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Shabazz offers TTFA National Elite Youth Program update but Eve and Taylor point to flaws

Nine. You can count as many as nine players who are currently in the national senior squad who began their careers at Under-13 level under the watchful eyes of former Trinidad and Tobago World Youth Cup coach, Anton Corneal.

And if National Youth Football Coordinator Jamaal Shabazz has his way, Under-13 football may well be where national football finds its salvation in the not-too-distant future.

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team pose before kickoff against Panama for 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 24 March 2017. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team pose before kickoff against Panama for 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 24 March 2017.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“In Trinidad, we’ve grown accustomed to: Batman solved the problem, Superman solved the problem, Lone Ranger solved the problem,” Shabazz told Wired868, “so we look at the coach and not the program.”

“But when you have a program with a cadre of good players,” he continued, “once you have a decent coach, you can progress. From that team Corneal started at U-13 level, you [are] now seeing Daneil Cyrus, Curtis Gonsalves, Khaleem Hyland, Kevin Molino, Aubrey David, Sean De Silva, Leston Paul, Joevin Jones; all in the senior national squad.”

The plan that Shabazz has come up with for producing the next generation of national footballers, the NCLB-sponsored TTFA-run National Elite Youth Development Program, owes a lot to the ideas of the former National Under-20 coach.

“We’ve got to show respect to the work that Corneal did back in the day when he came back to Trinidad and started a similar U-13 program and that team qualified for the U-17 and U-20 World Cups,” Shabazz said.

Starting from scratch, he argues, would be to waste the available resources. So his idea is to build on the foundation that is already in place. Add training programs for selected coaches and the use of an established tournament system to scout talent and you have a youth football program that he is certain can work.

It all sounds fine in theory; after all, using the age-group system to spot budding footballers has been a part of the local game plan for years. However, not everyone on the ground is absolutely convinced that the tried-and-tested route is the way to go. And some simply don’t know what to think, so little do they know about what is proposed.

Photo: Trinity College East coach Michael Grayson reacts on the sidelines during SSFL Championship Big 5 Play-off action away to Princes Town West Secondary on 4 November 2016. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinity College East coach Michael Grayson reacts on the sidelines during SSFL Championship Big 5 Play-off action away to Princes Town West Secondary on 4 November 2016.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“I am clueless,” admits Trinity College East coach Michael Grayson, who was named among the all-time top Secondary School Football League (SSFL) coaches earlier this year. “I don’t know what’s going on, I’m not part and parcel of anything. I don’t know if the secondary school league is involved because, since I’ve been at Trinity, I haven’t been at meetings. […] I don’t know if they have involved them in it. But the bottom line is I haven’t been contacted.”

Asked whom the TTFA has in mind to coach in the different regional FA’s, TTFA Technical Director Muhammad Isa said that official word on the direction the program will be taking will be revealed to the football-loving public at the end of this month.

He said that he could not yet give any names of coaches but he did name a handful of scouts who are already active in the Program. They include Dexter Cyrus and Dexter Francis in the south, Shurland David and Marlon Charles in the east and Atiba McKnight in the Central Zone.

But like Grayson, Central FA general secretary Clynt Taylor does not have a lot to say about the Program that is complimentary. He complains, for instance, about the lack of information coming from the TTFA.

“Since they told us about this youth program last year,” he told Wired868, “we sent out a representative to one of the meetings. They just came and told us: This is what we’re having, we’ve got x amount of money to have this program and we’ll send you information shortly on what we’re going to do.’”

Taylor made no attempt to disguise his extreme disappointment with what has happened so far.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams (right) performs a duet with former Calypso Monarch, Cro Cro, at the launch of the National Elite Youth Development Program at the Trinidad Hilton on 14 October 2016.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams (right) performs a duet with former Calypso Monarch, Cro Cro, at the launch of the National Elite Youth Development Program at the Trinidad Hilton on 14 October 2016.

“They called us to another meeting,” he continued, “and that meeting too was very disappointing because nobody is taking minutes or notes of what members are saying and you have the chairman practically sleeping on himself!”

According to Taylor, almost everyone present at the December meeting strongly objected to the proposal to have a zonal tournament in the long school vacation.

“We’re at the stage where we have called some scouts for the [youth] Pro League matches,” Shabazz had explained, “and the Republic Youth [mid-April] matches that are going to come up in each zone, that’s going to be run by All Sports Promotions.”

But this scouting process is only the first step towards establishing an U-13 national team next year. High on the menu is a national zonal competition in the coming July/August vacation that will involve players from the six regional zones who competed in the Youth Pro League and the Republic Bank Youth Tournament.

