Presentation College (San Fernando) and QPCC head coach Shawn Cooper looks poised to return as Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team head coach, as the local football body aims to rejoin the international youth arena in February 2023.
The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), run by a Fifa-appointed normalisation committee, had generally dismal returns in youth football this year. Men’s National Senior Team head coach Angus Eve steered the National Under-20 outfit to the Concacaf Championship Round of 16 in June—but that was the highpoint for the TTFA’s youth set up.
Jason Spence led the Women’s National Under-17 and Under-20 Teams into battle and lost all six games with a combined three goals scored and 34 conceded.
And the Boys National Under-14 and Girls National Under-15 Teams never got out the games, as the Robert Hadad-led normalisation committee failed to find the required funding for their participation at Caribbean Football Union (CFU) or Concacaf level respectively.
Trinidad and Tobago football fans will hope to have better luck in 2023, as the junior Soca Warriors are automatic qualifiers to the group stage of the Concacaf Under-17 Championship in Guatemala.
Outgoing technical director Anton Corneal would neither confirm nor deny Cooper’s role with the youth team. However, according to an insider, the “Pres Lions” coach is “earmarked” for the position.
Cooper led Trinidad and Tobago to the quarterfinals of the 2013 Concacaf Championship and within 90 minutes of the UAE 2013 Fifa World Cup. However, despite scoring first, T&T lost 4-2 to a Panama team that went on to finish as tournament runners-up.
Two years later, Cooper again successfully steered Trinidad and Tobago through the Caribbean qualifying stages although they finished bottom of a six team group that included Cuba, Guatemala and Jamaica.
In 2017, Trinidad and Tobago, under Russell Latapy, failed to qualify for the Concacaf tournament at all—despite playing their qualifying matches at home. While, in 2019, the young Warriors again got to the Concacaf Round of 16 under coach Stern John, who is now St Lucia Men’s National Senior Team head coach.
Cooper should have returned to the helm in 2020 when the Keith Look Loy-headed technical committee proposed him as National Under-17 Team head coach, only for the Board to hire Keith Jeffrey instead.
At present, the TTFA has no technical committee at all and coaching appointments appear to be made after talks between Corneal and the normalisation committee.
Although Corneal would not be drawn on the identity of the new under-17 head coach, he did explain why players will start screening for the national youth team this weekend—at the height of preparations for the 2022 Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) season.
Coaches interested in national jobs are now required to successfully complete a Fifa Safeguarding course and have a certificate of good character from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS).
“We are now putting those processes in place and hopefully those things will remain in place,” Corneal told Wired868. “It is really to safeguard against some of the issues that have been around youth sport in general all over the word—not just football. We have to do due diligence to make sure we did our part.
“Would it eliminate it? Probably not. But […] I think this is important. There are predators and we do not know who they are, so we have to do what we can to eliminate that problem or make the possibilities [for them to strike] very difficult.
“I am hoping the Secondary Schools Football League and Primary Schools Football League do the same.”
Players born 1 January 2006 and 31 December 2008 are eligible to try out for the national youth team.
Screening will be conducted at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva (from 2pm – 6pm on Tuesday 30 August), the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium Training Field, Marabella (from 8am to noon on Saturday 3 September) and at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar (from 8am to noon on Sunday 4 September).
Screening for Tobago, according to the TTFA Media, will “be held at dates in September to be determined and details will be circulated in due course”.
Players are asked to attend venues closest to their home address or within their zone and to attend screening with a form of ID, one red jersey and one white jersey, black shorts, and a pair of red socks and a pair of white socks.
The Concacaf Under-17 Championship will run from 11-16 February in Guatemala City and Antigua, Guatemala. The tournament’s four semi-finalists advance automatically to the 2023 Fifa tournament in Peru.
“We are going to screen now because of the funny time the tournament is being held, as there isn’t much preparation time after the SSFL season,” said Corneal. “So we are forced to screen immediately while we will still look at players during the high school season for players that we might have missed.”
Corneal said the National Under-17 Team technical staff will also hold separate screening sessions for players from the previous Boys National Under-15 Team that stopped training when the pandemic hit.
“At the end of the day you want your best players,” said Corneal. “There is an existing group that will be screened too in the first set of sessions, so [their selection] is not automatic—and it cannot be automatic because too much could have happened in the last two years.”
Corneal leaves his TTFA post on 31 August but hopes to remain involved in the local game as part of his new portfolio as Fifa regional technical consultant. He is keen to see the current boys and girls teams continue training, despite missing out on competitive action this month.
“The current Boys Under-14 Team will have their qualifying tournament as under-17 players in just over a year and a half,” he said, “and the Under-15 Girls will start their [under-17] qualifiers late next year (if they don’t qualify for the Concacaf tournament automatically, based on international ranking).
“So our high performance teams should have a little more preparation time than normal in terms of training, although not as much exposure as we would like.”
Wired868 has provided readers with solid, independent journalism since 2012. If you appreciate our work, please contribute to our efforts.
Support Independent Journalism