Will a Fistful of Dollars spoil football development?

A release this week confirmed that several of the Pro League’s most talented footballers have signed deals with teams in various corners of the European continent. I say various corners, as most of them are not exactly the European hotbeds of football.

But who will benefit from these overseas moves?

Photo: Caledonia AIA and Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Ataullah Guerra (foreground). (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Caledonia AIA and Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Ataullah Guerra (foreground) is wanted in the Finland Premier League.
(Courtesy Wired868)

The Kazakhstan Premier League, for example, has twelve teams. But Kazakhstan is a vast country, twice the size of Alaska, with mammoth distances between the clubs. Attendances at games average around 500.

Meanwhile, it is suggested that some players may find themselves in the Finnish third division—the fourth tier of football in Finland.

Is the Finnish third division of a higher quality than the Pro League? Is the Kazakhstan league better? If not, that means our top players’ abilities will reduce, not improve.

So, if they’re not going there to improve their football, it must be the money.

Fair enough, players deserve to earn top dollar. But, are players being shipped out to anywhere that will pay the selling club a fee? No details of transfer fees have been released as yet.

I can’t blame a club for selling a player. They need the cash and if the player gets the deal he wants, so be it. But are they really being advised correctly?

I guess that the clubs will say that they have the right to sell players overseas if it can benefit their club, which is, of course, their business.

However, when Trinidad and Tobago’s joint national head coach is involved, this is where there is a moral dilemma.

Jamaal Shabazz has undoubtedly worked passionately to grow Caledonia AIA into a formidable football team, not just in Trinidad & Tobago but also in the Caribbean. Should we, then, even dare criticize him for capitalising now on years spent counting pennies to put a team together?

Well, yes, actually. If we accept that these transfers are not necessarily designed to improve the players, then could our national coach be weakening the player pool to benefit his club?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Seon Power (left) rushes in to share the love as the "Soca Warriors" celebrate their Caribbean Cup semifinal triumph over Martinique. (Courtesy Allan V. Crane/ Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Seon Power (left) rushes in to share the love as the “Soca Warriors” celebrate their Caribbean Cup semifinal triumph over Martinique.
(Courtesy Allan V. Crane/ Wired868)

And this is where there could be a conflict of interest.

Most people cannot wear two hats. If Shabazz had his trip paid for by TTFF, then that is clearly wrong. However, if he paid his own way, is that okay? What comes first, club or country?

I must say at this point that I tend to admire Shabazz as a coach.

He does seem to have a knack of building a team and motivating them to win. In fact, it was noticeable that during his tenure as Guyana head coach, the form of Caledonia noticeably dipped. But upon his return, the club literally caught fire and finished the season superbly.

I most certainly agree with Shabazz that Pro League clubs must be active in the global transfer market. But selling players to minor clubs in minor leagues does not help develop the national team.

While it may be okay for teams like W Connection to offload players to balance its books, the involvement of the national coach in the possible dilution of national talent is not acceptable.

We have seen the likes of Kenwyne Jones, Stern John, Carlos Edwards and Jason Scotland not selected for national teams because the expense in flying these players back home and they often return somewhat jet lagged and fail to perform at their highest potential. And these are players from one of Europe’s top leagues.

How long, and how much, is a return flight from Kazakhstan?

And we have also seen our recent national departures to the Far East, such as Willis Plaza, asked to agree not to make themselves available for international call ups. Does this really benefit the players?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Hughtun Hector (left) plays with Willis Plaza at Vietnamese team Song Lam Nghe. (Courtesy AP)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Hughtun Hector (left) plays with Willis Plaza at Vietnamese team Song Lam Nghe.
(Courtesy AP)

To play in the UK, a player must have played in 75 percent of his country’s internationals over the last two years. Could players such as Plaza not make the grade in the English Championship or League 1 or even the Scottish Premiership?

By selling their soul and putting a fistful of dollars before their international careers, will these players actually be losing out financially in the long term?

And if this trend continues, where will it leave our national team?

Although the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) certainly cannot block clubs from selling players to these countries, should they really be paying one of the main perpetrators?


Read Jamaal Shabazz’s response here


Editor’s Note: Do you think Caribbean footballers can benefit from moving abroad to the less glamorous leagues? Is there an upside to starting your career in Finland, Vietnam or Kazakhstan?

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  1. Thanks to the Cotonou Agreement, T&T players qualify as local EU players while playing within the EU (UK not included though…).

    Does anyone know about this? It is this ruling that allows so many African players to play in France, Spain, Germany, etc.

    Any follow up would be appreciated.

