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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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122 comments

  1. Yes. There are unscrupulous coaches. But then at amateur level there is less risk for them. The Pro League clubs take a much bigger financial risk.

  2. Not drifting away from the core topic, but it appears that one contention is that football clubs shouldn’t take kids out of school. In which case, we should be discussing general employment law. Why is it ok for a 16 year old to take a job at a fast food outlet without getting a parents signature? If it’s wrong in football, it’s wrong anywhere! It’s clear that employment of minors needs to be addressed on a national level.

  3. It is different skill sets. But I agree with you in principle Michael Blair Blenman. Everyone can get better at something with hard work. So we have to encourage them to try really hard.
    But at 16, if a chance comes for a boy without much aptitude for school work, you have to think carefully before you say no.

  4. My problem is deciding that its ok to give up ..I recognise that all dont have the same privilege but we are allowing these boys to not try a lot of the time when being a pro baller is harder than doing some school work..

  5. The reality Michael Blair Blenman is that all children do not have equal opportunities. They never did.
    I came from pretty humble beginnings. But still my mom, who was a teacher, was a home owner and we always had our books and homework came even before chores.
    I would be fooling myself if I don’t recognise that I had an advantage over many children in Trinidad.
    Football alone can’t fix social problems. It can only help.

  6. They look for the best 14 year olds to confuse and sign telling them that they will get them on the national team ,etc.They have come to me for years for Justin Brooks,now 15 and playing for CIC first team.

  7. Beg to differ my friend,we played Republic Cup u10 and teams brought u12 players to beat us and so did,but our u10 players got the benefit of playing bigger boys,we came 3rd .They came 1st but we got more development in the long run.We WON overall as we know that they could play and handle situations out of their age group.It is all about the big prize,not the 1st place trophy.

  8. Berlusconi is another case altogether. Personally, I think they pay far too well to be accused of keeping people in the ghetto. In the literal sense anyway.
    But I still believe that the clubs would do better if they had the help.
    Pro League football is not primarily a money making business in Trinidad. So the owners cannot be all looking for a quick buck.

  9. this is about the thirst to be the agent for the next Dwight Yorke . All some people see is dollar signs

  10. It happens every day around the world,last main exponent,Silvio Berlosconi at AC Milan

  11. I actually don’t think it is that simple Ian. I believe some clubs can’t afford better or just don’t have the structure to take on these added responsibilities.
    Or they just considered it the parents’ duty.

  12. That is why educating them is so important, not just academically eh, but that helps in later years

  13. We still believe that football is for ghetto and prefer to keep them in ghetto to exploit them,simple exploitation,by capitalists ,who we call owners of clubs.

    • Ian, you may believe that. And sadly, that kind of ole talk is what permeates young peoples minds, and they move forward with that anti-establishment, disrespectful attitude. But the fact is that players are a football clubs only assets in T&T. They are not expoited in any way that I can see. If they are transferred, they go willingly to earn better salaries and expand their life skills through travel. You casually discount all of the socio-economic benefits of professional football. Guess what? If these boys were not playing football, many of them would be hanging on street corners as gang bait. The facts are simple: these young boys are not interested in education. Yet they commit to an employer, take the signing bonuses, free boots, salaries etc and then go back to school to become local heroes. As soon as intercol ends, back they will come.

  14. So what you are saying Ian Brooks is that clubs can hire a staff member to pay more attention to the academical side? Or have someone within the organisation do so?
    It is a start. Obviously it will be much harder for some children than others. Because some children have parents who don’t spend time with them or can barely afford to because they work so hard.
    And some come from environments in which it is harder to get time, space and support to study.
    But we do have to start somewhere.

  15. This problem is a lot more than just school a lot of these boys come from very poor environments and most of the time they are either alone at home when they come from school as early as primary or they have sibblings that they have 2 look after together with themself its a social issue that is not addressed nationally so a lot of these boys have no guidance or adult influence in their lives 2 ensure a stable educational foundation was formed at a early age

    • Good points, well made, Dion. In many cases, professional football is the only way out for these kids. At Central F.C. our slogans are “Shoot Goals, Not Guns” and “Join A Team, Not A Gang”. They are not just words, they are underlining principles of our youth and community policies.

