After three shaky rounds with just 27 from 45 scheduled matches taking place, the Youth Pro League (YPL) finally had a full quota of games on the weekend. Once again, TT Pro League CEO Julia Baptiste blamed registration issues for the barrage of defaulted fixtures and forfeited points.
“If you don’t complete your registration before that [deadline] date, you will automatically default your first two matches or lose the points in your first two matches,” Baptiste told Wired868. “[The deadline] is to give teams the option to at least register 20 to 25 players in each age group. And it gives the League the opportunity to sort and make sure that everyone has everything.
“I know a lot of people believe that because its youth league, [we should just] let the youths play; but I don’t condone that. I don’t mind them playing. I want all of them to play but [they] must be registered and transferred, the way it should be done.”
The early season defaults due to registration problems is now a regular concern for the YPL. Last season, the failure of several clubs to make the deadline was somewhat overshadowed by a controversy involving the potential participation of the National Under-17 Team in the place of Morvant Caledonia United.
According to YPL regulations, clubs can register players from January up until roughly two weeks before the start of the competition. There are three divisions: Under-13, Under-15 and Under-17.
After the first two rounds of matches, a second registration window begins and remains open until the knockout competition. During the second registration period, any player can be used once his paperwork is submitted by noon, two days before kick off.
San Juan Jabloteh remain one of the most successful teams at YPL level and Technical Director Keith Jeffrey credited much of that to his club’s organisation.
“Some of the teams—maybe because of finance—don’t have administrators,” said Jeffrey. “A lot of the teams because of financial constraints, one person might have to do three jobs. It [is] a tedious task if you don’t have the man power.
“Jabloteh is a club at the youth level that is very organised, with an office and a staff. So the coaches don’t have to double up. I think that’s the problem.”
Another potential issue, Baptiste admitted, is the decision by several Pro League clubs to ‘adopt’ external sides to represent them in the YPL, which appears to exacerbate the registration issues. The adopted team has to transfer in an entire squad and often have little time to complete their paperwork.
This season, T&T Maestros, Pro Series, QPCC and Queen’s Royal College are all competing in the YPL on behalf of Morvant Caledonia, Central FC, North East Stars and Defence Force respectively.
It means that only half of the Pro League’s clubs—W Connection, Club Sando, Police FC, Point Fortin Civic, Terminix La Horquetta Rangers and Jabloteh—bothered to field youth teams.
“If it is you are adopting a team or a school or whatever, they may not be well aware of the process,” said Baptiste, “and so they might be slow in the process and not have everything done in time.”
Maestros and Morvant Caledonia United coach Sheldon de Freitas absolved the Pro League administration of blame.
“It’s not a difficult [registration] process,” said de Freitas. “It’s a matter of making your arrangements early and getting your arrangements clear… We had [some] problems coming down to the end but it might be a bit on us too, moving a [little] late.”
Stars owner Ryan Nunes, who outsourced his youth set-up to the ‘Parkites’, suggested that miscommunication and a lack of resources by the administrative body did play some part of the mix-ups.
“I just put it down to the miscommunication [of deadlines] and the volatility and instability of both organisations, the Pro League and TTFA,” said Nunes. “I think the difficulty with the registration process lies with the collection of information from parents. The Pro League demands the original birth certificate is seen and because it is such a priority document, parents are not willing to release it and that can result in delays.
“To add to that, the Pro League staffing is under resourced. They have a difficult time; no fault of theirs. And it’s pretty hard to get 130 documents all in order when they say go and you need it like next week.
“But what we have seen in the ‘FIFA connect/TT connect’ [process], it’s simple to upload and it would simplify the process going forward.”
Baptiste informed Wired868 that all registration forms must be attached to the player’s original birth certificate with a copy for the YPL to authenticate the information, along with the relevant transfer form and certificate.
For players transferring in from other competitions, such as the Republic Bank Youth League, the player’s YPL registration package must include a transfer certificate issued by the league that they are coming from.
