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Alvin Corneal
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The possibility of a fully professional league in Trinidad and Tobago seems great, if one is to follow the newspaper reports in the twin island State. To the true lover of Soccer, this type of news will bring music to the ear and many of us cannot wait to see a truly professional league take off the ground. Obviously there are those who will question the move from what was considered semi pro to the full professional status and until we carefully analyse the pros and cons of every aspect of the league, the answer will always vary from one person to another.

A successful professional soccer league does not build overnight and that is why there is so much to be done in order to move into that direction. Many, like myself, will use an approach which will be, to say yes to the league, then work towards making it reality. However, the groundwork for such a project is essential to the growth of a pro league.

The first aspect of the Federation's survey is whether or not there will be sufficient funds to pay players for full time employment. The answer to that question can be dealt with by the business community, the media, especially television, the fans and most importantly a solid constitution based upon stringent rules and regulations, upon which every club will feel that there is equal opportunity for all involved. Maybe we should begin by breaking down the individual factors.

Will the business sector support any club in the long term, whether they make a profit or take heavy losses in the early years? We do not have evidence that this will happen and the task of selling this project to the business sector will be the first real duty of the Federation. Have the media played its role sufficiently over the years, so that we can have the confidence that they will be catalysts in the development process? Maybe they have tried, but their inexperience deprives them of knowing how to market the game and its players.The TV companies have not demonstrated that they will spend enormous sums of money to pay for the rights to carry matches live on a regular basis.

Most professional leagues depend heavily upon TV rights to survive financially, so that is a "must" for the success of the league. Then, there are the players.

The talent is naturally present, but we are woefully short of the level of maturity and committment which create excellence on the soccer field. We must begin a serious education programme for our players, helping them to understand what professionalism is all about and what are the demands of such a goal. The value of the player must depend upon his ability to make full use of his talent to the benefit of his club. His committment to practice sessions must be the same as the worker who reaches to work on time and does his best to produce the best results for his company. And what of the administration?

Their functions must reflect efficiency, sound managerial skills, adequate organisational patterns and an umambiguous effort to satisfy the needs of all the clubs. Partisanship should be non existent and committees should be made to operate with the level of competence which they expect from the clubs and players. The fans have a very special role to play in this scenario. If they do not show up at matches, then the business sector will see their investment as worthless, and the other support areas will eventually view their input as not having the effect which they expected.

It will be wise for the TTFF to examine the two newest professional leagues across the soccer world. The "J" league in Japan started with a bang some three years ago, causing many of the world's top players who were entering the evening of their careers to rush into the money feast of Japanese soccer. The crowds gave great support and the atmosphere lent itself to a bright future.

Lo and behold, the current situation has changed dramatically. The crowds have dwindled by more than forty percent, the wages of the players have been drastically reduced, the foreign players are being released and many owners have actually sold their franchises, just to get out of serious financial crisis. True enough, the economy in Japan has deteriorated rapidly in recent months, but the game itself, could not stand on its own. The fans suddenly felt that what they were paying for, they did not get. So they lost interest. The veteran stars failed to retain a glow and the local players could not do the job.

The Major League Soccer is even worse, although, the organisers will not admit it. But, since the end of the last season, many clubs have changed owners and its not that there are new investors. Far from it. Its people who already own a franchise that are buying another, possibly to protect their original investment. As it stands, eight clubs in the MLS are owned by three owners, and all of a sudden, it looks as though its a community league. That situation provides little incentive for the
players and the owners, while the players are still controlled from the offices of Sunil Gulati and his crew.

The quality of play is poor and except for a handful of foreign players, the standard resembles a Sunday afternoon league. The first two years saw a strong marketing campaign which attracted the fans. The 1994 World Cup finals gave some spunk to the people of the US, a factor which was preplanned. They stuck around for two years, despite the mediocre quality and the superficial dressing which the TV commentators gave to the performances, the crowds dwindled. The rating of ESPN for soccer had dropped and I get the distinct impression that there will be utter desperation on the part of the organisers to keep their heads above water for the next year or two, hoping that things change.

The bits and pieces of racial prejudism which had reared its ugly head, have not helped, and although the league made heavy weather of a suspension on Dutch and New England revolution player Edwin Gorter for casting racial slurs at David Nakhid, the T&T national team captain, they followed this penalty by waiving Nakhid, who was a starting player for the club, and sometimes acted as captain. So it appeared as though Nakhid was penalised for being a victim of racialism. Who Knows, maybe the waiving of Evans Wise could have stemmed from similar reason, but one cannot be certain.

At least, Trinidad and Tobago administrators have examples of professional leagues from which they can learn. If they can stay away from the problems of Japan and the Major league Soccer, then there is a chance for the country's first fully professional league, but my advice will be to advance with caution. An airtight constitution is mandatory, non partisanship from administrators and an improved quality of refereeing are ingredients which will help the league to grow. The challenge is a big one, but certainly not an impossible one.