The Ministry of Sport was forced into a rescue operation today as two former Trinidad and Tobago national youth team players, Jean-Luc Rochford and Dwight Quintero, were among three footballers left alone in a hotel in London while their contingent moved on to trials in Turkey.
The third player, Keon Russell, is a former Caledonia AIA employee while Rochford and Quintero are both free agents but represented Central FC in Pro League action last season.
All three left Trinidad for Turkey with Dion Sosa, an unregistered local football agent, and close to a dozen other players.
However, once in London, Quintero, Rochford and Russell were allegedly informed that there was no plane ticket to take them on Turkey.
Eventually, they made their way to Trinidad and Tobago’s High Commission in London where a SOS was put through to Sport Minister Brent Sancho.
“I was contacted this morning by a lady named Keisha Rochford-Hawkins from the Consulate in London, who said that they had three players there who were stranded,” Sancho told Wired868. “I didn’t get the nitty gritty of the situation. But, from what I understand, a party left for London on a broken ticket to Turkey.
“Some of the members went on and these stayed waiting for help and they eventually contacted the consulate… So I am trying to assist.”
Wired868 tried to contact Sosa by What’s App and email but was unable to reach him.
By the end of the day, the Sport Ministry did book plane tickets from London to Turkey. But, in the confusion, they ended up a ticket short.
Nathalie Fournillier, Quintero’s aunt, said her nephew contacted her for help this morning. At the time, Quintero and Rochford were together but they could not find Russell and thought he had left them since he was supposedly familiar with London.
Fournillier convinced Sancho that there were only two players in need of help, only to discover later that Russell had resurfaced.
Sancho vowed to do all he can to get a ticket for Russell tomorrow. Eid festivities have apparently complicated travel to Turkey.
Fournillier explained that the contingent, led by Sosa, arrived in London on Thursday morning. However, Quintero, Rochford and Russell were allegedly told that, due to financial issues, there was no ticket to take them to Turkey and Sosa would go ahead with the other players and make the necessary arrangements from there.
The group of players are due to play three practice matches against European clubs, who are in their pre-season, with the hope of catching the eye and being signed or invited for formal trials.
Fournillier said each player was asked to pay $25,000 for airfare and accommodation, although most did not have the full amount and there were several fund-raising initiatives.
Quintero and Rochford, who roomed together, had not heard from Sosa as they neared the 11 am check-out time.
In Trinidad, Quintero’s mother and relatives were in tears.
“I had a lot of calls from my sisters this morning while I was at work,” said Fournillier, who lives in the United States, “and I got messages saying to call as soon as possible, so I got worried.
“When I called, I was told my nephew (Quintero) was left behind in London with two other players and Sosa and the others went ahead to Turkey.
“It took me a while to wrap my head around that because I felt it must have been a huge mistake.”
Quintero is a former National Under-20 striker and was on the current Under-23 squad, although he missed the Olympic qualifiers and 2015 Pan American Games due to the team’s managerial issues.
Rochford, who represented Trinidad and Tobago at the 2009 Under-20 and 2007 Under-17 World Youth Cups, contacted a relative who works at the High Commission in London and they made their way there for help.
That relative, Keisha Rochford-Hawkins, was able to pay for another night’s stay at a hotel for the players and give them other assistance.
Fournillier said she eventually got a phone call through to Sosa in Turkey and he allegedly admitted that he did not inform the players beforehand about their travel issues.
“He said he didn’t want to let the ticket issue interfere with the trip after they had (done so much work),” said Fournillier. “He asked me if I could work on sponsors to get them plane tickets for Turkey… He said there was still money tied up by sponsors and, once he got back into Trinidad, he would honour all debts.”
Sancho agreed to help.
The Sport Minister is a former chairman at Central FC, which employed Quintero and Rochford. However, neither player is under contract while the club is not entitled to any developmental fee for Rochford, since he has already passed his 23rd birthday.
Sancho, who was heavily criticised by Sosa during Levi Garcia’s transfer to Netherlands top flight club club AZ, said he was only interested in helping young players in a time of need.
“I’ve been in that situation before and it is not a nice feeling,” said Sancho, who was a former Scotland Premier League and England League One defender. “It happened when I left Ross County and an agent took me to a trial in Romania. And when I didn’t sign, they yanked my return ticket and I was stranded for a couple of days…
“I am not involved with Central with my new portfolio. But these are young men in a jam and guys I know… So I cannot just leave them there.”
Fournillier said she and Rochford’s mother did their best to lift the boys’ spirits and get them in the right frame of mind for what lies ahead.
“I told them that God never lets adversity affect his children unless he knows something good is going to come out of it,” said Fournillier. “They must not be disheartened and they have to forge forward and finish what they started by any means necessary. Whatever drama plays out, keep your eyes on the prize.
