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Schooled: National, club and school coaches weigh up the SSFL agenda

When Trinidad and Tobago lifted the 2014 Under-20 Caribbean Cup trophy on October 19, head coach Derek King requested just one thing from his players. It was a message he delivered during the competition as well.

“As I told the players, if they can play at Pro League level it will be much better,” said King. “I am hoping to get Levi (Garcia) to play with (his present club) Central FC.”

Trinidad and Tobago’s toughest opponents at CONCACAF level would consist solely of players attached to professional teams and, without the funding for international tours, King stressed the importance of his players seeking out the most competitive arena possible.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago winger Levi Garcia (centre) steams past Cuba players Yendri Torres (right) and Roberto Peraza during the Under-20 Caribbean Cup in Port of Spain, Trinidad. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago winger Levi Garcia (centre) steams past Cuba players Yendri Torres (right) and Roberto Peraza during the Under-20 Caribbean Cup in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

But, within 24 hours of his warning, seven of the eight Warriors eligible to represent their schools were back on the field in the SSFL Premier Division. Team captain Shannon Gomez quit St Augustine Secondary for DIRECTV W Connection but Levi Garcia (Shiva Boys HC), Matthew Woo Ling (St Anthony’s College), Josiah Trimmingham (San Juan North), Jabari Mitchell, Martieon Watson and Nicholas Dillon (all Naparima College) all lined up in the SSFL.

“I spoke to Levi right after the tournament finished but I don’t know if they are being pressured by their coaches or school teams or what,” King told Wired868. “When you watch the likes of Mexico or the USA and so on, their players are not playing for school teams…

“We said we don’t have a concern with them going back to school but the clubs would be lenient in allowing them time off to do that; and all of them agreed. But the next day we saw all of them playing school football.

“It is a major concern.”

But why would the players turn their backs on financial incentives and the advice of their national coach to play in an inferior league?

North East Stars coach Angus Eve, who also coaches Naparima College, put some of the blame on the Pro League for scrapping its under-20 competition, which means that players who did not make their first teams would have no competitive football.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 midfielder Jabari Mitchell (right) tries to squeeze a shot past two Cuban defenders during the 2014 Caribbean Cup. Mitchell is a star for Naparima College but is yet to make an impact with the W Connection first team. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 midfielder Jabari Mitchell (right) tries to squeeze a shot past two Cuban defenders during the 2014 Caribbean Cup.
Mitchell is a star for Naparima College but is yet to make an impact with the W Connection first team.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

And he suggested that, Garcia apart, most of the others would struggle to win a spot on the bench for their clubs let alone make it into the first team.

“Out of all the Pro League teams, North East Stars was the only one to actually play its national under-20 players last season,” said Eve, in reference to defender Jesus Perez and midfielder Neveal Hackshaw. “So I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Most of them would not have played anyway.”

Central FC managing director Brent Sancho, a former World Cup 2006 player, disagreed. He lost 16-year-old Garcia and 17-year-old Dillon to the SSFL and was adamant that the two had taken backward steps.

“The training that we do at the club level alongside players like (Ataullah) Guerra and (Marvin) Oliver, they can never find that in the Colleges’ league,” said Sancho. “We have seven players who can potentially be on the national team right now. It is training and testing yourself with these guys that will push them to the next level.”

Garcia is due to leave for Europe this week for a trial although, thus far, Central and the player’s new Dutch agent, Humphry Nijman, are on a collision course for the schoolboy’s services.

Sancho was unhappy with Eve too for supposedly failing to support his fellow Pro League counterpart on the club versus school issue.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 forward Nicholas Dillon goes for goal during the Under-20 Caribbean Cup. Dillon is leading the charge for Naparima College in the SSFL Premier Division. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 forward Nicholas Dillon goes for goal during the Under-20 Caribbean Cup.
Dillon is leading the charge for Naparima College in the SSFL Premier Division.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

“I must express my disappointment with Angus Eve as a head coach,” said Sancho. “As a Pro League coach, he should know better and should not be advising contracted players to play in school.”

