For the first time in his illustrious career, former Trinidad and Tobago football strike sensation Leonson Lewis is preparing to spend an entire season on the sidelines.
And Vibe CT 105 W Connection’s new under-20 coach can hardly wait.
His enthusiasm for a new challenge is tempered only by his appreciation for the responsibility that comes with the job.
“It is my first time as coach,” said Lewis, “so I am trying to be complete and touch on everything. I just started a month and a half ago but, with the talent I have (within the squad), I should do pretty well...”
There is a brief pause as Lewis quickly scrutinises his own statement for possible shortcomings.
“Although talent alone does not cut it,” he said finally.
There. Lewis is at ease again and pleased with his own positioning.
At 36, the former “Strike Squad” star has made a good living for himself by not only knowing where he wanted to go but when he should get moving.
Last season, he returned to Trinidad and Tobago after spending 11 years playing professionally in Portugal to round off his career at home with Connection.
He admits he wanted to offer more to his family and longstanding fans than the two goals he managed during an injury plagued 2002 season.
In the end, though, he accepted it was time to try something else.
“I wanted to play one more year but the injuries kept me back,” he said. “And when I found out they were looking for an under-20 coach, I knew it was always something I wanted to do.
“I think I was a bit unlucky to be injured when I was last year. Everytime I started to pick up a little form or get into better condition I was getting ankle injuries and other stuff.
“I would have liked to have played a little more but I enjoyed playing in Trinidad and the respect that a lot of other players gave me.”
It was respect well earned if you believe his former mentor and “Strike Squad” coach Everald “Gally” Cummings, who will lead South Starworld Strikers into Pro League action this season.
As Lewis attempts to recreate himself on the Connection bench, Cummings remembers another crucial time in the life of the speedy left-footed attacker when much was also being asked of him.
Lewis was just 21-years-old when Cummings–also a former icon as a player–inherited the national senior team.
But Cummings explained there were many critics of the striker who rose to prominence with San Fernando Technical Institute alongside the gifted playmaker Russell “Little Magician” Latapy.
“They said he was not a team player and that he was wasteful in front of goal,” said Cummings. “They didn’t think he was national material. In every area they criticised him, he excelled in all those areas and proved them all wrong.
“He took all those critics and made them love him by accepting the role that I gave him to play within the team.”
His resume speaks for itself.
There were three goals in the final round of the 1990 World Cup qualifying series as the “Strike Squad” came within a point of the FIFA finals.
Fourteen more goals came in the modified version of the Caribbean Cup tournament which began in 1989.
His seven-goal tally at the 1992 Caribbean Cup was an individual scoring record that stood for six years before compatriot Stern John fired home ten at the 1998 tournament.
John, who runs for English Premiership team Birmingham City, is the only player to have scored more times than Lewis in the final rounds of the competition with 17 strikes from four Cups.
Lewis’ 14 goals came from just three tournaments.
There were successes for the striker in Portugal as well where he represented Academica, Falgueiras, Boavista and Amadora in the first and second divisions.
A FA Cup winners medal in the 1996/97 season with Boavista ranks highly among his awards from the game while his best returns came in 1995/96 when he was the league’s third highest scorer with 23 goals for Falgueiras.
It is plenty for his young players to try to emulate although Cummings insisted it was just a small part of the story.
Cummings remains the country’s most celebrated footballer in terms of local accolades as a player and coach.
However, he reckoned that Lewis would be on his shortlist if he were asked to name his top ten all-time Trinidad and Tobago players.
“Leonson Lewis ended up being one of the best power forwards that I know,” said Cummings. “He would be in my top ten players of all-time. I would put him next to our best left footers like Warren Archibald, Leroy Spann and Alvin Corneal.
“Some of them might have had as much dribbling ability but they didn’t have the power to run even if somebody is holding him and they were very good. Leonson wasn’t only a good footballer, he was a good athlete.
“I thought Spann was one of the best players I ever saw in Trinidad football. Archibald was outstanding on every level, but Leonson was a piece of all of them.”
Cummings noted that it was very important for the local game to have top players like Lewis give back to the sport as he did with the “Strike Squad”.
“Society is lacking positive role models,” said Cummings, “and, because of his resume and background, he will be able to motivate players.
“The one thing I always admired with him is he was always ready for every game. I have never known a player who you didn’t have to motivate at all...
“It will take time and experience for his coaching skills to kick in but, if we could get more nationals like him working with young players, it would do a lot for football.”
By the look of things, Connection know the potential value of the newest addition to their technical staff.
An announcement on Lewis’ new position with the club was made last Wednesday night at halftime as Connection matched skills with Mexican team, Toluca, in the CONCACAF Club Championship.
Connection fought from two goals down to hold Toluca to a 3-3 draw at Manny Ramjohn Stadium, Marabella.
It was not enough to guarantee Connection a place in the second round, but Lewis still envisages a bright future for the ambitious club.
He explained there was much for the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) to copy from the Connection camp.
Lewis is also a big fan of Connection coach Stuart Charles.
“I think he is the best coach in the country and probably the best in the Caribbean,” he said.
Lewis has already taken his mark.