The Cayman International youth football tournament over the weekend lived up to expectations and reinforced this island’s growing reputation as an ideal place to stage big sporting events – especially the beautiful game.
Swindon Town Academy sent their Under-15 team over again from the U.K. and the Jamaica national U-15s were here to compete with the Cayman U-15 national side and Future Sports Club’s select team.
Three nights of scintillating matches, all played at the TE McField Annex and ended with Swindon beating the Jamaicans 3-0 to win the tournament again on Saturday night.
Swindon are regular visitors here, stemming from the relationship that began four years ago when talented Caymanian Sebastian Martinez first joined their academy, aged 12.
The skilful forward recently signed a two-year pro apprenticeship and hopes to make the grade as a full-time player when he turns 18.
His father Barry Martinez said that Sebastian did not make this trip from Swindon because they brought the U-15 side over and his son is in the U-17 program there now.
“Sebastian is still doing well with Swindon,” Martinez said. “He is really excited after signing his contract and is doing great.
“He won’t get a chance to come home this year because he’ll have pre-season training from July 1 and he can’t afford to miss any time. He doesn’t want to fall behind with his football.”
Martinez added that Sebastian is a straight-A student too, so has his high academic achievements to fall back on if things don’t work out as hoped as a player.
Houston Dynamo’s academy side was supposed to play but could not make it, which gave the Jamaicans a chance to hop over.
Kray Foster and Nathan Borde are with Swindon’s U-15 academy and featured in the games.
Midfielder Zachary Scott, who is based at Chelsea Foundation in London, played for Future. He is home for a mid-term break.
Bruce Siggsworth, director of Grasspiece Promotions, was happy with the way the tournament turned out.
“It was an excellent tournament,” he said. “Working with Swindon Town and their coaches, and getting great sponsors like Dart, Maples, Pepsi and Aquafina, all went well. Really, there were no hiccups in the tournament and it was great football, played at a high level and quality.”
Grasspiece was created a year ago to help promote Cayman’s young footballers and that is going according to plan.
A number of players will be informed this week that they were selected as the best of the locals and one will get a chance of a tryout at Swindon’s academy.
Swindon recently gave a trial to Cayman’s Kareem Foster and will soon give him a decision on whether he will get a more permanent chance at the club.
Swindon coaches arrived a few days before the players to give clinics to around 180 locals.
It was well received, Siggsworth said, adding that there will be more of these camps in the future and bigger tournaments that will include other English clubs, Premier League outfits too.
“We’re working continuously with Jeremy Newton, Swindon’s academy manager on other projects, like teams coming up for pre-season training,” Siggsworth added.
He also said that Jamaica filling the void left by Houston’s late withdrawal was much appreciated. “We were lucky enough to have the Reggae Boyz come over,” he said. “And we’re looking to build on that relationship as well.”
Siggsworth said that Grasspiece is planning a goalkeeping camp with Jamaica and other projects.
Roy “Huta” Ebanks is Future’s technical director. He thought the tournament was “an excellent exercise” which highlighted Cayman’s flourishing youth program and how well structured it is, particularly Future’s which produces more talented youngsters than any other club.
Future’s team was the nucleus of the Cayman side that did so well at the inaugural boys’ U-15 CONCACAF tournament at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex in 2013, many of whom are still in the U-17 national program.
Ebanks has campaigned long and hard to see a 12-month program for the best of Cayman’s youngsters to be involved in. He said he does not feel that them training together briefly and getting intense coaching just before tournaments is ideal for long-term progress.
“I personally do not see a development plan in place to enhance these kids,” Ebanks said. “They may have played U-15 and U-17 international matches but they should be in an on-going program, like an academy system.
“Though we don’t have an academy facility here, they should still be meeting, say once a month, and we should be keeping them together, showcasing them and putting them into more international tournaments. They need more exposure.
“I’ve been saying that now for the last 15 years but we’re still far off and still just a few places off FIFA’s ranking as the worst footballing country in the world.”
One of Future’s stars in this tournament was striker Leighton Thomas Jr. who scored twice in their 4-0 beating of the Cayman national side.
Thomas smacked in 11 goals at the U-15 CONCACAF tournament two years ago, which made him the top scorer and attracted interest from professional English clubs.
He has since been to Ipswich Town for tryouts and hopes to be invited there again next month.
Thomas said he was appreciative of the local support and for the input of Huta and other coaches. He is looking forward to the next youth tournament scheduled for May, which will include Jamaica’s national team again.