Eve, whose “Naps” team is on top of the SSFL Premier Division at the moment, countered that he is not involved in his school’s recruitment drive and chided Central for signing minors.

“When I coach North East that is separate from Naparima and I have never tried to entice anyone to go to North East because that is unethical as they are all attached to schools,” said Eve. “Central should say why they signed a boy at 16 who is still in school and wants to finish school. I don’t think your mother would have let you sign a professional contract at 16…

“I do not approve of players who are 18 and over playing in the colleges’ league; that is my personal view on that. But Dillon is 17 years. Only (Martieon) Watson and (Amritt) Gildharry are 18 but they are in form six and academically inclined, whereas you have (St Anthony’s College player Matthew) Woo Ling jumping in and out of school…”

But are the players genuinely returning to school for their education?

Photo: St Anthony's College and national under-20 midfielder Matthew Woo Ling tries to hold off a St Augustine player during SSFL Premier Division action. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: St Anthony’s College and national under-20 midfielder Matthew Woo Ling tries to hold off a St Augustine player during SSFL Premier Division action.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Sancho was sceptical and claimed that Dillon was on Central’s training ground for much of the year but is suddenly being considered a student again.

“It is sickening that eight months out of the year these players are nowhere near school and suddenly, when the schoolboy season comes around, they just walk back into school,” said Sancho. “The school clearly has no care for the player except for when school football starts. School football is failing these kids.

“There should be some sort of scholastic average of attendance minimum or something.”

Sancho said Central was prepared to compromise to allow its players to continue school while representing the club. But, as Pro League clubs generally train at morning when it is cooler, missing classes seems inevitable.

San Juan Jabloteh’s 17-year-old pair of striker Brent Sam and defender Josiah Trimmingham are representing San Juan North this season. And Jabloteh coach Keith Jeffrey must reluctantly wait until November to get them back.

Jeffrey explained how Jabloteh tries to minimise the disruptions for its schoolboys.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Josiah Trimmingham (centre) celebrates against Cuba during the Under-20 Caribbean tournament. From right are his teammates Jabari Mitchell, Neveal Hackshaw and Jesus Perez. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Josiah Trimmingham (centre) celebrates against Cuba during the Under-20 Caribbean tournament.
From right are his teammates Jabari Mitchell, Neveal Hackshaw and Jesus Perez.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

“Last season, I made to arrangement so that Sam could train with us on some mornings and I would drop him to school straight after,” said the Jabloteh coach. “Instead of 8 to 10 am, we would train from 7 to 9 am once Sam was going to be involved. He would come with his uniform and I would drop him to school straight after as we train 15 minutes away in Barataria.

“Sometimes we have evening sessions too and the club board has discussed having more evening sessions this season once the school league’s finished.”

But does that alternative give Sam enough of an opportunity to succeed at school?

St Augustine coach and teacher Michael Grayson was unimpressed when national under-20 captain Gomez, a lower six student, quit school altogether to join W Connection. In the process, he apparently turned his back on potential scholarships from Temple University and Virginia Tech.

“I told him he should do his SAT exams and go to university,” said Grayson, “because there is always the MLS and the other stepping stone leagues who scout college players… But he listened to other people instead.

“For me, it makes no sense for a player to go and work for $2,000 or $3,000 a month and hope to get a trial when you have the academic ability to get three, four or five passes. You can’t deny the kids their education because, in professional sport, anything can happen and it might not work out for you.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 captain and right back Shannon Gomez (right) battles for possession against Cuba during the Under-20 Caribbean Cup. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 captain and right back Shannon Gomez (right) battles for possession against Cuba during the Under-20 Caribbean Cup.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Grayson, a former national player and coach, helped develop the likes of Dwayne Demmin, Brent Bennett, Sherwin Siefert and the late Mickey Trotman, who all graduated from the SSFL to study in the United States. And he challenged the Pro League to either adjust their sessions to allow teenagers to continue at school or fall in line with FIFA’s guidelines for the coaching of minors, which means tutors or private schooling.