“After the zonal competitions, we hope by the end of the year to put together a national pool,” Shabazz went on. “And from next year, the staff for national teams can develop a program which will include friendly internationals for a younger age group.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago substitute Jaydon Prowell (centre) tries to get past Haiti midfielders Obenson Laveille (left) and Jean Danley during 2017 Under-17 World Cup qualifying action in Couva on 17 September 2016. Haiti won 2-0. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago substitute Jaydon Prowell (centre) tries to get past Haiti midfielders Obenson Laveille (left) and Jean Danley during 2017 Under-17 World Cup qualifying action in Couva on 17 September 2016.
Haiti won 2-0.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

The friendlies are a part of the package the TTFA promised last October when the program was launched with a gala event at the Trinidad Hilton. TTFA President David John-Williams said at the launch that as many as four to six local friendly matches and one international friendly will be played each year.

“I don’t envision that as a grassroots elite program at all,” Taylor responded. “Running a tournament is not a grassroots program. […] The Elite Program in my opinion should deal with the development of players. That Youth Pro League and Republic Youth Cup is (sic) just a tournament; that’s just young children going out there and kicking some ball.

“How does that help them develop a skill, develop a talent, identify the areas they need assistance in and get someone working with them?”

He went on to echo Grayson.

“We’re yet to see what they’re doing, so that’s why it’s difficult to know,” said Taylor, “and to really comment as much until you know where they’re really going. They’re saying they’re going in that direction but there’s nothing to back it up.

“We thought the idea behind it was to develop youth players throughout Trinidad and Tobago [and] not scouting for players to bring them into a team [to] develop a few players but it was an overall development of youth players throughout the regions where you can now go out and scout for adequate talent because we have been developing these players on a program.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team head coach Russell Latapy (centre) supervises a training session. At his right are Mark Ramdeen and Kishon Hackshaw while Emmanuel John is on the far right. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team head coach Russell Latapy (centre) supervises a training session.
At his right are Mark Ramdeen and Kishon Hackshaw while Emmanuel John is on the far right.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“Not that we’re going to look for players and scout for players and work with them exclusively. If that is the intention, then I think we misread what we were hearing from them initially.”

Angus Eve, who coaches Pro League team Club Sando and led Naparima to the 2016 SSFL Big Four title, hinted that Shabazz might be giving Corneal too much credit. According to him, he would not have been able to do what he did without the help of a developmental system.

“I have an old article with Anton Corneal thanking Jabloteh for developing Kevin Molino,” he said, “and all of these boys who played for that U-17 [World Cup team].”

Eve believes that looking for talent within the current local set-up is the most effective way to develop players. But he’s not at all certain that what Shabazz proposes is the way to go.

“Our society is not built up like England where there is a natural path to professionalism,” he said. “We have to put better coaches in the primary schools.”

Elaborating, he says that the Elite Program should have appointed “area coaches so you have six qualified proper coaches. They go to the schools like they used to do long time when I was a child and develop the boys in those schools.”

Photo: Naparima College coach Angus Eve (right) makes a point while Presentation College (San Fernando) coach Shawn Cooper looks on during the Big Four final at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva on 12 December 2016. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Naparima College coach Angus Eve (right) makes a point while Presentation College (San Fernando) coach Shawn Cooper looks on during the Big Four final at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva on 12 December 2016.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

Pointing to “a whole cadre of Pro League coaches,” he wondered aloud about the criteria being used to assess and select them and the role they will be expected to play.

“Look,” he said, “they took Stern [John] who was an assistant coach at Central, [to assist with the National Senior Men’s team] but Dale Saunders, who won [two] Pro League titles in a row [as Central head coach], what does he have to do to be in the Elite Program?”

Finally, calling for the TTFA to give these coaches “their respect [because] they can do the job,” he declared in a clear reference to the arrangements in place for the coaching staff of the National Women’s Team, that “the systems are already there. Pay the coaches so that they can be full-time like the Italians and them.”

At the launch, John-Williams insisted that the football academies across the country would be staffed with qualified coaches. Shabazz clued Wired868 in on the plans to make this a reality by looking across the pond for the required help.

“Right now, we’re in talks with UEFA in terms of setting up a coach education program where we could standardise coach education,” he said. “We went backwards because, back when [Jack] Warner was in charge, we had an arrangement with the Dutch Federation. With the coming of Mr [Raymond] Tim Kee, that was knocked out.

