Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams has defended National Under-20 Team coach Brian Williams’ message to his players that they risk jeopardising their international careers if they did not join Pro League clubs.
John-Williams, who is the owner of the W Connection Football Club, and Williams, who is a Connection youth team coach, addressed teenaged international aspirants at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva yesterday.
Williams’ initial 33-member shortlist comprised only of Pro League youth and senior team players. However, the coach allowed other players to try out, based on recommendations from other local coaches and football stakeholders.
Those additions included the Shiva Boys Hindu College duo of Tyrel “Pappy” Emmanuel and Quinn Rodney, St Mary’s College winger Ethan Shim, former St Benedict’s College custodian Jamari Warrick and St Anthony’s College winger Kathon St Hillaire and utility player Andrew Rullow.
Before the session started, the non-Pro League players were asked to stand up in front of their teammates.
“(The TTFA president) asked them what is the reason they are not with a Pro League club,” said the observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The first two boys were Shim and St Hillaire and they said they were at academies and were focusing on improving their football with those academies.
“Then ‘Pappy’ said he was in Form Five and wanted to have some time to focus on exams. To which, John-Williams said ‘you are focusing on exams but you are here at national training (…) and just like you made a choice the coach has to make a choice’.
“He focused on Pappy for such a long time that he never got to ask Quinn Rodney why he was not at a Pro League club.”
Emmanuel, who was one of three Trinidad and Tobago players selected for a training stint with Manchester City earlier this year, was singled out by “Soca Warriors” coach Stephen Hart as one of the two island republic’s best young talents along with his schoolmate, Rodney.
The Shiva Boys student has apparently agreed to represent National Super League (NSL) club, Marabella Family Crisis Centre, in the upcoming senior season. The NSL is Trinidad and Tobago’s second tier competition and consists of amateur clubs.
Williams reiterated the importance of club football before the players left the session.
“At the end of the session, the coaching staff pulled the players aside and said they have to find a Pro League club if they want to play for their country,” said the source. “No player should be told that. You have a trial and if they are good enough, you pick the player regardless of what club he is or is not attached to.”
Several other persons who attended yesterday’s national training session appeared to confirm the details provided by Wired868’s source.
However, John-Williams said it was the National Under-20 coach who asked the players to join a Pro League club. And that, he explained, was because the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) ended five months ago and some players had not played competitively since then.
But the TTFA president insisted that they had not made a policy to debar players who were not playing for Pro League clubs.
“I never said (they had to be playing for) a Pro League team; Brian said that,” John-Williams told Wired868. “And that was said on the basis that we have serious football to play and, if you are not playing club football, it will affect our football…
“I never said they should join a Pro League club. I said they should be in a serious club division.”
John-Williams suggested that the national youth coach did not mean only Pro League players would be considered, even though he said so to his trialists.
“(Williams) probably said ‘Pro League clubs’ because those are the only clubs active right now,” said the TTFA president. “I don’t think the coaching staff meant (they will only consider players attached to) Pro League clubs alone.”
At present, the Pro League Youth League has just 10 clubs.
Defence Force and Police FC both allow other teams to represent them at youth level. The other eight Pro League teams train in the following areas: Couva (two), San Fernando (one), Point Fortin (one), Port of Spain (one), Barataria/San Juan (one), Tacarigua (one) and Arima (one).
At senior level, Pro League players can use their salaries for transport or to find accommodation closer to their respective teams. However, youth team players do not have that luxury, and attending regular sessions far from their homes can adversely affect their studies.
Rodney, for instance, lives in Mayaro, which does not have a Pro League club.
If the national youth team refused to consider players outside the Pro League set-up, they would deny Tobago and large cross-sections of Trinidad from the honour of representing their country.
However, John-Williams insisted that the National Under-20 Team had no such policy.
“It is ideal that they should be playing competitively but it is not a rule,” said the TTFA president. “We never made a rule.”
He attempted to explain his warning to Emmanuel and the National Under-20 coaching staff’s stance on the other international aspirants who had not joined clubs due to their academic pursuits.
Shim and Rullow, for instance, are both supposedly waiting to take up United States soccer scholarships. They told the coaching staff that they risked being disqualified if they appeared in a competition that also includes professional players.
“Some players said they had exams and I said I cannot be against a player for that,” said the TTFA president. “But there are several players here who are doing exams and playing club football and they are here trying out for the national team. So the coaches have to be fair to them too.
“My exact words to Pappy were: You made a choice to study for your exams ahead of club football and I cannot be against a young man who has made that decision. But, at the same time, you are here for the national team. Exams don’t matter because you want to play for your national team.
“But there are several other players here who have exams and are also playing club football. And the coach has to be fair.”
Trinidad and Tobago, who are the defending Caribbean Under-20 champions, will play their first qualifying round of games at home against St Lucia, Guadeloupe and Turks and Caicos from 15-19 June 2016.
Williams described it as a favourable draw although he vowed not to take any of their three opponents lightly.
“I do not think we can afford to take any of the three teams in our group for granted,” Williams told the TTFA Media, “because the gap in international football continues to close and either of these teams are capable of springing a surprise on the day.
“The good thing for us is that our first group will played at home so we will be familiar with the conditions. But this doesn’t take away from us needing to be well prepared and having a team that is capable of advancing all the way in these qualifiers.”
The winner of each of the four preliminary qualifying groups will advance to the CFU Finals in Curacao in October along with the third best runners-up.
The CFU’s top four teams will then advance to the 2017 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, where the top four nations will earn a place at the Korea Republic 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago qualified for the Portugal FIFA Under-21 World Cup in 1991 while their last appearance at a FIFA competition came at the Egypt 2009 Under-20 World Cup.