  16. Lasana,the only recipe for success is enforcing what is taught at home.Football develops good traits,team,responsibility,life skills,learning to cope with life ,success,defeat,cheats,getting mentally,physically and emotionally strong and helps you learn to schedule time for personal development ,skill,personality,physical prowess,recovery from hard knocks and remains your best educational tool.

  17. We have boys at Trinity,Trinity East,QRC and Hillview.They all do well,all.International School,also.

  18. There is no relationship between the two except that CIC boys and Fatima Boys gravitate to SKHY even before they enter Secondary School.At SKHY you have to report every term with your report book to the coach.The boys usually come from good households with their parents understanding the value of sport and education.The football learning is seen as important as the education and bright boys push and encourage each other which breeds success.There is a constant monitoring of both aspects of development both at home and this continues on the football field.This breeds success.

  19. Yeah Papa…..Ian you are so correct SKHY/CIC and some Fatima students/players also……..guess that is the difference…..

  20. the idea that boys cant get an education is so wrong . Not built for school or they fell off the wagon since primary school and nobody bothered to help?

  21. SO tell me more about the partnership whi SKHY and CIC Ian Brooks

  22. Once the exception is not getting an education lol. From listening to you all it seems as though it’s football only for these guys. Lol

  23. I think Sosa is right. We encourage children to get their education and push them. But I don’t think it is wrong to keep an eye open for the exception to the rule. There is always an exception to the rule.

  24. Surely if these lads don’t finish their schooling, we probably end up with population of illiterate individuals anda bunch half ass footballers.Seriously what are the odds of theses lads making it big time/

  25. School is not 4 everyone cause yorke and latapy had no chance of making it academically so football was their only means of providing 4 themselves and their families we need 2 treat each case individually and don’t have a basic rule 4 every player cause a lot of guys will fall thru the cracks cause they will free shackled by some rule

  26. its a fact that a good footballer would be on his path by the time he is sixteen .Manchester United”s first call goalkeeper is twenty years old at present , but very few boys can dream of this as a career, we have produced a few footballers alone. Apart from not doing school work for their own well being they disrupt the school ..Football is the equivalent of a girls dream to be a model , wished for by many , executed in reality by a few …

  27. Some of our parents aint no better eh. Put it in a fund, accessible @ 21 or 25

  28. agree,usually the salary of a young player is managed by the parents or tutors

  29. Actually Stefano, not quite the same comment, since I don’t think it wise for underage players to be earning cash, but this cash can/should go some way in assisting with gear, gym membership (if none available at club), deposit into a fund etc. But cash in young people’s hands mean “bling” these days. They really need mentors who genuinely care about their wellbeing

  30. The problems are myriad,from bad officiating,bad fields,schools which place sportsmen before education,lackluster parenting,coaches who care less and encourage School football ages to go to21 years(St Anthony’s) ,and do not encourage an insistence on education,principals who just want to win at the expense of these hapless young men and a useless Ministry of Education and Sports Ministry.No money for youth teams and the BS of having youth teams being trained by Pro league Coaches who place all their charges on the team and do not,stress do not search for the best players nor even place an eye on them as they are programmed to see only their players or be fired by their connection.What a mess,go SkHY /CIC go.We may be beaten but we shall always be the difference.

  31. Football and Education can coexist in Trinidad, like everywhere in Europe where football players going to school in the morning and train with a professional or amateur team in the afternoon,why you cannot sign a contract and attend school regularly?

  32. Well,I do not know about the other clubs, but at SKHY and CIC ,our boys normally get a minimum of six 1s and 8 subjects.They all usually go on to Good Universities and excell.Is the SKHY /CIC model so hard to adopt or do the clubs place football before education.My brother Gerry and I both played for Boissiere Youths,QRC and CIC and are both University Graduates,having played more minor league than the youths now.We quickly realized the Corneals of our time and veered away from them,both at national and club level.Are the clubs being self centered /mercenary and what are the roles of the parents?