  2. I might be getting in late on the discussion here but I too have a problem with watering down our Premier League to help build another countries own and to doing it just for pennies. But you know, I think again and I wonder if corporate Trinidad and Tobago would truly invest in the sport and its players then Shabazz may not have to take the route that he is taking. With regard to him as a national coach and the Caledonia issue, right is right, right is not right for Shabazz and wrong for others because of what he has done in the grass root community of Laventille and Morvant. Principle is principle and we must stand for something or else we will fall for anything. He cannot wear both hats, trouble is, which hat is he prepared to wear?

  3. Dear Mr Shabazz

    Can I first point out that the original piece was written to offer a balanced view of the recent spate of overseas transfers as well as to ask questions that until now have not been raised.

    Your position as joint national coach entitles the football loving public to scrutinise your public activities. You may not think this fair, but you cannot be naive enough to deny this. If, for instance, 9 Caledonia players were selected against Peru, is it not the right of the public to question that selection?

    With that in mind, my article was not a personal attack on you, in fact, I admitted that I admire you! But after reading your response, I am pleased that my article was posted, because it has opened up a debate about the Pro League clubs and their need to make money.

    Your letter is very refreshing in it’s content and honesty and Pro League clubs need to inform the public more to build understanding. Because the reality is that Trinidad and Tobago doesn’t deserve professional football. The public criticise it without actually attending games to experience the product, the newspapers provide scant coverage and businesses ignore the clubs while sinking millions into fetes and parties.

    But I do not believe I lied in my article, and if I did, can you please point it out so I can correct it. I raised concerns, some of which you have answered, and I am grateful. The workings of Pro League clubs is a mystery to most of us, not necessarily because clubs are secretive, but more likely because journalists do not take enough interest.

    I am interested in your plans with GMG for your community and urge you, your club or GMG to offer an interview to tell us more. I am sure there are lots of things being done by clubs in the communities that we don’t get to hear about. Maybe if clubs self promoted more, the government would assist and reduce the burden on private owners like Mr Mahabir? After all, you are providing community service and employment on a much more meaningful scale than the Hoops of Life.

    But, to me, the original subject and concern still stands. Not withstanding your efforts and your energy, players will be playing beneath themselves. I understand the logic that the European shop window is far removed from the Caribbean and I also think that the show game in Turkey was a clever concept. I also now understand that Caledonia and other clubs will only benefit when, or if, the players move on.

    If this is the only option available, it is very disheartening. In my opinion, our best footballers are good enough to compete in better leagues. Maybe it’s time to get the government more actively involved in selling our talent? After all, they hold or support international events to promote T&T’s e-business, animation, pan and soca and even carnival. So why not hold a similar show game in T&T and invite scouts from clubs across Europe? And maybe negotiate some kind of work permit bligh (I really don’t know if that’s possible).

    Mr Shabazz, I thank you for your response and I apologise that other posters made personal comments about you, which wasn’t the intention.

  4. you are surely right. i have seen coach jamaal as an opportunist and what he has done there is no doubt in his personal gain. when coach pfister first commented on the fact that coaches and agents were selling out our talant to low level leagues around the world, jamaal was the first to attack him. in fact, i personally blame our national team exit from qualification on jamaal to favour his chances with guyana. w connection also do not seem to care the level of leagues they sell their talent to once their pockets are full. of course this has a huge effect on the standard of our national team. this will only favour jamaal and caledonia while our national team will suffer and will continue to suffer for another man’s gain.

    • I understand that you care deeply for the Trinidad and Tobago football team and its players. But if people do not pay to watch Pro League games and there is inadequate financial support from the public and private sectors, then the only avenue left to keep clubs like W Connection afloat is by selling players. And the players are happy for the chance to make a good living too and secure their long term futures.
      So it is important that we look at ways of providing an alternative, even as we criticise what people are doing now.
      Pfister did not fail to qualify because Clyde Leon and Densill Theobald took up overseas contracts. If we are being tough on our local coaches, then let us hold the foreign coaches up to the same scrutiny.
      Remember Dwight Yorke was playing in Australia when he took Trinidad and Tobago to the World Cup. Are we sure the Australian league is any better than Vietnam or Kazakhstan?

    • First Mr. Clarke and Mr. anonymous I did not send Densill Theobald to India nor did Caledonia or myself benefit one dollar from this move. Secondly Theobald did not start under Pfister and for you to think I sent the players away to give an advantage for Guyana means you think very low of me.
      Regarding the Caledonia players moving to Finland or any other league I will, if you permit me, respond shortly.

  5. I was discussing the same view point earlier this week. Is the Finnish 3rd/4th division & Kazakhstan premier league really better than our own Pro League? And if it is what are we doing to improve our league?

  6. Please note that no Trinidad and Tobago international players are heading for the Finland third division.
    In fact, 23-year-old former Trinidad and Tobago national youth defender Nuru Muhammad and two teenaged Guyanese players Trayon Bobb (a senior international with Guyana) and Daniel Wilson have been offered short-term contracts in the Finland third division.

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