Leighton Thomas Jr. has always been an exceptional football talent, and that was confirmed when he top scored in the inaugural Under-15 CONCACAF tournament here last year.
Thomas’s 11 goals for Cayman at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex were no fluke either as his form did not dip under the weight of scrutiny and tighter marking this season in youth and adult leagues.
Like the average sporting teenager, Thomas harbors ambitions of making a career in the game and enjoying all the trappings along the way.
His ambitions are not misguided because the 15-year-old utility player for Future Sports Club in West Bay is in his second week of another trial with English Championship side Ipswich Town.
Thomas had a tryout at Ipswich a year ago, on a trip with Virgil Seymour, technical director at Academy Sports Club, who took several players there.
The fact that Ipswich recalled Thomas speaks volumes for his ability, and even if not successful this time, it is a huge confidence booster. Ipswich is paying all his expenses except his flight.
“When a club as big as Ipswich tells a player to come back for a tryout, they must have seen something in him they liked,” said Roy “Huta” Ebanks, technical director at Future Sports Club.
Huta has a reputation for instilling excellent qualities in his youngsters, which is why he has a high success rate. His philosophy is not to just produce fine players, but also exemplary citizens who show respect, discipline and a good work ethic in everyday life as well as on the pitch.
Celebrated players such as Mark Ebanks, Dion Brandon and Paul Brown are prime examples. Unfortunately for Huta, players tend to gravitate to bigger clubs in search of winning trophies. Nevertheless, the structure at Future is fully respected and Huta continues to nurture gems like Thomas.
He usually plays at centre-back or midfield for Future but was used as a striker in the CONCACAF tournament.
Thomas is top scorer in Cayman’s youth leagues and does not look out of place in First Division’s adult games.
Ryan Jackson is another Future player who shone in the CONCACAF tournament. He has just completed a tryout at a pro club in Holland and, like a raft of Caymanians in England and the U.S., hopes to get the nod to finish his education in an academy or on a scholarship and possibly make a living in the pros.
Jackson and Academy’s Devonte Morejon got tryouts with Willem II Tilburg and Belgium-based Sint Truiden.
It was organized by Dutch Soccer School coach and scout Roy Wilhelm, who has a network of invaluable contacts in European pro leagues.
With Renard Moxam becoming director of National Teams last week, there is a new wave of optimism that Cayman will soon be doing much better in international games. With the emphasis by the Cayman Islands Football Association on raising the level of national youth programs for both girls and boys, Thomas’s generation will have many more opportunities.
Arden “Cheeky” Rivers is technical director of the U-17 boys who guided Thomas at the CONCACAF tournament.
Bruce Blake, first vice-president of the CIFA, said, “I wish Leighton all the best in his tryout at Ipswich. He has really worked well, and from all reports from his coaches seems to have the right attitude and work ethic.
“I must congratulate Huta and Arden for assisting Leighton with his progress.”
Huta has no doubt Thomas can succeed in the more physically demanding setup of English football. “Leighton has the physicality and muscular build for the English game,” he said. “He is the kind of player who does not give up. A warrior who plays the game directly and is always looking to score.”
Huta feels the youngster needs to work on his first touch more and positional play. If Thomas is accepted into Ipswich’s academy – or any other academy in the U.K. – Huta believes he can adapt to cultural differences and club demands. Simple things like waking up early enough to get to training on time, showering with the team and not when a player gets home, coping with the wet and cold weather and the different food will be some of the adjustments Thomas has to make, which Caymanians given the chance previously have not always been able to comply with.
“Another thing is that the competition there is far fiercer than here,” Huta said. “Competition for the few places is an everyday thing in Europe, but it is really hard to simulate that environment here because we have such a small pool.”