HFX Wanderers FC have made their first overseas transfers by signing four high-profile players from Trinidad and Tobago.
Together, Jan-Michael Williams, Elton John, Akeem Garcia and Andre Rampersad are making history, as the club’s first international signings.
All four have won national championships with club teams in Trinidad and Tobago and three of them have played on the international stage for their home country, at both youth and senior levels.
‘Accomplished group’ signed to ‘help the team gel quickly’
Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart had the inside track on the players, having been in charge of Trinidad and Tobago’s national team, between 2013 and 2016.
“I’m delighted because we have a group of players who are familiar with each other and basically they play down the middle of the park, so I think that’s very important,” Hart said.
Building the spine of the team for the new Canadian Premier League has been the first concern for the Wanderers coach since taking the reins of Halifax’s new professional soccer club.
“They’ve played with and against each other. I see them competing for some of those key spots and I hope they help the team gel very quickly,” said Hart.
As well as expecting all four players to make an immediate impact for his team, Hart is counting on them to bring invaluable guidance to the younger Canadian players he’s planning to sign and develop.
“They’re accomplished players who bring lots of experience. They’re game savvy with the kind of dedication that comes from having the right attitude of being a professional,” Hart said.
‘Larger than life’ goalkeeper
Having amassed 81 full international caps for Trinidad and Tobago, goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams arrives at the Wanderers as the most experienced of the new Trinbago bunch.
34-year-old Williams has played in the professional leagues of Belgium, Hungary, Honduras and most recently Guatemala.
The 6 ft. 3 in. keeper has also won a number of league titles at club level in his home country for W Connection and Central FC.
“I am extremely excited to play in the Canadian Premier League and to be a part of the inaugural season,” said Williams, who has also played in CONCACAF Gold Cups and World Cup qualifying games, through a distinguished international career.
The keeper, described as “larger than life” by Stephen Hart is looking forward to being reunited with the Wanderers coach, after playing for and captaining Trinidad and Tobago, when Hart was the Soca Warriors boss.
“I like how Stephen treats his players and what he demands, so for me that’s a big plus,” Williams said. “We can set our standard high trying to be the best team and win the competition because it’s a new league, so it’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
It’s a mutual feeling with Hart pleased to have got a goalkeeper he already knows with so much personality and know-how.
Strength in midfield and attack
A former Central FC teammate of Williams, midfielder Elton John, joins the club as another veteran professional, having also won titles with North East Stars FC and San Juan Jabloteh FC.
John, who has also played in Belgium and represented Trinidad and Tobago at both youth and senior levels, is equally at home playing at centre-back, making him another valuable addition for Hart.
The Wanderers coach rates him highly as a player who is versatile and also has composure on the ball.
“I’m excited and happy for a new challenge,” 31-year-old John said. “I’m ready to make the fans happy with the Wanderers and hoping they accept me as a player.”
The two promising younger players on their way to Halifax from the Caribbean are joining the club in part through the club’s other Trinbago connection — Wanderers assistant coach Derek King.
Akeem Garcia and Andre Rampersad were both key members of King’s recent championship winning FC Santa Rosa team.
“His movement off the ball is very good,” King said of Garcia. “He can play number 9 or 10 as well as on the right or the left. He’ll be a good asset because he can play any of these positions.”
‘Ready to give everything’
Garcia scored ten goals in FC Santa Rosa’s run to the top, playing as an attacking wide player or striker.
The 22-year-old has turned heads since forcing his way into Trinidad and Tobago’s U17 squad at the age of 14, moving up to his country’s U20 team, before playing twice for the senior international team.
“It’s a great feeling to sign for my first club away, that’s been one of my dreams. I’m really happy and I’m ready to give everything,” Garcia said.
Being a part of a brand new Canadian Premier League was another thing that Garcia liked the sound of.
Andre Rampersad, who is 23, describes himself as a box-to-box midfielder who is thrilled to be joining the Wanderers after eight years with FC Santa Rosa, where he formed a good understanding with Garcia.
He’s another player whose potential stood out from an early age, being just 15 when he first joined the club.
“It’s overwhelming for me as a player getting this opportunity and I want to make a big impact and do my best for my club,” said Rampersad. “We’ve all got something to show and something to prove.”
