The national under-20 football team was forced to scrap its December tour to Mexico due to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s (TTFA) inability to raise the $780,000 needed to fund to trip.
The teenaged “Soca Warriors”, who are the Caribbean Cup champions, are preparing for CONCACAF action in Jamaica next month as they continue their bid to qualify for the New Zealand 2015 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. And head coach Derek King was crushed that his squad will miss such vital preparation.
The Warriors were due to leave for Mexico tomorrow while their tour included two games against the Mexico national under-23 team and one exhibition match against either the Club America or Pachuca senior team.
“Training has been good and the boys were looking forward to playing Mexico who won the last two CONCACAF under-20 tournaments,” said King. “Knowing that Mexico is always the powerhouse in CONCACAF, these games would have been a good measure for (our) players and staff and we were all really excited to not only play against them but in Mexico too.
“We were told (the Mexico trip) was 100 percent sure. So we are really disappointed.”
The TTFA announced a $1.6 million profit today from the FIFA Women’s Play Off contest between the “Women Soca Warriors” and Ecuador on December 2. However, although the Ministry of Sport is supposedly willing to pay $200,000 towards the Mexico trip, general secretary Sheldon Phillips offered little hope that the football body would meet the deficit.
“What we were looking at is basically putting some (of that revenue) back into the women’s game,” Phillips told Wired868. “The amount required for the Mexico trip was close to $700,000 and that would not have been covered by (revenue from) the women’s game.”
King, an ex-national youth and senior team defender and Pro League Coach of the Year with Joe Public, said the aborted tour would not only affect Trinidad and Tobago’s preparation but Mexico’s as well. And he complained that the TTFA was not doing enough for its national teams or the country’s reputation in the game.
“Mexico would be very disappointed because they could have played anybody but they agreed to schedule us and now we cancelled at the last minute,” said King. “So what happens when we need to do something with Mexico again?
“We got the support from the local clubs who released their players although their season is going on and some players took the sacrifice to leave their university early to come here and train. But I feel as if the (TTFA) didn’t push hard enough to make this happen.
“We have to be thankful to the (Sport Ministry) for their assistance but they are not obligated to fund football. The association really didn’t work to make this happen.”
TTFA administrator William Wallace said there was another issue affecting the football body’s ability to raise money from the Government: falling oil prices.
Wallace inherited general secretary Sheldon Phillips’ responsibilities for team budgets and liaising with the Government after Phillips and his former marketing official, Darren Millien, were implicated in an alleged $400,000 licensing fee scam revealed exclusively by Wired868.
And Wallace said the cost of the Mexico trip would normally be easily absorbed by the Ministry of Sport. He told Wired868 that Permanent Secretary Richard Oliver called all sport bodies to an emergency meeting yesterday where the Government’s financial situation was laid bare.
“(The Ministry of Sport) hasn’t gotten a release of funds from the Ministry of Finance and they used their (existing) money to pay off the debts with the senior team,” said Wallace. “All sporting bodies were called into an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss the current situation with regards the drop in oil prices and the expectations and so on.
“So we have to revisit all the requests sent to them and tailor them in a more realistic way. There are no funds there at this point in time.”
Wired868 tried unsuccessfully to get confirmation of the meeting from the Ministry of Sport.
The current national under-20 squad is believed to be Trinidad and Tobago’s most gifted youth team in this millennium. St Ann’s Rangers striker Kadeem Corbin was the 2014 Caribbean Cup’s MVP while Naparima College midfielder Jabari Mitchell and Shiva Boys’ Hindu College attacker Levi Garcia earned rave reviews at the tournament.
The young Warriors are grouped with the United States, Panama, Aruba, Guatemala and hosts Jamaica in a new format that will see each team play five group matches. The Group A and Group B winners will qualify automatically for the New Zealand World Cup while the second and third place teams from each group will enter a play off for the final two berths.
And while teams like Canada and the United States played more than a half dozen international friendlies over the past six months against outfits like England, Russia and Ireland, King may have to make do with practise matches against local Pro League teams instead.
Wallace is working on raising funds for a seven-day pre-tournament camp in Fort Lauderdale, which, together with the CONCACAF competition, would cost roughly TT$1.5 million. He hopes to receive TT$1 million from the Ministry of Sport, despite its financial issues, and raise a further TT$500,000 from the private sector.
“I am waiting over the next 48 hours to see what happens with Fort Lauderdale and the under-20 tournament,” Wallace told Wired868. “The hope is that the government will fund our airfare, daily allowance and accommodation for additional staff in Jamaica while the corporate sector will fund the actual camp in Florida…
“We can’t name our potential sponsors yet but (the fund-raising drive) has been a collective effort from myself and friends outside of the TTFA.”
King suggested that the excitement and passion generated by the women’s team was an example of what sport can bring to Trinidad and Tobago if properly harnessed. He hopes the private sector pays heed.
“We hope the corporate sector comes on board and assists because this is the future of Trinidad and Tobago’s football,” said King. “The Canada and US teams have toured Europe and Panama and Guatemala and so on are investing in their youth. Our players need that international exposure to challenge on this level.
“So we really hope we get that support at least for that week before we head to Jamaica.”