“Jean-Luc’s mom also sent them a very inspirational message… They were a bit fearful at one point but they are in really good spirits now.
“They want to say ‘thank you’ to Brent (Sancho) for reaching out to help them.”
Despite the chaos, Sancho commended Sosa for his efforts in trying to find professional deals for local players in Europe.
“I applaud the efforts of Sosa and company for trying to find greener pastures for our players,” said Sancho, “although he obviously fell short in his attempts.”
Dion Sosa’s trialists: Raheem Belgrave, Curtis Gonzales, Dario Holmes, Weslie John, Jelani Peters, Keon Russell, Jamel Farell, Leon Whyle, Leston Paul, Jean-Luc Rochford, Duane Muckette, Keane McIvor, Xavier Rajpaul, Micah Lewis, Qian Grosvenor, Phillip Borde, Dwight Quintero and Brent Sam.
Stranded T&T footballers: We still don’t know what happened
By Lasana Liburd (Wired868)
The road to fame and fortune for Trinidad and Tobago footballers Jean-Luc Rochford, Dwight Quintero and Keon Russell took an unexpected detour in London.
The three players were part of a 10-member contingent, led by scout and unlicensed agent Dion Sosa, that left the Piarco International Airport on Wednesday for trials in Turkey. But they only made it as far as the United Kingdom.
Sport Minister Brent Sancho responded to a plea for assistance for the three young men today but, due to an error in the formal request, tickets were only sourced for Rochford and Quintero.
Ironically, Russell, a 24-year-old former Caledonia AIA midfielder and El Dorado West Secondary student, was one of the few players who paid for a plane ticket from London to Istanbul. Still, he was left behind.
Wired868 caught up with the three young men at the Park Inn Hotel in London, as they discussed their fates.
The 24-year-old Rochford, who represented Trinidad and Tobago at the 2007 Under-17 and 2009 Under-20 World Youth Cups, said they were told at Piarco that tickets were still needed for the London to Istanbul leg. But he trusted that Sosa had everything in control.
“He said six tickets were waiting for us from Heathrow to Istanbul,” said Rochford. “And he said when we (got there), he would organise the rest.”
In most cases, the agent or club pays for the trialists’ airfare and accommodation. But, in this instance, Sosa allegedly asked players to pay TT$25,000 each.
Most of the players did not raise the full figure and Sosa tried desperately to source funds before their departure.
Once the contingent landed in London, Sosa allegedly asked the players to pool resources to see if there was enough to take them forward to Turkey.
Russell had travelled with 600 Euros in case of contingencies and handed it over to Sosa. Somehow, he still ended up left behind.
“I am still trying to understand what went wrong,” Russell told Wired868. “I had money for my ticket to Turkey… The (return) tickets came up to 592 Euros for each player, so I said okay and I gave him my 600 Euros.
“But he said we fell short, so I told him to keep my money and use it for us to come across one-way to Istanbul instead.”
Sosa left with four players and promised to book tickets for the remaining six to join them on Friday morning.
Rochford spoke to Sosa on Thursday evening.
“He said he was organising to get the money up from Trinidad to buy the tickets,” said Rochford.
That was the last the players heard from him. On Friday morning, Leston Paul, who was Rochford’s captain on both World Youth Cups, as well as Point Fortin Civic defender Weslie John and ex-St Anthony’s College utility player Leon Whyle were sent tickets and they left.
“I heard three players got tickets but I wasn’t one of them,” said Russell.
As it neared time for the players to check out of their hotel, Rochford remembered his father, Timothy Rochford, had a cousin, Keisha Rochford-Hawkins, who worked at the High Commission in London.
They had never met before but Rochford made contact. And she was able to book another hotel for the trio and contacted the Sport Ministry on their behalf.
“Everything happens for a reason yes,” Rochford told Wired868. “Maybe it is a test to see how strong I am mentally. We are praying all the time and talking and making plans.
“We put up to buy meals and we are trying to eat properly. We got stuff to eat from my father’s cousin as well. We are dealing with this as a group.”
The group will split up in a few hours, though. Quintero, who is 21 and was a member of the current National Under-23 Team, and Rochford both leave in the morning.
The three young men chatted through the night to pass the time. Rochford and Quintero do not want to leave their new comrade behind but Russell insisted he would be okay.
The players still hope that, once they get to Turkey, they can salvage their trial and catch the eye of waiting scouts. They feel closer to their dream of becoming football stars than ever before.
“Every setback is a setup for a major comeback,” said Russell. “We are just here chilling and talking and staying positive and hopeful. God is still in control.”
Thus far, Wired868 has been unable to reach Sosa for comment.