Like with Garcia, King knows Rampersad as well as anyone, having coached him at Santa Rosa and describes him as something of an unsung hero on the pitch.
A player who does the simple things well and has the respect of his teammates.
“His work rate and energy levels are very high and he has good quality skill wise,” King said.
All four players are signing for the Wanderers pending medicals and the completion of an International Transfer Certificate in the transfer window opening in February 2019.
More signings on the way
While the Trinidad and Tobago players are feeling more comfortable about taking on a big move to Halifax together, all four are also keen to meet new players at the Wanderers and become a part of the community.
Stephen Hart believes it’s that kind of character that will give all four the chance of becoming popular players with the fans and in the dressing room.
“They all have to compete for positions and there are no guarantees but at least they will bring a certain working relationship that makes the process of adapting easier. They all understand how my assistant coach Derek King and myself work,” said Hart.
The four new international players join the Wanderers first signing, defender Zachary Sukunda, who was announced by the club last November.
Three prospects chosen in the University draft, Peter Schaale, André Bona and Christian Oxner will also have the chance to fight for contracts in preseason trials.
While pulling off the Trinidad and Tobago transfer coup, Stephen Hart continues to work tirelessly on completing moves for a number of other players, as he gets his squad ready for the Canadian Premier League kick-off in April.
The club expects to announce some of those other signings in the coming weeks.
The Wanderers want to congratulate Jan-Michael, Elton, Akeem and Andre and wish them every success in Halifax.
Founder Elton John signs for HFX Wanderers FC
(Can Bou Play Foundation Media)
Founding director of the Can Bou Play Foundation, Elton John, has signed for Halifax Wanderers FC in the newly formed Canadian Premier League for the inaugural 2019 season.
“This one is for the Can Bou Play family,” said an elated John.
“I look forward to the great opportunity and new challenge and thank Halifax Wanderers FC for accepting me to join. I would like to help build a new Halifax family together and also create history. "
John will link up with former Trinidad and Tobago Senior team head coach Stephen Hart who was appointed as general manager/head coach in June 2018 and another familiar face in assistant coach Derek King.
John captained King’s North East Stars team to the 2017 TT Pro League title and was eager to team up with him once again.
“I am extremely grateful to be called upon and given this opportunity by coaches that are held in such high regard and hold such great portfolios,” stated John. “It’s a very unique situation for me because I understand the requirements of both Mr Hart and assistant coach King.”
“It’s a great feeling to know that all the hard work that I have put into football over the years, has not gone unseen.”
The decorated midfielder joined fellow football professionals and founded the Can Bou Play Foundation in 2018 to offer high impact mentor and education sessions across Trinidad and Tobago that uses football as a catalyst.
The organization has grown from strength to strength and conducted no fewer than forty outreaches in 2018, including overseeing the US Embassy’s Sport Diplomacy project in October.
According to John, this is just the first of many great things for the Foundation as positivity is rewarded with positivity.
“I would like to share this bit of success with my brothers at Can Bou Play – a group of the best professional footballers and administrative personnel I know.”
“It’s a group who never stops believing and sharing their time and knowledge in communities to inspire future generations and even with each other. It’s special.”
"To know and see the impact that we are having and to see the smiles and eagerness on the children's faces like at the St Mary's Childrens Home and in Chaguanas, is like knowing that we are doing something right."
Derek King, who recently won the 2018 TT Super League with FC Santa Rosa also paid compliment to work being done by John and Can Bou Play.
"It's a great programme using sports as a catalyst for growth and education of children. Sports and education are key in society and it works hand in hand," said King.
"One must excel at both simultaneously and this is what this programme aims to achieve by inspiring kids throughout T&T to use these tools to be successful in life."
John will be joined at Halifax by Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams, Akeem Garcia and Andre Rampersad who were all unveiled as the first big wave of foreign signings for the Canadian outfit.
“Can’t wait to reunite with some of my old team mates like Jan, another great professional who I won multiple titles with at Central FC and young Garcia, "said John.
“Hoping to go there and fly the T&T flag high, while representing my community – the congo of Arima, my family and Can Bou Play and open new doors for fellow T&T players.”
Elton John’s announcement will be the first of many for the Can Bou Play Foundation in 2019. Keep following #CanBouPlay.