  33. Exceptions must be made. I remember my uncle always say. Play football get an education while doing it. If one works out awesome. If both fails be prepared to be a kaka diver lol. I believe all kids are capable of passing. You just have to apply yourself. If you are not good at school you need to try harder. For some it comes natural. I believe Ronaldo was expelled! So his mother told him to focus on football. Of course there is exceptions. If the player is exceptional like the four names you named then things will work out eh. I promise you though the four you named was placed in academies Educating them how to be a pro, how to manage money. They were learning while playing.

  34. Everyone is not going to make it academically and we understand that. However there is no way I am encouraging a 16 year old to sign a pro contract in trini. Options at that point are still revealing. We all thinking contracts right. Outside of a select few in trini, most kids get washed away or careers over by age 25….or they eventually end of being a vagabond player making small money and then at 30 career over… then what? I understand Central’s philosophy but it’s a short term strategy for most of these kids. Then again most of these kids and their parents only have themselves to blame for pigeon holing themselves

  35. So the Pro League seasons for those boys will always start in January.

  36. Clearly the schools want their piece of the action. And that means the boys will have to play for their schools from September to November to essentially earn their “free” educations.
    At least if they want that education to be in the “elite” schools that are into that sort of thing.

  37. In the article, teacher and coach Michael Grayson encouraged footballers to get their education. But he also pointed to a possible exemption with some students who had an opportunity in football and no academic leaning whatsoever.
    He suggested they should be allowed to try and could always use Defence Force and so on as a Plan B.
    Now do we agree with that?
    Players like Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez were horrible students.
    So what is the balance we are seeking? Are these hard and fast rules with no exceptions?

  38. The whole process should be explained in basic language (educating them on the vultures you are likely to meet in the real world)

  39. Dais not a bad idea to stay in school until 18, but the player must have some incentive to study books instead of just football. The PRO clubs can take them under their wings, allow to play SSFL, with a deal to full contract after such criteria are fulfilled e.g. full certificate etc. This player will be the sole responsibility of an individual club. But the child’s legal rep must play a big part to ensure that child is not to be exploited later in his career

  40. Prince – permit me to take a stab at answering that question. The current vision is buy young/cheap and sell to the highest foreign bidder.

  41. Clubs won’t be able to afford to educate these players. So there might have to be a compromise with the schools.
    And the only way I can see them falling in line with FIFA regulations is if they leave the players in school until they are 18.
    I don’t see another way for about another decade or two at least when, presumably, the clubs will have more money and might be able to hire retired teachers for their academy.

  42. Kevin Harrison i not picking sides here eh. They are using the word exploit. Explain to them what is the vision when you sign a young player like Levi. What is the plans for these players. The academy venture would be beneficial to Trinidad football. All the clubs should pursue this. The problem is it takes money .

  43. Adrian, I hear you. But there are many misconceptions out there. If anything good is to come out of this issue, it will be the awareness that football, education and, indeed, employment laws in T&T need to be revisited. I was talking to a 17 year old girl who works at a fast food restaurant. I asked her if her parents had to attend an interview and sign her contract. After she finished rolling around the floor laughing, she said “what interview”? Everyone suddenly interested in child welfare while tens of thousands of minors are cooking allyuh chicken. But this is an important issue and I welcome the debate, as it can only bring change.

  44. Kevin Harrison I think you should stop commenting, because these folks don’t have any idea of what these players really want to do when they come and meet you June to sign contracts I have been a witness of these incidents and it’s sad people is only pointing fingers at the clubs but they don’t know there is 3 sides to a story I remembered central FC organized for there young players to attend presentation college chaguanas and the same players turned it down so I want to ask this question again is it school they wanna attend for education or football?

  45. Arthlon Dcoach, I have no idea how long you have been in T&T, but why haven’t you done something, if it concerns you so much? 16 year olds have been dropping out of school for years to play football, but people like you have let that happen. Now, suddenly, yuh getting excited? Because it concerns me and I am doing something. And guess what? If we want to build an academy, it will probably be built using transfer fees from players like Levi. And why are you just concerned with football? What about the thousands of kids in T&T missing school everyday? Why don’t you make a noise about them? At least Levi has football, those kids have nothing? Who is shouting out for them? Levi wanted to play football and he will hopefully earn a very good living. That was his parents wishes too. Everyone was on the same page. What is not right, in my opinion, is sending him overseas at age 16 to a foreign culture.