“So now we’re in talks with UEFA to set up a licence—like a “B” and “A” licence—that would be our own licence to mirror standards in UEFA.”

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team technical staff members (from right) Michael "Brow" Maurice, Derek King, Hutson "Barber" Charles and William Wallace exchange ideas before kick off against Nicaragua on 13 October 2015. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team technical staff members (from right) Michael “Brow” Maurice, Derek King, Hutson “Barber” Charles and William Wallace exchange ideas before kick off against Nicaragua on 13 October 2015.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Eve insisted that there already are a lot of already qualified candidates operating in the local game.

“There are a lot of coaches,” he said. “If they do a database they will see there are a lot of coaches who have their UEFA “B” and “C” licences. You have Hutson Charles, Derek King, Anthony Rougier…”

“If I were running the Elite Program, I would get qualified coaches, put them in secondary schools and primary schools and then from that you pull your [U-13] national team. Then you have the national team coach and that is now your elite program.”

The fact is that neither Grayson nor Eve nor Taylor is running the Elite Program. Shabazz remains, for the moment, the one saddled with that responsibility. And he is confident—insistent both that the umbrella body is already on the right track and that the ambitious program will hit its proposed targets.

“The feedback of the people who started scouting has been very good in terms of the individual ability of the players,” said Shabazz. “From here, we need to really harness that talent.”

The questions that Shabazz and his principals will have to ask themselves are this: Is harnessing “that talent” enough to get T&T football where the TTFA wants it to go? And can they really do without the talent of coaches like Eve, Grayson, Saunders, King and co?

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago co-head coach and Morvant Caledonia United co-founder Jamaal Shabazz (right) helps out at a SPORTT Company Easter Camp in 2013. (Courtesy SPORTT Company)
Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago co-head coach and Morvant Caledonia United co-founder Jamaal Shabazz (right) helps out at a SPORTT Company Easter Camp in 2013.
(Courtesy SPORTT Company)

About Sean Taylor

Sean Taylor is a freelance writer with seven years' experience in the field, who has written for local publications including the Campus Chronicle, UWI Today, USPORTT, Metro and the Trinidad Express. He also studied Communication Studies and Portuguese at the University of the West Indies.

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46 comments

  1. How are they selecting the players for this elite programme? I hope it is nothing like the NFA 15 national team screening, where who knew you or your parent/family was more important that skills, or the U15 2 day trials where players made it to the 2 day event based on who they were related to. That is why our football is in a mess. No transparency, no accountability. BTW what happened to the $ that NCLB gave TTFA for youth football?

  2. Well if the Coaches Association had started a very long time ago and still operating in these times, there would have been the proper Coaches in the primary schools and more football Academies a very long time ago. our football wouldn’t be in a mess today.. Them really good yes.

  3. In negotiations with uefa I read this about sometime in February or late January I think so from then to now very little progress. From reading the other comments it seems we going back in time to go froward wow. I must say I like Angus Eve point about proper coaches in primary schools.

    • At primary school, children should not be pigeonholed into one sport. They should be allowed to explore multiple sports. At the Secondary school is where they can begin to specialize. What can be done is that secondary schools should start their own sport academies where sport specific training and development are carried out throughout the year by qualified coaches.

    • I think coaches for sports such as cricket, football and track and field should be in all primary schools. But I was talking but what was said in the article.

  4. Wish I could find a coach like Michael De Matas from Maracas Valley again. Coaches now don’t have the patience to teach the game or just life

  5. Buh A A Lester Logie and Nate Ainsley Noel were both big players back in the days eh, so how come that I never heard about them or their names calling about the good old football days eh. hahahahaha

  6. I wasn’t making reference to the TTFA Lasana – truth is I have no idea what transpires with that organization…

  7. Thing is Anthony Sherwood, right now going backwards is actually progress. Just imagine that. It was different when we were teenagers. Lester Logie knows it. And Curtis Charles and I played together.
    Chaim Mckain, Sherwin Seifert, Bor Bor, Nate Ainsley Noel, Kelvin Jack… Right now the TTFA is looking at getting back to what was there when we were teenagers.
    If that is considered progress, then imagine how far behind we really are! We aren’t even talking about doing what the other nations are doing yet.
    Like Clynt Taylor said, this isn’t development really. Just a giant screening session and selecting a team earlier. And playing more games. Just like we were doing in the 1980s but stopped in the early 1990s.

