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Sport in Trinidad and Tobago is certainly pushing everything in the background these days. When it is not Soccer, its Netball, or youth Cricket, Track and Field, Basketball, and  swimming.

Our failure to win a medal in the World championships should have been disturbing, especially as much had been reported about Brown in the hurdles and De Silva in the 400 metres. But, Ato Boldon's absence was used as the main reason for returning home empty handed.

The incident which caused the officials of the National youth Cricket team to be sent home from Guyana, is annoying, to say the least, and should not be allowed to go unnoticed. However, the approval of the funds for the erection of four Soccer stadiums has not come a day too early. With just twenty months to go before the World U17 finals in T&T, the race with time will be on for the completion of these venues.

In a country where a stoppage of work can occur for the most frivilous reason, one can assume
that more time is needed. But our country's committment to FIFA should be taken even more seriously than we took the Miss Universe pageant and the venues should be high priority. I happened to be present at the launching of the team preparation of our U-17 team programme, and our
independence day will be the launchpad for international friendlies.

It is appropiate that our rival neighbours Jamaica will be our first opponent, after which the team will travel to Belem, Brasil for a four team tournament. I suppose that all eyes will be on this team,
especially as loads of money have been spent on the employment of a foreign coach.

Having watched the youngsters on TV against a local opponent, it seemed too early to comment on their performance in terms of comparison with previous teams in that age group. We are all aware of
the atrocious performances of previous teams in Concacaf competitions and are anxious for some level of improvement with this one.

Having worked with teenagers in many countries across the Caribbean and North America, there appears a significent difference physically and mentally, and a clear fact is that the Caribbean soccer players, although they may be more naturally talented, do not cope physically with their North
American neighbours.

The Yanks and Canadians are more physically developed at an earlier age, while the Central Americans seem to benefit immensely from the presence of professional soccer in their countries.

Hopefully, the new PFL will bring that sort of urgency to our youth in the future. With all the qualified personnel in place for this young squad, one would have to assume that much of the gap will close and the areas of physical strength, tactical awareness, and most of all nutrition, will no longer be weak departments.

Judging from reports, over two thousand youngsters were screened over the past two years, and
forty five were eventually chosen to continue training under the watchful eyes of the Nigerian Coach. I suppose that the quick elimination of the vast numbers is to allow more working time for the
technical staff, but the late developers should not be ignored.

Teenagers often tend to mature in varying stages of their lives and it is quite possible that a talented fourteen year old can be a moderate sixteen year old, while the opposite can be the case with some others.

Maybe the North American approach to having youth teams travel as clubs to take part in tournaments all over the world is the way to go. There are top tournaments in Europe, The USA, Canada, and South America.

The more exposure these youngsters obtain through these tournaments, the better understanding and appreciation they will develop, and quicker as well.  Maybe the time is now ripe for the Caribbean, specifically Trinidad and Tobago or Jamaica, to start hosting an International Club tournament every year, whereby teams like AC Milan, Sao Paulo, West Ham, Tottenham, Real Madrid, River Plate, Boca Juniors, will send their youth teams to participate.

This will expose our own youth to super players and a very professional approach to the game. It will also bring with it many of the world's top soccer scouts who have a keen vision on spotting the extraordinary talent in any player. One will admit that our soccer is heading in a more purposeful direction, but there is still much more to be done.

I expect that this U-17 group will spend some two months in South America, or more specifically, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, and any other city where they can get games at sea level. Surely, they may lose a few, but that is the price the team must pay to gain valuable experience and eventually, the losses may turn from being very heavy, into drawn matches and later victories.  Now that we have experienced the demerits of not having prepared our senior teams well in the past, its correction time and with the funds being available, this country could well be on the way for a big boost forward.

At the same time, our senior squad will begin its quest for a berth in the finals in Japan/Korea. Some internationals are lined up. Unfortunately, the first was cancelled, but Columbia in Miami, is a great opponent to begin the programme, and followed by Jamaica away from home. The fans may see this
as yet another battle for Caribbean supremacy, but the technocrats behind the teams will play down the result and relate the performance of their teams to the future. Trinidad and Tobago now have the players to do better than they have ever done, providing the stars are available.

However, pulling the resources together will be the solution to the Jig Saw puzzle. Not only is it the pros in MLS and Europe, but the University students, and players residing abroad, who are still very
good players. The year 2000 will be one hell of a year for soccer in Trinidad and with some dedication and planning, the sky could be the limit for the calypso islands. Progress could be wonderful this time around.