However, he admitted exceptions may be permissible when a gifted player seems unlikely succeed at his CXC exams.

“When you look at a guy’s SEA score and his school records over the years and so on, “ said Grayson, “you can tell if he is going to pass or not at 15 or 16. And then you might say ‘alright go ahead and do it and see if you can make it out there.’

“But, even then, you should have a Plan B, which, here in Trinidad, might mean a job opportunity in the army or with prisons, police and so on…

“Realistically, the pool isn’t deep with players who can make it outside. Yes, there are leagues like Vietnam and Thailand and so on; but, when you do your research, there are so many Africans on the streets in those countries who thought they could make it but didn’t.”

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago and Manchester United star Dwight Yorke (left) drives for goal during his time in the England Premier League. For every Yorke, though, there are hundreds of young footballers who never get the chance to earn a living from the game.
Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago and Manchester United star Dwight Yorke (left) drives for goal during his time in the England Premier League.
For every Yorke, though, there are hundreds of young footballers who never get the chance to earn a living from the game.

Naparima College assistant coach Travis Mulraine, who made his international senior debut at 18 and played professionally with MLS clubs San Jose Earthquakes and DC United, said he would do it differently if he had a second chance.

“As an ex-player who, at 37, has to go back to school to get a degree,” said Mulraine, “it is only right for me to advise these youngsters about a Plan B in case football doesn’t work like it did in my case.”

However, Mulraine agreed with Sancho that the SSFL should take more responsibility for educating its players.

“It’s time schools make it compulsory that student athletes have either a minimum level of academic competence or a skill/trade in order to play football after form five,” said Mulraine, “so as to ensure that, perchance they don’t make it to the professional level, they can make a living for themselves and their families and not have to depend on LifeSport and the likes.

“Of the hundreds of players that play school football, it’s only about 10 to 25 percent that go on to make a living off football.”

For several reasons, it appears that it will be some time yet before there can be harmony between the SSFL and Pro League entities.

Photo: Presentation College (San Fernando) defender Kori Cupid (right) tries to keep up with Shiva Boys attacker Levi Garcia. Garcia scored a decisive penalty kick today against St Benedict's College. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Presentation College (San Fernando) defender Kori Cupid (right) tries to keep up with Shiva Boys attacker Levi Garcia.
Garcia scored a decisive penalty kick today against St Benedict’s College.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Editor’s Note: What do you think about the balance between educating students and developing them as footballers? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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120 comments

  1. This is very true eh Lasana Liburd. Athletes should always have academics to fall back on

  2. There are alot of good points and arguments on both sides, keeping in mind that the goal here is wholistic development for TnT Football and Footballers by extension. Brent Sancho and the likes of Mr Harrison have to be realistic. I totally agree with Michael Grayson and Angus Eve. Why are you going to sign a 16 year olds who really have little chance of breaking into your first teams and not provide a solid educational foundation for them? Mr Grayson was quite right in pointing out that Central and other clubs should provide academies and education facilities for these youngsters if you want to take them out of school. Real Madrid and the likes have schools set to educate their professional young players outside of the football. They can go to school and graduate. The likes of Didier Djogba and others have completed Degrees during their careers as successful players. Mr Harrison and Mr Sosa and the likes need to understand that the youngsters “come first”. Whichever environment allows the players to develop holistically (football education and academically) should be considered. The whole age debate I think in today’s world is irrelevant, you have players world wide making debut at 16 and 17. But my issue is if our local and national set up does not allow these young players the benefits of both worlds, then it makes no sense bebating it. Whicever they chose I hope it works out the best for them.
    I leave you with some words of wisdom from West Brom and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku: ‘I think education is very important. It was important for me to have my degrees at school so I could also go to England.
    ‘That was the one thing my parents wanted before I came to England, that I could have my degrees.
    ‘Education is very important in Belgium and, if you didn’t do well at school in the week, you couldn’t play football at the weekend.’