For internal transfers—players moving from one YPL club to another—a YPL transfer form must be attached to the registration form, which should be stamped and signed by the two clubs and include a signature from the player and his parent along with a copy of the parent’s ID.
When a club is transferring only a handful of players, the process is simple enough. However, it can be a daunting challenge for clubs who have to register an entire roster.
Central FC Managing Director Brent Sancho, who represents the Pro League on the new Commission meant to oversee a merger between the Pro League and Trinidad and Tobago Super League, said the outsourcing of their youth team was due to financial constraints.
“We tried [running an academy] in the beginning and it just didn’t work out,” said Sancho. “I don’t think most people understand what it takes to run a professional club. [Clubs] just don’t have that money to truly develop a player. To run a full-fledged academy, you are looking at three to five million dollars a year, as there is a big difference between an academy and a coaching school.”
“There isn’t any money for it; and then part of the [issue] is with a kid’s registration [when], once he goes to play school football, he then becomes a school football player. The current rules don’t protect [the investment of] a professional club.”
De Freitas, whose Maestros team represented Central FC in 2017 and Morvant Caledonia in 2018 and 2019, was unconvinced by Sancho’s argument and felt the YPL’s composition of clubs was unfair. But he believes it is a necessary evil for teams like his.
“We just make the sacrifice because we want the players go on to that next level,” said de Freitas. “We want to give them that opportunity to hone their skills in a more competitive environment, especially the players who have that bit more potential.”
“[For Pro League clubs to pass the responsibility to run academies to other smaller teams] doesn’t auger well for football development at all. It’s a kind of cop-out by the Pro League teams that only take care of their senior players. That is short term [thinking].
“Their cry [is a lack of funds] but, for example, Maestros doesn’t have a sponsor. If we could do it [and put a youth team together] on these [limited] means, then why people who have a little funding can’t put it together?”
De Freitas argued that good should not be the enemy of better; and it is better to have a decent youth set-up than none at all.
“To do it properly requires funding but you could [still] do it like us,” said de Freitas, whose Maestros team has produced several national youth prospects of late including National U-15 starlet Abdul-Qudoos Hypolite. “We ain’t doing it all that professional but we’re trying our best. We still have our youths coming out, making national teams and getting scholarships.
“So there is still some measure of success with what we are doing, so why they can’t do it?”
Pro Series founder and head coach Paul Decle said the level of competition at YPL level was what appealed, when he was approached to field Central FC’s Under-13 team.
“The competition itself is great and [the] intensity is good,” said Decle, who is in his debut YPL season. “In terms of local football, it’s a stepping stone or a pathway for my players to continue to be challenged at the highest level that the country could offer.”
Nunes insisted Stars did not abdicate their responsibility but, rather, allowed QPCC the chance to partner with them for the 2019 season. He claimed several Stars players were busy studying for exams or training with the National Under-17 Team and that influenced their club’s decision.
“QPCC had approached us, along with three or four other academies and we felt the best fit was QPCC,” said Nunes, “and we added some of our players with their players. So the core of the team is QPCC; but it’s a blended team.”
Although Stars failed to make the registration deadline, they still played their opening fixtures against Morvant Caledonia and Civic. The latter teams were awarded the points but Nunes claimed Stars took the moral victory in the unofficial matches.
“North East played every game and beat every team [in the first two rounds],” said Nunes. “It would be classified as practice games—as they said we would not be officially registered—but it was in the spirit of giving the kids an opportunity to play. It was not so much about the points.”
Jeffrey does not believe in adopting youth teams and insisted that Jabloteh would not change their philosophy.
“Jabloteh is a club at the youth level that is very organised,” he said. “We run an academy and these different age groups so we don’t have those problems [like some other teams].
“[…] That is why W Connection, Club Sando and Jabloteh are the three leaders in that aspect. That is why at the end of the season, you will see those teams are always around the top three in all the divisions.”
The gauntlet has been thrown down.