Home / Volley / Local Football / Najjar: The SSFL’s unassailable value; and the U-17s massive hurdle

Najjar: The SSFL’s unassailable value; and the U-17s massive hurdle

Recent performances of Trinidad and Tobago’s national youth football teams prove categorically that changes are required to bring our better secondary school level players up to the demanding standards required for regional success.

The time between being called for National Under-15, Under-17 and Under-20 pools and the actual tournaments is only sufficient for fine tuning technique and the practice of strategy. The core technical skills, speed, consistency, and mental toughness must be developed in the leagues in which these players regularly train and play.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 midfielder Jabari Mitchell (left) tangles with Guatemala attacker Mario Hernandez during CONCACAF action in Jamaica. (Courtesy CONCACAF)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 midfielder Jabari Mitchell (left) tangles with Guatemala attacker Mario Hernandez during CONCACAF action in Jamaica.
(Courtesy CONCACAF)

It is in this light that thoughts recently shared by some of our better soccer minds suggested that high school players with the potential to play for their country should opt out of the SSFL and join Super League and Pro League teams. I do not favor this remedy although I do see the benefits in terms of player maturity from the upper level competition.

I believe that there are tremendous personal development benefits, which can translate into upper level thinking and playing from Fifth and Sixth Formers continuing to play with their school teams. Also, it would be very difficult to be in school and play with a professional club.

Many clubs practice in the daytime, and the cost of going back and forth to practice and games would be very high. This would also certainly set up the player for academic failure, and further lower the standard of competition in the already, questionable standard of SSFL play.

Photo: San Juan North Secondary striker Brent Sam (left) tries to outrun St Benedict's College utility player Anthony Herbert during a SSFL Premier Division contest. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: San Juan North Secondary striker Brent Sam (left) tries to outrun St Benedict’s College utility player Anthony Herbert during a SSFL Premier Division contest.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Besides, as much as there might be an argument for schoolboys playing in the Pro League, the Pro League itself has little to boast about where their level of play is and, maybe, this might only serve to defeat the long-term development purpose. By this I mean that, given the voluminous crowd support at SSFL games relative to the Pro League, a sizable blow can be had to the mental side on of the players’ development.

The ideal remedy is, of course, a live-in sporting academy for Forms 5 and 6 in which selected players go to school and receive intensive football training and international travel for game experience. But this is a dream.

Therefore, I suggest that our answer lies in tweaking the SSFL to cater for those missing ingredients that our opposition seem to have.

Photo: Naparima College midfielder and Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 Team defender Martieon Watson (right) advances with the ball while St Anthony's College midfielder Shakeem Patrick looks on during the SSFL Big Four competition. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Naparima College midfielder and Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 Team defender Martieon Watson (right) advances with the ball while St Anthony’s College midfielder Shakeem Patrick looks on during the SSFL Big Four competition.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

I believe that our schools and the SSFL, in conjunction with the larger clubs, can promote a shortened out-of-season mini-competition, where student-athletes will participate on community-based teams. Here, players can join their neighbours who may be rivals when the SSFL recommences.

The community teams can be coach-assisted by the country’s top club in an abbreviated format with one game per week stretched over two months. This will also allow for student-athletes to fulfill their school duties without any thoughts of a breakaway from their Alma Mater.

They can participate in other sports and extracurricular activities that can enhance their connectivity and multi-discipline overlap as they serve community needs and so forth. This will give more adroitness and conviction to a better, sharper, and more understanding mind that will improve their technical, tactical, and strategic football game.

Photo: Trinity College East striker Dareem Daniel (left) holds off St Anthony's College right back Jared Flement (right) during a SSFL Premier Division fixture. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinity College East striker Dareem Daniel (left) holds off St Anthony’s College right back Jared Flement (right) during a SSFL Premier Division fixture.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

I would also like to see more end-of-season competition between selected school teams that showcase the best players in a zonal showdown. This would create that “next level” to players’ aspirations and performances.

With these things said, let me jump into the upcoming U-17 CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament that kicks off on February 27th in Honduras for herein lies the substance of what we are talking about.

Hope aside, I believe that our U-17 National Team will fail to advance from the group stage. That is not just the prediction for T&T but, for all of the Caribbean teams.

Trinidad and Tobago barely made it past the CFU qualifications to reach this stage where we lost 2-0 to St Lucia and 3-0 to Haiti and scraped home with a 3-0 win over Barbados 3-0 and a minus-2 goal difference!

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team poses before kick off in a pre-tournament competition against Panama. (Courtesy TTFA Media)
Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team poses before kick off in a pre-tournament competition against Panama.
(Courtesy TTFA Media)

And, looking at the two warm-up games against Panama which we lost 4-0 and 5-0, we see clear evidence that we are not in the class of the more focused and larger CONCACAF nations. Where is the realistic hope?

My thought, as it is generally true in most tournaments, is that the Caribbean teams do not have the overall profundity and preparation to supplant the larger and generally more passionate and better prepared, North and Central American nations.

Should I be proved wrong, Trinidad and Tobago will need to defy the odds and history to make it all the way through.

About Hannibal Najjar

Hannibal Najjar
Hannibal Najjar is a former Trinidad and Tobago national senior team and youth team coach. He considers himself a lifetime learner and advocate for the under-served and has been recognised for his contribution to sport and academia in T&T, Canada and the US. He is a guest speaker on race-relations and curriculum planning and is working on his first book.

Check Also

I can’t handle the dishonesty! Veteran Warriors star Carlos Edwards vows to quit Central FC

“They are too disrespectful in terms of how they treat and pay their players,” veteran …

4 comments

  1. Never in my life have I adjudged and or accepted that another’s viewpoint, studied review, and consequential findings to be, “nonsense”! So, I’d like to propose that, putting one’s mind into gear before s/he starts her/his mouth should be placed up there with the Golden Rule. And so, as I reflect on our “esteemed authority’s” viewpoint, I have only to say that, every mouth has its words, mind its thoughts, and person their opinions, but some things are based on facts, truths, and evidence, and when it comes down to this, the jury convinced, the judge relieved, and the hammer comes down! The SSFL is the only true football organization that we have had and still do have, and all that it needs is to have the planners reload their vision to include the big National picture and product needs and they will soar again to be the most resounding provider of quality players for the National Youth Teams. Together with the schools’ leadership, ministry, and concerned and true patriot coaches, local and foreign, it can put us at the level where its products shall give us the quality and sustainable power that is needed to rumble with the bigger CONCACAF nations. And over appropriate time, we can solidify the base needs necessary for sustaining growth of the individuals and achieve admirable and harnessed results that shall work its way into the adult level of play and international markets, something that we have sorely been missing.

  2. Terry Fenwick

    Nonsense!
    15-17 year olds do not get a look in these days in an extremely competitive College league. SCHOOLS are hiring pro-league coaches to maximize success and this prodominantly means bigger, stronger, quicker players in the 18-20 age group.

    Check the college sides like St Anthony’s and Naparima, geared up for success, searching for SPONSORS and providing room for non academic school drop outs with football abilities.
    Check the players that have persisted with College league, like Jerrel Britto for example, who catch the eye as standouts in a very poor College league and then fail to mature into T&T International players who acquire contracts outside?

    College league provided nothing for Hyland, Bateau, Peltier, Molino, Primus, Guerra and so many more that were FOOTBALLERS and not necessarily academically inclined.
    Why are T&T youth teams failing and other national teams in our region improving? Development by professional coaches for the youngsters with potential.
    College League?

  3. The “Bal” speaks. Please listen!