Nineteen-year-old Neil Benjamin Jr, a former Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 player, is arguably on the fast track to local football success.
He made his first senior appearance for DIRECTV W Connection at 17 and, two years later, his CV includes the MVP prize in the TTFA FA Trophy competition, a debut goal in the CONCACAF Champions League away to Arabe Unido in Panama and Toyota Classic and FA trophies as well as two Pro League titles.
In primary school, he showed promise on the track but his evolution led to football and his burst of pace down the flanks for Connection is one of the most awesome sights in the Pro League.
He credits his mother, Charlene, for his focus and his dad, Neil Snr, and uncles, Glen Benjamin and St Nicholas Benjamin, for his love of the game.
Glen Benjamin, a former striker who now coaches in Louisiana in the United States, was a member of the first Trinidad and Tobago team to qualify for a FIFA tournament when he accompanied the likes of Dwight Yorke, Clayton Ince and Angus Eve to the 1991 World Youth Cup.
Neil Benjamin Jr sat down with Wired868 at the Ato Boldon Stadium to discuss his own aspirations:
Date of birth: 20 Aug 1994
Position: Right wing forward
Former school: Naparima College, San Fernando
Who is your favourite team?
DIRECTV W Connection locally—“I born and grow here; this is my team”—and, internationally, Real Madrid because of their players over the years like Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane and the passion the team carries.
Who is your favourite player?
Joevin Jones (W Connection). He has so much talent and he encourages me to push myself. He says: “Yo, you can get on the national team, just continue doing your stuff, it will come… Keep going, keep going.” I really like that about him. He is really one of a kind.
How does it feel to be one of the youngest players for W Connection?
It’s a good feeling. I look up to the senior players. They encourage you to do more (and) to work on things to improve yourself.
How was the experience of the W Connection training academy?
It was a worthwhile experience. I was a shy shy, cry cry boy, because I hated losing and anytime we lost I used to cry and be vexed. But the time spent at the academy help greatly to deal with all that as well as to improve my techniques. The academy helped grow me into the person I am today. I still wear the number I used in the academy.
How do you handle disappointment now?
In football, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. You just need to get over it, come back out and go again.
What pushes you to succeed?
I chose football because I love this sport very much. It is something that I love doing and I know I can achieve success in it.
Something most people do not know about you?
I’m a very shy person but it doesn’t show on the outside.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like playing video games, practicing my football technique and spending time with the family.
Which three words best describes you as a person?
Shy, motivated and passionate,
What makes you stand out as a player?
My speed makes me stand out. I have no doubt that no one can stop me once I start running.
What is your best moment in football so far?
My debut in the 2013 CONCACAF Champions League when as a young kid at just 18 years, I came on and scored. It was a great game for me personally. We ended up losing the match 3-1 but I scored the one. (Smiles)
Who do you consider to be your greatest fan?
My little sister, Chadeil: She is at all of my games and does anything for me. Also there is a young boy that is always around at (Connection) games and he always cheers me on and even gets upset when I’m not playing. He is even there in the dressing room when we’re warming up sometimes. I don’t know his name or who brings him.
What is your target for 2014?
I would like the team to win the Pro League and the two upcoming cups and, for me personally, I would like to score 10 goals for the season and also get 10 assists. (At present, Benjamin has five goals in all competitions)
Do you have any words of advice for upcoming footballers?
Everything in football is all about respect, character and attitude. You have to work for what you want in this life, nothing comes easy.
What is your ambition in the game?
I want to become Player of the Year but it won’t be easy. In this league, there are a lot of great players like Joevin Jones and Marcus Joseph (Point Fortin Civic) but I intend to push myself and see what happens. In the near future, I want to play for the national senior team and eventually go abroad to Europe.
Editor’s Note: Neil Benjamin Jr and DIRECTV W Connection will be in action on Friday night against Central FC in the 2014 Lucozade Sport Goal Shield final from 8.10 pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.