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06
Fri, Dec

Typography
At just 22 years of age, Lloyd Samuel has the look of a man with the world at his feet. He was one of the last players out of the Aston Villa dressing room when Express Sports visited and it was probably time well spent.


Diamonds in each ear, chic brown suit and designer pouch in hand, the immaculately groomed Samuel looked more like a model than an English Premier League footballer.

His presence in the mixed zone caused a minor stir among the sprinkling of reporters present that moved within earshot of the interview in search of a juicy quote or two.

Black sport reporters in Britain are more a rarity than white heavyweight boxing champions and local reporters tend to keep close watch with the hope that you may be the friend or relation of a famous player.

So, by the time Samuel turned out, there was a small group of reporters waiting in close proximity.

If the British reporters were pleased with the opportunity for an impromptu interview, Trinidad and Tobago football fans may not be thrilled by Samuel's most relevant words.

Samuel has already turned out for the England under-21 team and, a few months ago, would have been deemed ineligible for selection for the "Soca Warriors".

However, a new FIFA ruling allowing any player who has not appeared in a competitive senior international fixture to switch allegiance has changed that.

Tottenham's French striker Frederic Kanoute was the first high profiled player to use the loophole when he went against his club's wishes and joined Mali for the 2004 African Nations Cup.

Samuel can do the same but, at present, he admitted that he was more captivated with the "Three Lions" than the Warriors.

"If it doesn't come through for my career as I would like," the talented left back told the Express Sports, "I would probably think about (playing for Trinidad and Tobago).

"For now, I believe I can get in the England team. So I am happy with my chances there right now."

It is no more than to be expected really.

Born in San Fernando, Samuel was just one year old when he moved to London and he has lived in England ever since.

It is 16 years since he last set foot in the Piarco Airport although he hopes to visit soon.

"My family go back for vacation especially my dad, Trevor," he said. "But because of my international duties and so on, I am usually tied up during my vacation.

"I have not been back since I was six."

Trinidad may have given Samuel his genes but it is his homeland, England, which gave him a football education and comfortable lifestyle.

A place in the England senior team, apart from the lure of playing in the European Championships and World Cup, would almost certainly triple his financial worth as a player as well.

So, Samuel is hedging his bets.

He is not the first player with "Trini" roots to come under the microscope since the Jamaican "Reggae Boyz" showed the value of utilising expatriates in their successful 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Combative midfielder Ronnie Mauge-then of Second Division Bristol Rovers-was perhaps the most successful although he managed just seven caps before his international career ended.

Sweeper Ian Cox, who played with Division One Burnley, played four times in the red, white and black strip while British lower division defender Kevin Austin (one cap) and Canadian-based utility player Rick Titus (two caps) won few new friends.

No disrespect intended to those players who gave their best; but Samuel is the real thing.

He was just 16-years-old when he joined Aston Villa while he turned professional two years later-ironically, the same season that Dwight Yorke left for Manchester United in a record  £12.6 million transfer deal.

The famous Holte End stand did not seem to mind their Trinidad and Tobago replacement too much.

It was a remarkable sight when Samuel received possession in opposition territory against Portsmouth.

Near 10,000 Holte End patrons rose to their feet from the moment he crossed the halfway line.

Commonplace expectation perhaps for top drawer strikers like Arsenal's Thierry Henry or fancy playmakers like Bolton's Jay Jay Okocha; but almost unheard of for full backs short of Real Madrid's Roberto Carlos.

Not that Samuel belongs to such an elite stratosphere-not yet, at least.

But there is none more popular on the ball at Villa Park.

There is a certain arrogance to Samuel's play as he singles out an opposing defender and runs straight at him to launch his mazy runs.

He is not overly intricate in possession but works wonders with a lowered shoulder and change of pace.

Samuel uses the ball intelligently too and balances his dribbling act with some early raking 40-yard passes.

On the day, he was not pushed defensively but showed enough to suggest pedigree as a left full back or winger.

It has been a problematic position for Trinidad and Tobago since the retirement of "Marvellous" Marvin Faustin and Alvin Thomas, who incidentally began as stop-gap measures and preferred midfield roles.

Not so for England, though, and hopefully that will prove a blessing in disguise.

Arsenal left back Ashley Cole already wears the English number three shirt with some distinction and, at just 23, should be around for some time while Chelsea full back Wayne Bridge-also 23-is already widely considered to be his understudy.

Both Cole and Bridge seem better placed for international honours at clubs with strong European pedigree and it will be tough work dislodging them.

Samuel plans to give it a go although he should not expect present or future Trinidad and Tobago coaches to wish him well.

Ex-national coach Ian Porterfield wooed young Tottenham striker Bobby Zamora, whose parents hail from Carenage, during the 2002 World Cup qualifiers.

But it was very unlikely that Zamora, who is still eligible, could have won a starting place ahead of the likes of Yorke or Birmingham City's Stern John.

Samuel is a much bigger prospect.

"I done not too bad," he said, after their 2-1 win over Portsmouth. "But there is still plenty more to come from me. I want to be able to attack more consistently over 90 minutes."

In the match programme, Samuel named ex-England and Liverpool left winger John Barnes as his hero and role model.

Ironically, Barnes was born in Jamaica before migrating to England as a teenager.

Samuel wants to follow Barnes by choosing his homeland over his place of birth.

But he is in no hurry to rule Trinidad and Tobago out.

The ball is at his feet-just where he likes it.