The Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFA) will revamp its under-13 and under-14 programme in 2017, after announcing a TT$8 million sponsorship deal with the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) for the National Elite Youth Development Program.
The NLCB money will be paid over a four-year period while the TTFA is also committed to spending TT$2 million on the initiative, which was launched by TTFA president David John-Williams on Friday evening at the Trinidad Hilton in Port of Spain.
The objective of the program, according to the TTFA President, is to scout and select the best boys and girls teams in the under-13/14 categories and nurture their talent, so as to create a core of talent for the junior to senior national teams.
Among the key components of the plan are:
- All football academies and football schools would be obliged to register with the TTFA and be staffed with qualified coaches;
- The selected boys and girls squad will be kept together for two years with two four-week camps, four to six local friendly matches and one international match per year;
- The players will be scientifically monitored and assessed and will undergo educational assessment and nutrition education;
- A ledger will be created for all players involved in the programme and should follow their progress;
- The staff attached to the respective youth teams will be “exposed to FIFA, UEFA and CONCACAF courses”.
John-Williams claimed that the NLCB investment was “unheard of in the history of the TTFA”.
“Two weeks ago when I announced ‘to stand by for a big announcement’, many may have thought that the TTFA may today be announcing a major sponsorship deal relating to its Men’s National Senior Team and World Cup Qualifying Russia 2018,” said the TTFA president. “Whilst getting to Russia is very important to us as a nation, we feel that it is equally important to rebuild the foundation that will ensure that we qualify on a consistent basis to all youth and senior World Cups in the future.
“In broad terms, this National Youth Elite Program will seek to foster the dedication and discipline required to be a successful professional sportsman, and instil a professional approach to football in Trinidad Tobago from a very early age.
“And, at the same time, integrating the program into communities, thus creating a national bond that will allow for the rekindling of the national spirit with a home-grown team.”
Whether or not the NLCB’s financial commitment is historic, the programme itself is not. The TTFA ran national teams starting from the under-12 and under-13 age groups in the 1980s, which preceded the two island republic’s sweeping Caribbean success for the next two decades.
The programme became somewhat diluted from the mid-1990s but continued until the local football body was left bankrupt by former special advisor Jack Warner’s hasty and inglorious exit from the game with millions unaccounted.
Former graduates of the National Under-12 to Under-15 Teams include Trinidad and Tobago’s 2006 World Cup captain and former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke, former Porto midfielder and national icon Russell Latapy, one-time England Premier League’s most expensive goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, national record goal scorer and ex-England Premier League striker Stern John, World Cup 2006 goalkeeper Kelvin Jack, former Hibernian midfielder Lyndon Andrews, and, more recently, 2007 and 2009 World Youth Cup players like Sheldon Bateau, Daneil Cyrus, Aubrey David, Leston Paul and Kevin Molino.
Yorke won his first international cap at just eight years old. Hislop at 10.
CONCACAF also runs an Under-15 Championship, which started in 2013—a full eight years after the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) began its own Youth Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago might now be playing catch up in a youth development drive initiated here over two decades ago. However, the scale of John-Williams’ plan is certainly ambitious.
He suggested, at the Hilton, that the TTFA would continue to seek out sponsorship deals to boost its other teams and programmes.
Thus far, it is uncertain whether any NLCB money will go towards the TTFA’s current National Under-15, Under-17 and Under-20 squads of both sexes, which are still run by unpaid coaches, rarely has live-in camps let alone play international practice matches and often has issues with parents who cannot afford passage for their children to attend regular training sessions.
John-Williams also did not spell out what the the Under-13 and Under-14 Team players would meet in the older age groups once they graduate. Or whether the programme would work alongside the September-November Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) competitions or against it.
Either way, it is likely to be to a well received boon for youth development from the local football body.
John-Williams waxed lyrical.
“The TTFA will continue in its quest to improve the game locally,” said the TTFA president. “It is our intent in the not too distant future to lend some level of financial support to club football both at the Pro League and Super League levels in the first instance. When this TTFA administration promises it delivers.
“So keep looking and stay wired to the TTFA for the delivery of good news in football. If you want to call, the number is 868-For-TTFA!”