Former San Juan Jabloteh defender Sheldon Bateau recently touched base with the Soca Warriors Online (SWO) and did his first exclusive with us.
The powerful KV Mechelen defender, who is known for his never-say-die attitude on the field always lead by example and his hard work and leadership qualities are finally starting to pay-off.
Bateau meantime, is not shy of international experience and has already played in two Youth World Cups for his country; the 2007 FIFA Under 17 World Cup in South Korea and the 2009 FIFA Under 20 World Cup in Egypt.
He has captained three T&T national teams, the 2009 and 2011 Under 20 teams respectively, and also the 2012 Olympic team.
At school level he played for Rosary Boys RC where he was captain and also led the Belmont Secondary School at the Under 13 level before agreeing to a transfer to the more prestigious Fatima College.
He actually made his debut for the Senior Intercol team while in Form 2 and then enjoyed success the following year (2005) as Fatima went on to capture the North Zone and National Intercol titles respectively. He captained Fatima College between 2006 and 2008 and was selected as one of the top three players in the Second Schools Football League (SSFL) in his final season.
Sheldon now plays for KV Mechelen in the Belgian Jupiler League and has become a valued player of the professional outfit.
The SWO caught up with Sheldon on his day-off and the hard-working defender was more than eager to do an exclusive for us. The 6 foot 2 central defender describes his passion and desire for the game and how he is currently making a personal sacrifice to archive his ultimate goal.
1. How are you adjusting to life in Belgium thus far? Tell us your ups and downs.
SB: Life is great in Belgium and I couldn't ask for a better place to start my professional life. I feel at home because the fans are like family and also I have Khaleem Hyland here who has been a big brother to me from since we both played for San Juan Jabloteh as kids. It's not easy being so far away from home and more or less alone. If I think too much about my friends and family though it can become distracting and that could affect my game. I just try my best to maintain my focus on football and work hard to make my family and country proud. Before coming to Europe I started preparing my mind for it, so now that I'm actually here and living my dream nothing will stop me from getting where I need to be.
2. Recently you've scored two goals for KV Mechelen against Waasland-Beveren in a 2-0 win. They were your first goals scored outside of T&T and for your relatively new club. It seems like your confidence is growing, so can we expect to see another high scoring defender for T&T in the future? Tell us a bit about your game and how it has improved?
SB: I think it was two excellent goals and it was a night I will remember forever and not because it was just two goals, but it was two important goals that kept our Europa League hopes alive. It's no secret that I've started from the bottom and made my way up and I've been a top player and defender for Trinidad and Tobago even though I never reached my full potential. No matter how good people said I played in a match I knew it wasn't enough and I had to improve. It’s difficult to improve though in an environment like the one at home because most coaches allow players to learn and grow on their own. Credit must go to Terry Fenwick and Zoran Vranes, who both saw my talent and potential and helped me to grow more as a player. In spite of this, I think coming to Europe within the last few months is where I really saw what can be achieved once you believe in yourself and push yourself to the limit. Every week I challenge myself to grow and become a better and a more important player for my club and I think the fans and Club are now starting to see my true potential. In my last few games especially, I've really stepped up to another level.
3. What position do you play at KV Mechelen and are you a regular starter with the Club?
SB: I play left central defender at the moment. When I first arrived at the Club I played a few games for the reserve team and I came off the bench for the first team on a few occasions as a right back, left back or defensive midfielder. Now I'm a regular starter with more than 20 appearances.
4. Apart from the crowd support, if you had to compare the T&T League to the Belgian Jupiler League would you say there is a big gap?
SB: Yes it's a big gap because the speed of the game is much faster and also the teams are more organized. However, I don't blame the players in T&T because we have a lot of good young and experienced players playing in the T&T Pro League. The problem is that the League is not professional enough so it's hard for some players to act and play in such a manner. Football is the number one sport in the world and it’s more than a sport in many countries; it’s a way of life. In Trinidad though, it doesn't feel that way because most of the funding goes to other sports like cricket and athletics. It’s sad because a lot of 'ghetto’ youths use football to earn a living and support their families. The money is nothing in T&T and there aren't many people trying to get players outside to help them so no one is benefiting from it except the people that are already living a nice life. I think our football system hasn't grown from the one we had back in the days and its affecting our national teams and club teams who participate in Concacaf and world tournaments. Every year we see what we need to do and we say it, but nothing ever gets done. When I came to Europe a lot of people did not know where Trinidad and Tobago was because they never heard of football there, they thought it was part of Africa.
5. Being away for the first time in your career, what do you miss the most about T&T?
SB: I miss my family, close friends and our food the most (lol). To me there isn't much else to miss because now T&T is known for parties and rum and those things will be there even when my career is finished. It’s easy for me to ignore those things, but it doesn't mean I don't enjoy it sometimes, I just think there's a time for everything so when I get time to relax and party I will.
6. Regarding T&T, obviously you were disappointed about our Olympic team and its performance in LA. Where do you feel we went wrong?
