The Ministry of Sport was forced into a rescue operation today as two former Trinidad and Tobago national youth team players, Jean-Luc Rochford and Dwight Quintero, were among three footballers left alone in a hotel in London while their contingent moved on to trials in Turkey.
The third player, Keon Russell, is a former Caledonia AIA employee while Rochford and Quintero are both free agents but represented Central FC in Pro League action last season.
All three left Trinidad for Turkey with Dion Sosa, an unregistered local football agent, and close to a dozen other players.
However, once in London, Quintero, Rochford and Russell were allegedly informed that there was no plane ticket to take them on Turkey.
Eventually, they made their way to Trinidad and Tobago’s High Commission in London where a SOS was put through to Sport Minister Brent Sancho.
“I was contacted this morning by a lady named Keisha Rochford-Hawkins from the Consulate in London, who said that they had three players there who were stranded,” Sancho told Wired868. “I didn’t get the nitty gritty of the situation. But, from what I understand, a party left for London on a broken ticket to Turkey.
“Some of the members went on and these stayed waiting for help and they eventually contacted the consulate… So I am trying to assist.”
Wired868 tried to contact Sosa by What’s App and email but was unable to reach him.
By the end of the day, the Sport Ministry did book plane tickets from London to Turkey. But, in the confusion, they ended up a ticket short.
Nathalie Fournillier, Quintero’s aunt, said her nephew contacted her for help this morning. At the time, Quintero and Rochford were together but they could not find Russell and thought he had left them since he was supposedly familiar with London.
Fournillier convinced Sancho that there were only two players in need of help, only to discover later that Russell had resurfaced.
Sancho vowed to do all he can to get a ticket for Russell tomorrow. Eid festivities have apparently complicated travel to Turkey.
Fournillier explained that the contingent, led by Sosa, arrived in London on Thursday morning. However, Quintero, Rochford and Russell were allegedly told that, due to financial issues, there was no ticket to take them to Turkey and Sosa would go ahead with the other players and make the necessary arrangements from there.
The group of players are due to play three practice matches against European clubs, who are in their pre-season, with the hope of catching the eye and being signed or invited for formal trials.
Fournillier said each player was asked to pay $25,000 for airfare and accommodation, although most did not have the full amount and there were several fund-raising initiatives.
Quintero and Rochford, who roomed together, had not heard from Sosa as they neared the 11 am check-out time.
In Trinidad, Quintero’s mother and relatives were in tears.
“I had a lot of calls from my sisters this morning while I was at work,” said Fournillier, who lives in the United States, “and I got messages saying to call as soon as possible, so I got worried.
“When I called, I was told my nephew (Quintero) was left behind in London with two other players and Sosa and the others went ahead to Turkey.
“It took me a while to wrap my head around that because I felt it must have been a huge mistake.”
Quintero is a former National Under-20 striker and was on the current Under-23 squad, although he missed the Olympic qualifiers and 2015 Pan American Games due to the team’s managerial issues.
Rochford, who represented Trinidad and Tobago at the 2009 Under-20 and 2007 Under-17 World Youth Cups, contacted a relative who works at the High Commission in London and they made their way there for help.
That relative, Keisha Rochford-Hawkins, was able to pay for another night’s stay at a hotel for the players and give them other assistance.
Fournillier said she eventually got a phone call through to Sosa in Turkey and he allegedly admitted that he did not inform the players beforehand about their travel issues.
“He said he didn’t want to let the ticket issue interfere with the trip after they had (done so much work),” said Fournillier. “He asked me if I could work on sponsors to get them plane tickets for Turkey… He said there was still money tied up by sponsors and, once he got back into Trinidad, he would honour all debts.”
Sancho agreed to help.
The Sport Minister is a former chairman at Central FC, which employed Quintero and Rochford. However, neither player is under contract while the club is not entitled to any developmental fee for Rochford, since he has already passed his 23rd birthday.
Sancho, who was heavily criticised by Sosa during Levi Garcia’s transfer to Netherlands top flight club club AZ, said he was only interested in helping young players in a time of need.
“I’ve been in that situation before and it is not a nice feeling,” said Sancho, who was a former Scotland Premier League and England League One defender. “It happened when I left Ross County and an agent took me to a trial in Romania. And when I didn’t sign, they yanked my return ticket and I was stranded for a couple of days…
“I am not involved with Central with my new portfolio. But these are young men in a jam and guys I know… So I cannot just leave them there.”
Fournillier said she and Rochford’s mother did their best to lift the boys’ spirits and get them in the right frame of mind for what lies ahead.
“I told them that God never lets adversity affect his children unless he knows something good is going to come out of it,” said Fournillier. “They must not be disheartened and they have to forge forward and finish what they started by any means necessary. Whatever drama plays out, keep your eyes on the prize.
“Jean-Luc’s mom also sent them a very inspirational message… They were a bit fearful at one point but they are in really good spirits now.
“They want to say ‘thank you’ to Brent (Sancho) for reaching out to help them.”
Despite the chaos, Sancho commended Sosa for his efforts in trying to find professional deals for local players in Europe.
“I applaud the efforts of Sosa and company for trying to find greener pastures for our players,” said Sancho, “although he obviously fell short in his attempts.”
Dion Sosa’s trialists: Raheem Belgrave, Curtis Gonzales, Dario Holmes, Weslie John, Jelani Peters, Keon Russell, Jamel Farell, Leon Whyle, Leston Paul, Jean-Luc Rochford, Duane Muckette, Keane McIvor, Xavier Rajpaul, Micah Lewis, Qian Grosvenor, Phillip Borde, Dwight Quintero and Brent Sam.