“[…] Years ago, there were three rounds [in the Pro League] plus a cup and a Reserve League. Now it is two rounds with eight or nine teams and no cup, with no Reserve League.
“[…] The younger players are not getting to play enough football anymore. Judah Garcia played school football, he didn’t play much Pro League. He can compete but he needs to play more games. That is what we need to compete outside [at international level]…”
In April 2021, Keron ‘Ball Pest’ Cummings nascent career as a National Futsal Team player came to an abrupt halt, as a routine medical check-up before the team’s departure for the Concacaf Futsal Championship discovered that the gifted 33-year-old midfielder had an irregular heartbeat.
Cummings, who has 16 Men’s National Senior Team caps with three goals (all scored in two matches against Mexico), vowed to bounce back. And, on Friday 6 August, he phoned Wired868 to give an update on his health as well as the state of Trinidad and Tobago’s domestic game.
Wired868: So what’s the update on your health?
Keron Cummings: I got the clearance to go back to play. It happened on Thursday [5 August]. I went to Dr Ronan Ali with [TTFA team doctor] Akash Dhanai and we went over the ECG, heart scan, echo test, stress test, and everything.
They said my heart is enlarged but it’s normal for athletes. He said he just wanted to make sure that after the stress test, the heart was still functioning normal under pressure. So now I am cleared to train and play the same way as before.
Wired868: So what happens next?
Cummings: I’m looking forward to start back training. There is no football going on now because of the Covid [restrictions] but I will do a gym programme to get ready. My gym instructor friend, Jean Pierre, will do up a schedule for me. I’m looking forward to start back training with my club when the football opens up.
I want to thank [TTFA acting general secretary] Amiel [Mohammed], [normalisation committee chairman Robert] Hadad and the doctor (Dhanai) for helping me through this. They made sure it happened and I can’t forget them.
Also I want to thank [Rangers managing director] Mr [Richard] Ferguson who always checked up on me. I want to thank all of them.
Wired868: So what is your goal now?
Cummings: Playing for Rangers. I want to win some trophies for them and continue to be a leader at the club. And I want to try to get on the national team. I feel I still have plenty to do in terms of international football. I want to continue my career, winning trophies for my club and serving my country.
Wired868: You saw Trinidad and Tobago at the Gold Cup. How do you think we did and what can you contribute?
Cummings: It was a huge improvement from the [recent] past. I feel we competed plenty better. We defended together and it is a long time I have seen the Trinidad and Tobago team play with people smiling and being happy. We know we didn’t get much time to prepare the team but the guys fight and give their best—although I would have liked to see them go further.
It was an improvement just to see the players smiling and working together. We were missing that in the past.
I could bring leadership and I would add to the belief [in the team]. Remember I got the opportunity to play at that level before. I will add creativity and leadership and confidence when we are in attack. That’s my strength, and with younger players now mostly in their early 20s you could do with more depth now.
I think there are still guys like [Rangers teammates] Ataulla Guerra and Tyrone Charles who can compete [for a national team pick].
The players we have right now are just getting their opportunity and they are trying, but it is clear that we need more goals. It is not that they are playing bad but they are now getting the opportunity. I can bring more experience.
If you check, I have played for almost every club in Trinidad except Police and Army; and that was when the Pro League was more competitive.
Wired868: You have been a Pro League player for over a decade, what caused the drop in the standard of the competition?
Cummings: It’s the way the League is run. One minute it is playing, next minute there is no league. It is unfair to the players. When players are supposed to be learning the game, they are not even playing.
Years ago, there were three rounds [in the Pro League] plus a cup and a Reserve League. Now it is two rounds with eight or nine teams and no cup, with no Reserve League.
I think the Reserve League was important because it caused more depth. Young players got to play there and were eager to use that to get into the first team. That means there were more players to pick from. [Not having that] is suffering the football because players need to play throughout [the season].
Wired868: So you think that’s the main reason why the quality of the Pro League has dropped?
Cummings: We still have quality but the level of football you want needs players who are in form and confident. We have quality in all the divisions. In the last Ascension league, there were plenty new players and it was competitive.
Wired868: But what about the blow-out scores in that Ascension tournament? It seemed that about three teams were miles better than everyone else…
Cummings: If you check, you will see that the three or four good teams didn’t have players from now—they had a lot of players who were playing in the League from eight or ten years ago. It is not that the rest of teams were poor, but the Pro League teams like Club Sando and Point Fortin were using players who were 19 or 20 years old. So we were beating them in the last 15 or 20 minutes of the game.
The younger players are not getting to play enough football anymore. Judah Garcia played school football, he didn’t play much Pro League. He can compete but he needs to play more games. That is what we need to compete outside [at international level].
[…] There are some good coaches in the Pro League but the professionalism isn’t anywhere close to the right standard. Because most clubs are not able to really take care of players and people are just playing football.
Wired868: What is life like as a Pro League player?
Cummings: For me, I served my community from since I was as a child, so people respect me in all the communities that I played. In terms of salaries, there are plenty clubs that are struggling—but right now I am in a club where everything is professional and you don’t have to study that part. It is just come, work hard, and play football.
Unfortunately some clubs don’t have that, so the players won’t have the same focus.
Wired868: What have the last few months been like for you?
Cummings: When something almost gets taken away, you realise how important it is to you. When I went to see the doctor last week, that was one of the scariest times of my life. He could have simply said: ‘Cummings, you cannot play football again’ and all of my dreams would have had to change.
Watching the Gold Cup and seeing the national team play against Mexico and other teams I did well against, made me get more hungry. Coming back out to training now is a more focused, hungry Cummings. So, tell everyone to look out for a more hungry Cummings!
I hope things can change for everybody with the Covid situation and football can be up and running. And I want to thank Mr Ferguson, the doctor, Wired868, and everyone who was there for me!