  8. There is a movement in the country happening right now consisting of people who have been exposed to different environments both locally and abroad… it’s an effort based on the conviction that things should be further along in terms of young players being developed. I do believe that the outcome of this work will slowly be seen, but it will happen…

  9. I could recall playing in the north zone youth football league during the school holidays and having a north zone team play against other zones. Why did the north zone youth league disappear? The rivalry was very fierce amongst Rangers with coach Gamba, St Francois with Albert and Trendsetter Hawks with Dada. Those were the good days when the entire villages from Belmont, St. Ann’s etc came out to see these school boys represent their community. This fan support spilled over to the Secondary Schools football league as Belmont Intermediate, CIC, Fatima etc benefited from these students attending these schools. It is my wish that these zonal youth leagues return as in my opinion the standard of football was higher in both leagues during that time than any youth leagues today. Also, there was a national under 14 team coached by Jean Lillywhite that produced several quality players, who all left their mark in the college league and other national teams. I can recall playing games against Marvin Oliver, Travis Mulrain, Glasgow, Lyndon chubby Andrews, Jeremy Short, Walter Alibey etc who were on that team. I recall most of these players starting out in these zonal leagues before making their names in the college league. U 13 is a good point to start. It is my opinion that the zonal youth league should be resurrected as it keeps the competition open for players that may not be seen in the secondary school league. One such player that comes to mind is Edison Mc Farlane. I can’t recall him playing college league with Trinity but he was a source of goals for Rangers youth teams and eventually he made our national senior team.

  10. Not a bad start using the TT Pro League, Republic Cup, to complement SSFL [also a tournament] to scout and screen players. My worry is a long term planning; which needs consistent coach training, club education and policy! CAPE doesn’t produce Scholars…it finds them. The work is done by teachers, and usually a good school environment + home environment.

  11. Coaches or drillmasters, unable to diagnose therefore unable to prescribe. Unable to create or innovate. Big problem in Trinidad football inability to groom a player to perform a particular role /function in a discrete position,group in team .

  12. No wonder why our defenders are having problems defending in these times,because they use to get really great practice at masturing the defending against our great dribblers back in the days eh. Them really good yes.

  13. Dribbling is a lost art coaches telling kids don’t

  14. Hence the reason why we don’t see anymore Russell “The Magician” Laterpy, Kerwin Jemmott “Hardest”, Marvin Oliver, Aurtis Whitley, Kerwin “Papa” Emmanuel, Andre Legendre, Curtis ‘Seeders’ Murrell (Army), Berthrand O’Brien,(Army), Berthrum Neptune (Army) and I can name many more midfilders/playmakers/goal scorers that use to mash up the dance back in the days eh and this is what our present Soca Worries team is missing, like nobody have no time anymore to seek out these kind of players and continue to develop them, but we have one on the way my young baller for life Che Benny especailly now that he is under the watch of the Magician Coach Laterpy……….BOOM.

  15. Lasana Liburd. I’m so sick of our coaches ,clubs etc. A lot of them don’t want to do the hard work. They don’t want to develop , they would have a group of players and just pick the naturally talented ones, and leave the less talented on the side. Just a week ago I spoke with a parent who was experiencing the same with his son at a coaching school. Long gone are the days when most of the training session was based on the fundamentals. Now it’s 20% fundamentals and 80% football.

  16. And before Anton Corneal came on the scene eh, my good friend Coach Ken Elie (Army) should also get some credit for developing those young players, and other youth development Coaches from the communities that they came from. Them really good yes.

  17. Yeah because it seems that there is always a clique of certian folks that is always nominated and it is always those that never rocks the boat eh, only when they are finally fired from the corrupted TTFA they does start singing like canaries about what is wrong with the corrupted TTFA and the visit from the present president of the FIFA stated that it is a NEW FIFA so things will be done with plenty TRANSPERANCY and ACCOUNTABITILTY so isn’t this the same for the corrupted TTFA to follow moving forward. Them really good yes.

  18. COMMUNICATION or Lack thereof seems to be a recurring theme…And no minutes so no records to leave a paper trail then to audit if what was agreed to is being done…I’m sure funding could have been found for a secretary SMH.

  19. Thinking aloud here and I hope someone will correct me. If the TTFA would advise the football academies on what type of player they are looking for then wouldn’t it provide some type of direction for the academies ? I agree with Shabazz that there is no need to start from scratch but with the Football Factory, Sherwood Academy, Dunstan just to name a few isn’t there enough resources to assist with youth development and by having the youth tournaments the youths have a stage where their talent can be showcased and also allow the scouts a good look at them. Somebody help me out here because we have various academies throughout the country but I suspect everybody doing they own thing.

  20. Nice to hear things you spke about a while ago being said again .