Even though he was not a member of the National Senior Team, defender Sheldon Bateau could well be considered one of this country’s most progressive players for 2012 after making the jump to the European professional circuit and becoming a regular starter with Belgium First Division club KV Mechelen.
Bateau captained this country’s Olympic team at the CONCACAF Final round in Los Angeles earlier this year but could not return to join the senior team for the Caribbean Cup qualifiers having arrived at the clubs only three weeks prior to the call up.
He chose to stay back and try and cement a place in the club. That subsequently occurred as Bateau has made eleven appearances for the club which stands in 9th position in the League table and he started in eight of those encounters, helping the team to clean sheets in his last two outings in which he played the centre back position.
“So far it's been an amazing experience because I played at home all my life before and now I'm in the real world of football. I can't stop smiling,” Bateau told TTFF Media on Saturday as he enjoyed a few days off, spending time with local teammate Khaleem Hyland at the home of a Trinidad-born woman living in Belgium.
“It's not easy being alone out here but I'm living my dream so I try not to take that on. If I do for one minute, I can easily be distracted because Christmas is a time to be with friends and family but I had dinner with some of my teammates and supporters of the club and then Khaleem introduced me to some ‘Trinis” in Zulte so I went there yesterday and got some sorrel and black cake,” Bateau continued.
Bateau will secure his driving permit in Belgium next week. Up to this point he has rode to the team’s training site which fortunately is a short distance from his home.
“My game is improving in terms of concentration and strength because at home it was easier but at this level you have to be strong and on top your game for ninety and more. The fans, the coaches and the directors are all happy because they saw and are still seeing my improvement week by week.
“The players are all helpful as well as the club staff so for instance after a game they edit my performance and we look it over to improve my game. The managers try their best to make my life easy but the people in authority aren't as helpful and that's why I still don't have my Belgium ID and driving permit but that should be taken care by next week,” said the ex-Jabloteh player.
Now his aim for 2013 is to continue is role for KV and help them climb at least into the top five places in the Belgium League. He hopes to also catch the eye of the national coaches ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July.
The former national Under 20 captain, who turns 22 on January 29th, said failing to make his senior team debut this year served as motivation for him to “make it as professional player in Europe.”
“I had two goals last Christmas which were to be playing abroad by 2013 and to play for my senior team. By the grace of God I achieved one and I won't give up until I achieve the other one but its not easy being a top local youth player and being the youngest captain of an Olympic team and still never got a senior cap.
I was training with the senior team at one point and I left for Olympic qualifiers and when we returned I was never called to rejoin the squad. But things like this gave me more motivation to stand up and be counted,” Bateau said.
“But I would never turn down my country. It's my pride and joy to wear the red white and black and I hope to be part of the team in 2013, he added.
Here are some additional comments from Sheldon…
- I didn't have much time to settle because my team needed a defender badly so to catch up with the other players I trained longer than they had to and I also played a few reserve games to get use to the Belgium style. Settling off the field was a bit easy because I live ten minutes from the stadium. The city is 5 minutes away on bike, the groceries are close so fortunately everything just happens to be perfect.
- The day after I arrived from Trinidad we played Genk away but they took me with the team to see how things worked before games, By the next game I came on at left back vs Kv Kortrijk but we lost 2-0, the following game vs Brugge I came on in the last four minutes and played defensive midfield. We were on top 2-1 and in the last play of the game they chipped our keeper and I made a bicycle clearance.We won that game 2-1 but I think that was the game that the fans started taking me seriously and the players also because it was three important points for us.
- Every home game we have like 13,000 fans and they are the best in Belgium so when teams come by us they make it really difficult for them. The first few games were difficult for because I played left back, right back and defensive mid and it shocked the fans and team in general because the knew me as a central defender but the game I played wing back left or right people started wondering I could be one the best crossers in the league or one of the best wing backs because defensively I was solid also. This helped me grow in confidence.
- My game is improving in terms of concentration and strength because at home it was easier but at this level you have to be strong and on top of you game for 90 minutes and more.