Even as Trinidad and Tobago prepare to grab a late ticket for the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup and start preparations in earnest for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, technical committee chairman Keith Look Loy is set to unveil an even more ambitious proposal to the Board of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA).
Enter Project 2026: a plan designed to ensure that the local football body is not bogged down by short-term thinking at the expense of its future.
At present, Trinidad and Tobago are ranked 104th in the world by Fifa and 11th in Concacaf. The top nations in the confederation are, in order: Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador, Canada, Curaçao, Panama and Haiti.
The 2026 World Cup will be co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada, and will be Fifa’s first tournament with 48 teams. Concacaf are expected to have six qualifying spots inclusive of the three host nations.
Through Project 2026, Look Loy hopes to see the Soca Warriors hurdle five of those nations in as many years. The proposal, which goes before the Board on Wednesday, includes several signposts along the way that can help gauge the success of the project, such as the 2022 CAC Games, the 2023 Pan American Games and the 2024 Olympic Games.
Wired868: Can you explain Project 2026 for our readers?
Look Loy: The aim is to prepare the World Cup team for 2026—it is self explanatory. We want to prepare a core group of players who will be approaching their prime by the time that the 2026 tournament comes around. So we are looking primarily at boys who were born on 1 January 1999 and after, which is essentially the last National Under-20 Team and the [Under-20] team that coach Derek King will now form. These boys will be between 25 to 27 years old—which we consider to be their prime years as players—by the 2026 World Cup.
Wired868: Is there a particular relevance to 2026?
Look Loy: The 2026 World Cup is to be played in North America: Canada, USA, Mexico—that is a tournament we have to participate in, so we should spare no pains to prepare a team for then. Starting now! This is going to be the first 48 team World Cup, so Concacaf will have more places and we absolutely have to be among them.
Wired868: Is this a case of filling a gap for these youth players who are not quite ready to hold down places on the National Senior Team?
Look Loy: Well, the last Under-20 Team and the Olympic generation was abandoned by [former TTFA president David] John-Williams when [his emergency committee] decided not to participate in the 2022 Olympics. So that is a gap in the education of the players and we ned to fill that gap.
Second, [former head coach Dennis] Lawrence had one of the oldest teams in Concacaf […] and we have to start thinking about the future.
We can expect [new Men’s National Senior Team head coach Terry] Fenwick will be calling his top players for the Fifa match window, so we propose that these boys will form what is essentially a National Senior ‘B’ team—although I don’t like the term ‘B team’—and they will also train under Fenwick but play outside of the Fifa window.
Maybe they will play Caribbean national teams or an English or MLS club, thereby affording them international football at a particular level outside of the National Senior Team. As they go on, we can get them tougher opposition. We will be building the culture and unity of a group that will be together for the next six years.
That is not the say that a boy [in this team] might not be part of the 2022 campaign but that is where we want to focus the talents of this group of players. We need to be giving our Under-23 players experience over the years against senior teams we think they can handle or that can stretch them, to build the next wave of Trinidad and Tobago attacks on the FIFA World Cup.
Wired868: What will it cost to create this team? And how many games per year does the technical committee believe they should have?
Look Loy: We do not have a budget yet. What I am hoping is the Board agrees on this idea in principle; and then we can see about finding the players, the finances, etc. Remember, this team will be under the control of the National Senior Team head coach.
The mantra within the national teams is ‘linkages’ and this system creates a better framework so that a guy can slide up easily from the youth team to the senior team; and that’s the point. The [technical] committee agrees with the idea and loves the idea and I am going to take it to the Board.
Wired868: We checked and exactly a third of the members of Trinidad and Tobago’s 1991, 2001, 2007 and 2009 World Youth Cup players went to win move than 10 National Senior Team caps. The figure drops to as low as 10 percent for youth teams that were not as successful. Is it that you are not satisfied with the number players who progress to the Senior Team?
(Six from 18 players at the 1991, 2001 World Cups and 10 from 30 players from the pool of 2007 and 2009 tournaments made the step up. From the 2012 and 2014 Under-20 teams, only two players from each—Alvin Jones and Jomal Williams (2012) and Levi Garcia and Neveal Hackshaw (2014)—got over 10 senior caps, although those players are now aged between 23 and 26.)
Look Loy: In any country that pathway from junior to senior level is a slippery one and a lot of players fall to the wayside. I think one of the reasons for that in the case of Trinidad and Tobago is that intermediate step from Under-20 to Senior level has never been consistently provided for our players. The abandonment of the Under-23 team is a perfect example of that[…] So bridging that gap is precisely the aim of this project. We aim to marshall a group of 30 or 40 players or whatever is deemed appropriate and to blood them over the next few years. We are giving them a ladder or a springboard—whichever analogy you prefer.
I think that all concerned in the new TTFA are enamoured by the idea. The challenge, of course, is to finance it. Once we agree to go that way, we have to find the money for it.
Editor’s Note: The TTFA’s Board meeting for the selection of national coaches for the men’s and women’s teams has been shifted—for the second time—to Wednesday evening.