Gifted Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Leston Paul has denied that he ever turned down the chance to represent his country and said he is rooting for his teammates to book a London 2012 Olympic spot without him.
The 22-year-old playmaker, who is entering his third year at the University of South Florida, said only injury blocked him from joining the squad.
Paul, who captained Trinidad and Tobago at the 2007 Under-17 and 2009 Under-19 World Youth Championships, told Wired868.com that he had an operation on his right ankle in January and still uses a protective boot.
Trinidad and Tobago national under-23 team coach Angus Eve said that Paul failed to respond to invitations to join the squad. The player didn't contradict Eve but said it was just a miscommunication.
"(My absence) didn't go across the way I wanted it to," Paul told Wired868. "I don't want people to feel I don't want to play with the team... I love playing for my country.
"Why wouldn't I want to play to qualify for the Olympics?"
The incident might prove to be much ado about nothing. But it arguably highlights the managerial difficulties in handling promising athletes.
Then national under-23 team manager Norris Ferguson was aware that Paul was injured before he returned to Trinidad on vacation last December. But Ferguson told Wired868 that the player was still expected to meet with the team's managerial staff.
"I told him to contact me to chat with myself and the coach," said Ferguson, "but he never did. I kept sending him emails and calling his phone but he never responded...
"He never communicated with me or Angus when he came to Trinidad."
Paul felt the managerial staff was supposed to contact him and claimed to have waited on the call to set up a meeting.
Ferguson was growing frustrated by his failed attempts to reach the player, though. So, he sent Paul a text message informing him of their next training session and requesting his presence.
The midfielder, who lives in Mayaro, thought he was being ordered to train and was annoyed. He did not respond.
"What would I possibly respond and say when he knew I was injured all the way along?" asked Paul. "I didn't have anything to say (to that text)...
"I just don't get why he would want me to come practice and all the way along he knew I was injured."
Paul, to Eve's displeasure, returned to Florida without speaking to any member of the under-23 technical staff.
However, the young playmaker insisted there is plenty football left in his future and that includes international duty.
Paul is working hard to complete his geography major in three years, rather than four, and then intends to take a break to pursue his professional options.
He has not ruled out stepping up to the US Major League Soccer (MLS) if a good offer comes while he would love a chance to play in Europe—he once trained with England Premiership club, Sunderland, after winning a Digicel competition spearheaded by Jamaica-born former Liverpool star John Barnes.
But Paul's dream gig involves the national colours.
"My main goal is to play in a senior World Cup," he said. "I really want to achieve that... One day, I would like to look back and say I played in all the World Cups."
The diminutive midfielder has always been a sought after commodity.
As a teenager, local Pro League coaches—including former San Juan Jabloteh coach and England World Cup defender Terry Fenwick—beat down his door in an unsuccessful attempt to get his signature. Paul chose the US Collegiate circuit instead.
A clever ball handler who has a burst of pace and can tackle and dribble, Paul is the epitome of the modern midfielder. He feels most at home in a three-man central midfield combination and that set-up is the rage in the global game at present.
Paul can handle the holding role but prefers to operate as a deep-lying playmaker—in the mould of his hero and Spanish maestro, Xavi—behind a more advanced, attacking midfielder.
Paul played Racing Genk midfielder Khaleem Hyland and Orlando City playmaker Kevin Molino at the Egypt Under-20 World Cup and Eve had hoped to recycle that creative triangle for this month's Olympic qualifiers.
However, Genk refused to release Hyland and Paul said his own absence was just as unavoidable.
The two-time World Youth Cup captain insisted that he cannot wait to return to national duty, though, and insisted he will support his teammates in spirit.
"I would like to wish the team good luck," said Paul. "I still go online and follow them to see how the games went and how the team's going.
"I really wanted to be there and it is only because of my injury that I am not there. But good luck to them and I really hope they qualify."