Former national footballers Shaka Hislop and Kelvin Jack are today applauding Government’s decision to invest $32.6 million towards the development of grassroot football in T&T.

The athletes who represented this country at the Fifa World Cup Germany in 2006, said once this initiative was sustained, this country would never be in short supply of proven talent from which to draw.

They believed this move would always ensure that the standard of football to be witnessed at varying levels was delivered with the approval of the national community and admired the world over.

Finance Minister Larry Howai, during his 2014/2015 budget presentation, said the state made significant progress in establishing and enabling framework, comprising infrastructure, management and coaching, talent building, welfare of elite athletes and sport tourism.

“We are building on the existing infrastructure: the technical framework to support the development of football throughout the country has been put in place at an annual cost of $36.2 million; the five multi-purpose stadia have been or are now being upgraded; and community sporting groups and national governing bodies are continuing to receive financial assistance,” the minister said.

Jack commended the state for taking the initiative, but believed such a programme needed ten times that amount.

“But if that is what they can allocate right now, so be it. But without a doubt they would need more money than that. That’s only 3.2 million pounds. It’s a lot of money, but it isn’t a lot of money if you know what I am saying; if you want to go the way of development.

He added, “They needed to have the right people running it. That’s the crucial issue here. The right people must be running these programmes; people who understand football; people who (are) qualified in coaching football; people who are good at imparting knowledge. It’s brilliant that the money is there to do it, but they need to put the right people in place to run this programme or else it’s not going to be successful.”

Asked if he believed the time had come for the former Soca Warriors to get involved in the sustained development of T&T football, Jack responded affirmatively.

Depending on which of them would be interested in getting involved, he said, T&T had a lot of knowledge to gain from this type of engagement.

Should these calibre of players be approached and accede to the request, said Jack, local football would surely progress.

“The problem is that TTFA is not interested in tapping into that knowledge. You have all these players here—the only players that have ever gone to a World Cup final—and you haven’t used it (their knowledge). They (TTFA) went on a trip the other day overloaded with staff. Sheldon Phillips brought his dad (Lincoln Phillips) on board as goal keeping coach.

“No disrespect to Lincoln Phillips who had a great playing career and good coaching career, but it is time for the younger brigade to get involved. So far, they have been unwilling to utilise these players who were part of the most successful team of T&T’s history,” Jack said.

Hislop, an ESPN football commentator and newly appointed Fifa influential International Football Association Board (IFAB) board member said, too often, local football and the financing of it is focused on the top tier of our game, in particular, the national team.

“I have been critical in the past. For years, when World Cup comes about there’s a lot of shouting and screaming and howling about the national team. How much money the Government, the corporate sector or whoever it maybe is putting behind the national team to qualify for the next World Cup. I have been very critical of that approach. As a fan, I am equally animated every four years when it comes around. But in all honesty, I have always felt that for us to consistently threaten to qualify for the World Cup, we have to take a long term view or our game and the development of it,” he said.

Hislop added, “Our planning for World Cup 2018 should have started a decade ago. I think the development and this announcement buys into that thinking.

“We have to start developing. We have to start preparing our young athletes at the earliest possible level, because I feel it’s such a steep learning curve and we are already at a disadvantage to most nations simply because of our country’s size and the player pool that a population of 1.5 million can afford. We have to do other things and I think this is a significant step in that direction,” he said.