anything for granted, because it have plenty good players, but ah putting in the work and doing what ah have to do.”
National coach Angus Eve told Newsday, “Tobago is one of six zones under the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation where the national screening is taking place. We will be in Tobago on January 28-29, to see which of the players can fall into the national pool.”
The other zones in Trinidad have already completed their screening, and players who came home for the Christmas holidays, from US colleges, were also screened.
Eve said, “We will be going to Fort Lauderdale, America in February to conduct screening sessions for players who are willing to play for the country and their parents were born in Trinidad and Tobago.”
The national under-20 team is gearing up for the Concacaf Men’s Under-20 Championship.
The draw for the Concacaf groupings will take place in April, and the top four teams will qualify for the 2023 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Indonesia.