Every aspiring footballer in Cayman hopes to get a chance to show his skills on a bigger stage and Courtney Duval has done just that.
The 16-year-old central midfielder has done just that having been accepted to English Conference side Rushden & Diamonds after a brief trial.
‘I went out on July 20 for a try out and did pretty well,’ said Duval who plays for Future Sporting Club in West Bay. ‘I’m very happy.’
His mum Idania Ebanks is thrilled. ‘We’ll be leaving on August 26 and pre-season starts the next day. I’ll perhaps stay with him for a week. Term starts on September 1. He’s going to stay in the dorm with all the other footballers.
‘I’m confident that Courtney will do well. This has always been his dream, to attend an academy in England. He’s been working towards this since he was eight years old. I’m 95 per cent certain he will make it.’
Rushden & Diamonds is a progressive club with its acclaimed Footballcv Academy, respected by the likes of Dave Hobson, a scout for Manchester United, who said: ‘The Footballcv Academy is a great idea, using fantastic facilities, highly qualified staff and recognised sports college. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’
It is also endorsed by the likes of Scottish legend Kenny Dalglish who said: ‘This is a very good initiative.’
Rushden is based in Northamptonshire, about 100 miles north of London. The club was in the Football League for five years from 2001 and past players include former Jamaican internationals Onandi Lowe and Paul Hall.
Duval will intersperse his football training for the next two years with his education, aiming for two ‘A’ levels.
Sounds fantastic, but the only drawback is that somehow, Idania has to find the equivalent of CI$12,000 a term to pay for Courtney’s stay in the academy.
‘Hopefully, some nice folks around Cayman will come forward and see the opportunity of developing a young kid,’ she said. ‘And also he’s setting a path for his peers.’
She is an assistant manager at Cayman National Bank.
Future coach Roy Huta Ebanks is bursting with pride. ‘This just goes to prove that when young players in the Cayman Islands set their hearts on something and want to achieve a level of professionalism and with the right support network around them, it can happen,’ he said.
‘Courtney went out there to try out and there were 50 other kids there who were from other professional academies and there were only 15 selected.
‘Coming from the Cayman Islands and an amateur system, it really speaks volumes for our programme at Future.
‘We can go back and talk about Dion Brandon. He was given a contract by Luton Town after a one day trial also. So you can see that Future’s programme is geared towards developing players in this sense.
Huta believes that Duval’s work ethic and dedication are the main factors in his acceptance at Football cv. ‘A lot of kids desire it but their work input is a completely different thing. To me, he is an exception to that.’
Huta also tries to give his charges as much international experience as possible from day one. He has a policy of sending them abroad to professional camps.
‘That’s so that they can get the knowledge to be in a professional environment. These kids are staying by themselves in dorms from nine and ten years old. We used to take them to camps and leave them on the college campus. They have to wake each other up in the mornings, get up and go train at six. We are staying in a hotel, the coaches and parents.
‘You can see that now Courtney is 16 it’s not going to be so difficult for him to make the transition.’
Sponsorship is an area coach and mother are exploring. They are positive about getting backing because Courtney is unique.
Huta added: ‘In my memory, I think this is the first time that a kid has really made it in Cayman.
‘Since football has been played here, no player at any level has done this. We’ve had plenty of players who have tried out in England but they just didn’t make it.’
Huta hopes to go with him to help settle in. In the meantime Huta is going to research on the success of Rushden & Diamonds on the development of their academy boys into the first team and also selling players on to bigger clubs.
Strictly speaking, Rushden & Diamonds are not a professional club. They play in the Conference League so they’re not one of the top 92 clubs in England – at the moment because they have been in the past.
Duval is not phased. ‘I don’t feel any way because their club is managed professional. I think they’re the most professional club in their league.’
Huta thinks that Duval’s chances are enhanced by not going to too big a club where the competition would be higher and chances or rejection more probable.
‘In the past that’s what’s happened. The clubs took two looks at Cayman boys and said no. I think their physical attributes were there but psychologically they were not ready.
‘Even if Courtney does not make it, the experience along by being in England bodes well for him because he will still be very young. He can go on to college. This will give him a more solid foundation to become a professional.’
Duval is not daunted by the notoriously cold conditions of the English winters. ‘I was there in March last year. It wasn’t that cold but cold enough. It doesn’t scare me.’ In fact, he probably relishes it.