“I would not have done anything differently (if I had to do it again),” Trinidad and Tobago football scout and unregistered agent Dion Sosa told Wired868. “I made a decision (to leave some players behind) based on the resources that I had in London.
“I felt it was the best choice to get across to Turkey where I could (better) help everybody.”
Ten Trinidad and Tobago footballers, aged between 19 and 24, left the Piarco International Airport on Wednesday July 15 with the dream of catching the eye of European scouts during pre-arranged trial matches in Turkey. The players paid Sosa between $11,000 and $25,000 for the opportunity.
But six players were forced to stay behind in London while Sosa and four young men completed the journey.
Bookings were made for half of those six players, Leston Paul, Weslie John and Leon Whyle, to leave for Turkey on Friday morning. The remaining three, Jean-Luc Rochford, Dwight Quintero and Keon Russell, went to the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London and said they were stranded without plane tickets or money for accommodation and meals.
Their ordeal—and there were tearful relatives—lasted for only a few hours before the Ministry of Sport stepped in to pay for the players to get to Turkey.
However, Sosa insisted that it was much ado about nothing. He said his contingent got to London and discovered their airfare to Turkey was much steeper than he anticipated.
Sosa said he decided to leave half the group behind because he was afraid ticket prices might raise again and he felt he would be better equipped to handle the emergency from Turkey.
“When I came across to Turkey, we pooled our money and got some money from the Turkish agent (who is hosting the Trinidad and Tobago group) to get the additional tickets,” said Sosa. “If I stayed in London, I would have been a dud because I didn’t know anyone there and I wouldn’t have been able to coordinate things properly.
“I made the decision based on the money I had too because the price might have risen again and more players would have been stuck. That was the best I could do based on the money I had that night.
“I had already booked the three boys to come up. But then (Keisha Rochford-Hawkins) called from the High Commission and that is when it went out of my hands.”
Sosa conceded that, although he made bookings for Rochford, Quintero and Russell, he did not pay for them. But he claimed that he sourced the airfare in Turkey and the boys would have been fine, even if the Sport Ministry had not intervened.
“When I realised everyone wanted to jump up and run the show, I said okay let them do it,” said Sosa. “So I just rocked back and let them take all the PR they want. They’re not helping Grenadians, they’re helping Trinidadians.”
But why did their trip end up in such disarray in the first place? And why did the young footballers endure such uncertainty after spending so much money?
“In a nutshell, what happened is a lot of guys didn’t pay their full money,” said Sosa, who calculated the trip at roughly $18,000 for airfare and $9,000 for accommodation. “I decided that everybody had to go because I couldn’t leave anybody back. So I paid for Leston Paul and three-quarter of Dwight’s ticket and a portion of Jean-Luc’s ticket and so on.
“But when we got to London, it was Eid and the price of the tickets (to Turkey) rose from what I saw online. It went from 300 Euros to close to 1000 Euros.
“So I made a decision based on finances I had that I could only bring three guys and I would bring the others on the next day.”
Sosa shrugged off the suggestion that he should have purchased the tickets from London to Istanbul in advance.
“I saw the price online and I said when we get to Gatwick we would purchase tickets on the counter,” he said. “It is nothing new. It is only because it was a holiday weekend that there were problems.”
Long before the players got to London, though, Sosa admitted there were financial problems. Two commercial sponsors, NLCB and I-Tech, contributed an undisclosed sum but there was still enough to meet the inflated cost.
“At first, it was about (TT) $11,000 to get to Turkey and (TT) $9,000 for accommodation,” he said, “but we lost our initial booking and the prices were inflated.”
Sosa said cancelling the trip was not an option.
“Keane McIvor, Phillip Borde, (Xavier) Rajpaul, Jelani (Peters) and (Brent) Sam had already bought their plane tickets by then,” said Sosa, who revealed that Rajpaul left the National Under-23 Team before its final 2015 Pan American Games fixture. “That is five tickets at an average of $11,000 to $12,000 each. They would have lost their money.
“And we sent up 11,000 Euros for accommodation via Western Union and wire transfers for transport and our two week itinerary. That money would have been lost too.
“I would have had to reimburse everybody because everything was non-refundable. And nobody would have trusted me again because they would say my word isn’t worth nothing.”
In London, Russell handed over 600 Euros but still got left behind.
“The reason I left Keon (Russell) with the other boys is that he was familiar with England,” said Sosa, “because he travelled there before with Alcons.”
Russell, a 24-year-old former Caledonia AIA midfielder, told Wired868 last week that he could not figure out what happened. None of the three players heard from Sosa on Friday morning as they neared check-out time from their hotel.
So, they contacted Rochford’s relative at the High Commission. Rochford, a 24-year-old former two-time World Youth Cup midfielder, had never met her before.
“All of a sudden, everyone was calling me,” said Sosa. “She started to call Foreign Affairs and this one and that one and the whole thing went mad and was exaggerated. I don’t think even the players realised what was going to happen…
“Then people decided they want to jump in and looking for political mileage, so I let them go ahead. I already had the boys booked.”
So did Sosa pay for their tickets before the Government? He said he did not.
“We had the money over here,” he said, “but the problem was getting to the airport, as it was three hours away.”
Sosa said he still has not discussed the London fiasco with Rochford, Quintero and Russell.
“I don’t know what happened because I am trying to focus on the football,” he said. “Somehow, they made their way to the High Commission and that is when the whole thing went haywire. I haven’t brought it up with them yet because I want them to focus on football.
“I don’t want them to be distracted in any way.”
Sosa said the players are enjoying their stay in Turkey. They have played two games against Iranian top flight clubs and lost the first outing 2-0 before winning the second match 2-1 with goals from Sam and Quintero.
The Sosa XI, who are led on the field by a Turkish coach, will play two more fixtures against teams from Dubai and Turkey respectively.
“There has been interest in about five or six players so far but I don’t want them to read about it yet,” said Sosa. “We hope the numbers can go even higher in our next games. I hope for half or more of the 14 guys to get through and sign.”
The scout hopes the ends justify the means. But he did promise to try and make things right on his return home.
“I am grateful (to the Ministry of Sport) and I plan to pay them back their money,” said Sosa. “I don’t want to get into that too much. I will answer further questions when I get home.
“I have already talked to the parents and apologised to them. Right now, we are focused on football.
“If my answers were still not good enough, I will deal with that when the time comes. Right now, I want to focus on football.”
Dion Sosa’s trialists: Raheem Belgrave, Weslie John, Kevin Seabrun, Jelani Peters, Keon Russell, Leon Whyle, Leston Paul, Jean-Luc Rochford, Keane McIvor, Xavier Rajpaul, Micah Lewis, Phillip Borde, Dwight Quintero and Brent Sam.