  3. The parents have a role to play as well. Simple you don’t bring home good grades NO FOOTBALL..

  4. some of them only know to play football

  5. and Dwarika was an extreme talent

  6. No. What’s that? I know about some problems he had in Scotland. That’s it.

  7. Lasana Liburd – lack of proper parental support is a huge issue. Talent alone also doesn’t guarantee success. Have you ever heard the stories about Dwarika and his trials?

  8. Risk is a huge double edged sword Jamal Wiggins. The ratio of those who will make a career in football on the international stage to tjose who fail isn’t good.

    The system is designed to protect the majority because it has to. For every Messi, there are thousands who fall by the wayside.

    Not saying that risks should be avoided completely, just that we need to ensure that the fewest number get chewed up by the system.

  9. Yall so backward in this place eh then yall wanna know y football so poor in this country. it all boil down to the contract u sign

  10. Seeing that the U20 Pro league is no more….why can’t the clubs align themselves with schools and use the school’s resources to treat the SSFL premier division as the U20 pro league. Students athletes can be allowed to go to club’s ‘assigned’ school and earn an education while the club adheres to the school time and train its student in the morning and evening periods. In any case schools are transferring players based on purely footballing talent with no intention of working with them to get a proper education. So at least to the wrong thing right. Let the club’s youth players transfer go their “club assigned school” and train there of course with the expertise of the club coaches and the club football resources. So i guess there is a win win here. The SSFL gets more competitive, Clubs can continue their philosophies and get a larger youth talent pool to work with and students athletes can get their education. So there must be an agreement between the school + club+ pro league +SSFL.

  11. Policies, guidelines, protocols, procedures are needed !

  12. Check that and we will get an insight as to who needs to take the risk and go pro and who can play it safe

  13. Plain and simple. Its either you risk it all as a youth and go pro. Or you play it safe and get a schol. Play college ball and hope to get picked up somewhere in the US. Local eg. Hyland and Peltier. They tolied hard young. Paul went to college and where is he now? Playing on the mnt and in the pro league. Its a choice. Either you go pro now or play it safe. How many of these boys want anything to do with school ? What are their grades like? Attendance records

  14. no no no, the labor laws here prohibit persons under the age of 18 from working. If it is being done, it is being done illegally.

  15. The SSFL does have qualifying criteria in terms of subjects passed, repeats and transfers. But we have to take information verified by Teachers,Principals, Supervisors ,it is only if we get contrary data we can take any action. So there could be a scenario where a boy is not regularly in School ,he could be attending some other program, but the Teacher/ Principal allows the boy to play for the School. Remember that we the Executive of the SSFL are all unpaid volounteers , we have no office or staff, so we rely on information supplied or queries to bring these discrepancies to our attention. Do you think that the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Sport or the TTFF had recognized the SSFL for the job we are doing? We are 50 years old this year, we have stood the test of time in terms of achievement,credibility and accountability, we have enabled hundreds of Students to have some kind of success and satisfaction in their School life as well as providing some of the most exciting football to the Nation and all unpaid,unsung from many times the office below the bed.

  16. Because everyone is doing it does not make it right. We are talking about football so lets be clear with that topic. Who wants to work at any fast food restaurant is a different topic with different variables. People could work at these restaurants for the rest of their life but can a 16-yr-old play football for the rest of his life at a football club? The answer is NO. Is the club going to take care of them if their career fails? the answer is NO again.The next point is that education is a broad topic,so to say that a person is not academically inclined should play football is utter rubbish!Education involves trades,skills,handy work etc NOT ONLY academics.So clubs owe it to players to allow them to go to school if they wish (because they have to want that) but at the very least the clubs need to push younger players who have no education (in whatever form) to do something about it be it in a secondary school or not regardless of poverty ,poor parenting and any other living situation because if they could play football they can do other things.So to Mr Harrison don’t look at what anybody else is doing,we talking football and youths here,if u are not promoting any means for them to have something sustainable (and note i said promote not pay for) especially if you sign them at a young age (which is not the issue),then you sir are failing our local youths and u are part of the problem.

  17. Kevin I don’t know why it’s different but it’s looked at differently. You maybe on to something though