West Bay football star Joseph Tatum, 17, embarked on an odyssey this week that will take him around Europe in a quest to improve his goalkeeping skills and possibly catch the eye of a pro scout. Tatum will be accompanied by his longtime coach, Winston Chung. The two will spend 10 days in Belgium working with Brugges’ goalkeeper coach. Then they will travel to Manchester, England where Tatum will attend the Bobby Charlton camp. After that, Tatum will spend time working with Liverpool’s youth academy.
‘This is the hardest working player I have ever coached,’ said Chung, current coach of Cayman’s Academy FC and former national coach for both the Cayman Islands and Jamaica. ‘I remember one time in particular; it was pouring rain extremely hard and he insisted that he get in his workout anyway. He’s only 17 and I think he has a great future.’
That ‘great future’ is not limited to dreams of football greatness, says Chung. Tatum currently attends St. George Prep School in Rhode Island and, according to Chung, understands that attention to academics builds a strong foundation for success in life.
‘I’m very excited about this trip,’ said Tatum. ‘Hopefully I’ll have the chance to join a professional club. I also want to gain experience and improve so that I can comeback and be a better player for my country and my club.’
Tatum is already a quality keeper, says Chung. A national team member since he was 15 years old, Tatum says he fully understands the secret of his success.
‘I dedicated myself years ago to working hard all the time,’ he said. ‘I’ve gotten tougher over the years. I constantly tell myself that I can do whatever I have to do.’
It wasn’t always like this. Chung recalls a skinny little West Bay boy that wanted to play football but just didn’t seem to have the right stuff.
‘I wasn’t sure I could find a place on the field for him,’ admits Chung. ‘He just didn’t seem to have it. I told his mother that he might do better trying to play basketball. But he really wanted to play so I didn’t want to just run him away. Then I tried him at goalkeeper and right away he showed promise.’
Chung says Tatum was able to competently judge the angles of incoming balls far sooner than his experience would seem to have allowed.
‘Goalkeeping is a game of angles and Joseph can do the geometry in his head,’ said Chung. ‘He is very good at reading the game, at tracking the flow of the ball.’
Perhaps what impressed the coach most all, however, was Tatum’s willingness to listen and dedicate himself to training. His work ethic is ‘second to none,’ says Chung.
The coach’s hesitance to outright reject Tatum when he seemed to lack talent obviously paid off. The little boy who didn’t quite fit in on the field is now a 6-foot 4-inch flyswatter that routinely inflicts long frustrating afternoons on strikers. As a hot prospect with significant potential, Tatum is grateful that Chung let him stay around long enough to prove he had the goods.
‘If not for Coach Chung, I would not be where I am today,’ said Tatum. ‘He’s one of the few people who stood behind me all the way. I’ll always be grateful to him.’
While Tatum chases dreams of football glory, Chung undoubtedly will carry on doing what he does best: nudging young men onto that steep and narrow path that leads somewhere wonderful, to that place where work brings rewards and sacrifice equals gain. Currently ten young Caymanian men are overseas attending quality schools, playing football on green fields, learning in classrooms and growing up in between, all courtesy in large part to the pushing, prodding and faith placed in them by Winston Chung.
True to form, the coach is not only thinking of Joseph Tatum, his latest success story, but also of the next one or two boys he can offer direction to. ‘My hope,’ added Chung, ‘is that Joseph will be the catalyst for a new dawn in the Cayman Islands.’