SB: I think we didn't have enough international experience as a team because we just had some experienced players, but that's only enough to get us as far as we did. The teams we played against had more experienced players who play for top English and Mexican teams while most of our players were in school or played in the Pro League which like I said can only get us so far. It's not good to get emotional about the game because it’s a job so you either get the job done or you don't, but I always try to understand how the teams with better players always prepare harder and better than the teams with less experience. It has frequently been that way with T&T teams and I think it needs to change somewhere along the line. When we qualified for the U-17 World Cup in South Korea the team was together for 3 years and then that same team qualified for the U-20 World Cup in Egypt with a few new players. Then the same team got us the furthest we ever reached in Olympic team history, which was the last set of game in LA. It just goes to show that we did something right for those few years, but now instead of building on it we're back to square one. The potential is there but potential and raw talent alone is not going to get us to the highest level.
7. If you get a call up, will we see you run out for T&T in the 2013 Gold Cup? I know that you may have League games around the same time. If you do get the call and you make an appearance, what do you feel you can bring differently to the T&T side?
SB: The League here ends soon so I'll be available for the tournament providing the coaches have me in their plans. I believe I have the experience, confidence and leadership qualities which the team is lacking and I think with the right squad we can renew our national pride. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to say exactly what I can do because I play different positions; but one thing for sure is that I will always give all that I have for the Red, White and Black shirt and not the name on the back of it. As my past coach Angus Eve always said "names are for thumb stones".
8. Who would you say is responsible for you being the player you are today?
SB: Most definitely my father because from day one until now he has never stopped being there and giving me advice. All of my ambition and determination to reach the highest level came from him.
9. Who is your favorite player (s) in the game both locally and internationally?
SB: As a kid I have always looked up to Dwight Yorke and Angus Eve, but now I am significantly influenced by the game of Phil Jones of Manchester United.
10. Who are some of the best players you've played with and against?
SB: lol..... I've played with so many players, past and present, but there was one team we had in Jabloteh at U-16 with me, Khaleem Hyland, Kevin Molino, Robert Primus, Micah Lewis, Franz Husband and Stephen Knox. We used to destroy any and every team we played against and to me they were amazing players to play with because of their talent. But then I started playing with players like Marvin Oliver and Trent Noel whom I learned a lot from as well. Players like Khaleem, Molino, Lewis and Primus brought the best out of me; especially Molino because in my eyes he's similar to Russell Latapy "The Magician", so it was always difficult playing against him. Ataullah Guerra is also an amazing player and I always enjoy playing with him, however playing against him was always tough because he had experience to accompany his great skill. Playing against players like Guerra has served me well in becoming a better player.
11. I know you came through the Terry Fenwick coached system at San Juan Jabloteh. How important was that in your career and were you surprised or saddened to see San Juan Jabloteh drop out off the Pro League? Can you tell us what in your opinion can be done to help improve the League?
SB: I think that was the man who really taught me the right and smart way of defending and I will always respect Terry for that. I was already a good defender, but he gave me and Primus (Robert) a chance as 15 and 16 year olds to be the main men in Jabloteh's defence; and it helped us to grow as players. Just look at us now, we're both in Europe. Yes it's sad to see what Jabloteh has turned to now because it has been a top club for years. They took me from Superstar Rangers (now known as St. Anns Rangers) where I born and grew as a kid. Jabloteh at the time had a history of taking the best players from the smaller teams and giving them a chance to be in a well organised and professional environment, from their pro team straight down to the youth teams. It is really sad to witness how such a historic and well respected team could crumble in such a short space of time. A lot of people don't know this, but San Juan Jabloteh was my dream team as a kid because they along with Bermudez had a coaching clinic at the Woodbrook youth facility and I went there once a week with my primary school 'Rosary Boys RC' to part-take in their camps. Players like Kerry Baptiste, Aurtis Whitley, Cyd Gray and Josh Johnson, to name a few were some of the players that I was there with and looked up to. Who would have thought that a few years after I would be playing with and against these players. So Jabloteh is and was more than just another club to me.
12. You've played in the T&T Pro League for quite some time and you've also played and captained T&T at the youth and Olympic level. As a result you've played with many Trinbagonians. Who in your opinion do you feel can be top players?
SB: I think T&T on the whole has a lot of players with potential and I expect players like Daneil Cyrus, Joevin Jones, Akeem Adams, Mekiel Williams and even young Jomal Williams to be top players, but it’s up to them to choose between being a 'big fish in a small pond or to be a small fish in a big pond. It’s difficult for them though, because like I said before there's no one really trying to help these players. Mekiel was in Europe recently and had to return home because of his Club's circumstances, but he was doing well out here. Also, Shadon Winchester is doing well in Finland and thanks to W Connection these players got a chance; but I think more can be done to help the future generation of T&T footballers.
13. Have you ever visited the Soca Warriors Online (SWO) and if yes, what can we do to help make your visit more frequent? Also, you have many supporters here, do you have any words for them?
SB: I think the site is well structured and organised and it’s always up to date and that's good for us overseas players trying to keep informed. I think it can have more interviews with players on a personal level so that the people in charge of the Federation can hear the concerns of the players. At the end of the day it's the players going on the battle field and we need their (TTFF) full support. I just want to say thanks to my supporters because they all know how far I came and where I have the potential to be, so I appreciate the love and support they've always given to me.
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