Barbados’ failure to survive Group F of the 2019 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football Under-17 Championship played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, still had its positives, says coach Renaldo ‘PeeWee’ Gilkes.
The young Bajan Tridents finished bottom of the table in fourth position from three matches. They came from behind to draw the opening game 1-1 against Guatemala. They then lost the other two to Group F winners United States of America and Canada who were the top two teams in that zone.
Gilkes, a former national Under-21 captain, said among the positives was that Barbadian players were now under the radar of overseas college coaches. The level of character and tactical ability shown by the Barbadian players was also commendable, Gilkes attested.
“The results weren’t favourable for us; we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do. However, being an optimist, I always try to find the positive and one of the positives for us especially in the first game was our resilience and our character, equalizing late to get the point from Guatemala. The second game was a real test for us where we played the host, and it was a real lesson in the sense of preparation and tactical preparation,” Gilkes said.
Despite being optimistic about the positives, Gilkes also expressed that in order for Barbados to bridge the gap and stand any real chance of matching countries such as the USA, Canada and Mexico in the centre field, local players needed a lot more exposure.
Compared to the USA and Canada with players competing in the Major Soccer League tournaments, Barbados have only two of its national Under-17 players, Thierry Gale and Ashem Jean-Pierre, based overseas in Europe.
Gilkes comments came against the backdrop of four Barbadian players, senior national captain Rashad Jules, Akeel Applewhaite, Jomo Harris and Shane Codrington all landing two-year contracts with Kemi City in Finland a couple weeks ago.
“The level of competition USA and Canada face, the calibre of infrastructure they are placed in, makes it greater, they have a significant advantage. For example, USA’s preparation ahead of this tournament internationally were against Portugal, Brazil and Turkey. So, they had the best preparation you could look forward to playing in the CONCACAF tournament because they are playing against top teams. Canada had a three-week camp in Mexico, and if they didn’t play against the Mexico national team, they would have probably had some of the better games against the club teams.
“For us to get more players out there urgently, I think we need to get into more international tournaments. One of the big initiatives that the football association has taken is broadcasting live Premier League football on Sundays. If we could get more of our bright young players featured in the premiership, I think we could get more players into Europe. But I think at this present time having players like Thierry, Ashem Jean-Pierre out there, as long as they perform, they recognize they are ambassadors. But I think we need to expose the boys more at that young age like I said fourteen, fifteen,” Gilkes said.
Realistically, however, in these difficult economic time, finance is a factor and Gilkes said even though the local football association played its part, he believed the clubs with assistance from businesses could do their best too to give their players some level of exposure.
But as it relates to the strategic plan going forward for the Under-17 squad which is being used as a pilot project towards the 2026 FIFA World Cup, Gilkes explained that was a question only the technical director Ahmed Mohammed could answer “because all national teams fall under his purview.”
“Some clubs are well supported by businesspeople, they may not show their face as often, but we have had players like Elijah Downey who has just been to trial in Denmark, that did not have anything to do with the BFA. Then we had another player out that did not get any help from the BFA, so it is about soliciting the right help and support.
“That is something the technical director will have to answer because I did ask at the end of last year what was the strategic plan for this group going forward. The reality, 2026 is a far stretch. This under-17 World Cup campaign is a stepping stone towards where we hope to be within six to seven years. So, basically, they have to be some strategic plan in play, I don’t know what it is, so that is something like I said the technical director would have to answer because all teams fall under him,” Gilkes said.
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