Trinidad and Tobago national football players Hughtun Hector, Daneil Cyrus and Willis Plaza have roughly one week to decide between their short-term financial futures and representing the country at the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The trio, who helped the “Soca Warriors” to second place at last month’s Caribbean Cup finals, agreed terms with Vietnam club Song Lam Nghe last November. However, Wired868.com understands the club is adamant that the players must refuse to represent their country at the July Gold Cup before they are given contracts.
Vietnam top flight teams are permitted just three foreign players each and Song Lam Nghe does not want to lose the services of its overseas contingent for two weeks to a month, according to how far the Warriors progress in the tournament.
Hector admitted that he had not made up his mind yet as to whether he would spend July in the United States with international teammates or in Vietnam with his prospective employer.
“That will be my first Gold Cup and it will be a great opportunity,” he told Wired868. “But I ain’t decide yet.”
Hector, a Point Fortin resident, always dreamed of playing on the big stage for club and country. But, at 28-years-old, the talented midfielder acknowledged that there is little chance of him playing for a major European team while he is probably already near the peak of his earning capability as a player.
“I have to think about protecting my future in financial terms too,” said Hector, who is still recovering from an instep injury he suffered in the Caribbean Cup. “I am getting older and you have to make use of what you have now. You have to be very lucky as a player to get something in England at the age of 28 or 29.
“Those big clubs are looking for younger players.”
The 22-year-old Cyrus, a gangly, utility player who prefers to operate in central defence, or the 25-year-old attacker, Plaza, have more time on their side although that may not necessarily make the decision easier.
Plaza scored seven goals in nine matches last season with another V-League club Navibank Saigon, which earned him a switch to the more illustrious to Song Lam Nghe. He was Trinidad and Tobago’s joint second highest scorer for 2012 with four goals from one start and six substitute appearances.
But, should he choose country over club, can Plaza count on keeping his place within the squad once the likes of Stoke City forward Kenwyne Jones and Samsunspor attacker Darryl Roberts become available or if North East Stars striker Cornell Glen returns to favour?
Cyrus, who is a mainstay in the national team and young enough to expect future overseas opportunities, has already restarted playing for DIRECTV W Connection. The defender’s sole overseas stint thus far comprised of two competitive games for United States Major League Soccer (MLS) team, Sporting Kansas City, before a broken metatarsal in his right foot abruptly ended his loan in 2011.
He is anxious to move abroad again as soon as possible and sees Vietnam as a worthwhile first step.
“The league there is fast and more organised and there are players from Brazil and Africa and so on,” said Cyrus, who played in the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups for Trinidad and Tobago. “I want to go out and create my own opportunities because you never know who will see me.
“The (W Connection) president and them are still negotiating and I can’t say yet what will happen and what I will decide. Playing for my country at the Gold Cup will be very big as well.
“I have been caught in the middle.”
Another positive year for Trinidad and Tobago’s international senior team and the resultant climb up the FIFA rankings should see the Warriors become eligible for work permits to play in Britain once more.
Cyrus should still be young enough to attract a move there and follow in the footsteps of former national defenders like Dennis Lawrence, Marvin Andrews and Brent Sancho.
It would be a bigger gamble for Hector to turn his back on Vietnam. Last season, the clever and versatile midfielder contributed 11 goals and nine assists from 23 matches for Song Lam Nghe and the team is anxious for his return.
Hector admitted that the standard of play in Vietnam was not necessarily superior to the local Pro League. But the demands, on and off the pitch, are greater and have made him stronger.
International footballers generally earn between US$7,000 (TT$45,000) and $10,000 (TT$64,000) per month in the V-League, which is more than six times what they might earn in the Pro League, while Vietnamese players get between US$800 (TT$5,000) and $1,500 (TT$10,000). And the clubs expect their foreign talent to provide value for money.
In a country of just under 88 million, it can be taxing to shuttle between cities for matches too. The nearest rival to Song Lam Nghe is three or four hours away and a series of away matches can mean nearly two weeks of travelling by plane and bus.
But Hector settled in well. Song Lam Nghe pays for each international player to fly in a guest during a mid-season break. The Trinidadian did not take up the option as he felt the trip there was too arduous to put a loved on through.
Whether it is coping with the challenges in Vietnam or dealing with the financial issues that affected the Warriors last year, Hector does not believe in moaning.
“I just want to play football,” he said. “I try not to worry about if money comes in or if they are changing coaches or whatever. I just want to play football.
“Sometimes it is difficult but you can’t study it because it will affect your performance.”
Hector insisted that he was desperate to represent his country for as long as possible and still dreams of playing in a World Cup, although he will be 33 when the 2018 tournament kicks off in Russia.
At 16-years-old, Hector was a late cut from the squad that represented Trinidad and Tobago at the 2001 Under-17 World Youth Cup. Brazilian head coach Rene Simoes allegedly felt the Vessigny Secondary schoolboy was too small at the time.
He is anxious to wear red, black and white strip at a major tournament before he retires.
“I want to help Trinidad and Tobago to win the Gold Cup or at least reach the knock out round,” said Hector. “And I want to help us to go to the World Cup again.”
Within the next week, Hector, Cyrus and Plaza must decide on their immediate futures with the Trinidad and Tobago team based on the stance of a Vietnamese club.
For Hector, it might be the biggest decision of his career.