Not many players can boast of having appeared in two FIFA World Cups then follow that up with the opportunity of a lifetime to lead their country to another Under 20 World Cup.
Sheldon Bateau, the captain of the National Under 20 Men’s team is a player on a mission, a unique on at that – To captain a T&T team at a FIFA Under 20 World Cup and to play in a senior FIFA World Cup.
Too ambitious? Not really! At age 16 Sheldon was a member of the T&T team that participated at the 2007 FIFA Under 17 World Cup in South Korea.
He appeared in T&T’s closing group encounter against Germany and two years later he was also instrumental in helping the T&T Under 20 team book its place for the 2009 FIFA Under 20 World Cup in Egypt, also appearing during the Group matches for the Zoran Vranes-coached team.
This time around, he’s reunited with Vranes, who has given him the responsibility of the captaincy as the junior “Soca Warriors” go in search of a second successive appearance at the Under 20 World Cup in Colombia.
“It’s been an overwhelming feeling for me over the past few months being chosen as Under 20 captain and it’s a responsibility that I carry with great pride.” Bateau said after a rigorous work out with his teammates recently.
He’s set to travel to Kansas in late January to try out with American Major League Soccer club Sporting Kansas. That’s a far cry from where Sheldon came from but his journey is very similar to the upbringing of so many great talents that have graced the footballing world.
“I started playing football at the age of 5. My coaching school was ‘sweating’ in the St. Ann’s Hospital or “the mad house” with the older fellas in the area.
At that time I was playing for Super star Rangers, then I transferred to San Juan Jabloteh at the age of 14. I played for the youth team for two and a half years and then moved to the professional team,” he explained.
Sheldon also played for Rosary Boys RC where he was captain of the school team 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. He captained Fatima College between 2006 and 2008 and was selected as one of the top three players in the Second Schools League in his final season.
Sheldon is not the usual player in training. Most family members of players observe the training from the sidelines and they much prefer to sit in the stands during an actual game.
This lad though, trains at every National Team session under the watchful eyes of his father Gilbert Bateau. Gilbert is the National U-20 team trainer and also held the same position for the teams that participated at the Under 17 and Under 20 World Cups in 2007 and 2009.
“Well it’s a huge confidence booster knowing that my father is always there with the team but at the same time we both keep it professional in terms of him treating me like any other player and I treating him as the trainer and not my father. But he is the main inspiration in my life on and off the pitch and with his experience from being around football for so many years, he always keeps me on the road to improvement,” the junior Bateau boasted.
His father’s constant drilling has kept him ahead of things especially when it comes to proper physical fitness. “On a daily basis I run around the Queen’s Park Savannah at 5 in the morning, followed by running the Lady Chancellor Hill and all that is done on my days away from club or national duties. At times I have club training at 7 in the morning and then national training in the evening which can be quite tough at times but that is what it would take to play at the top level,” Sheldon said easily.
He went on to recall his days playing in the “mad house” up to the point of his greatest moment in the game to date.
“I remember playing football at the Mad House and I ran up and down the field without touching the ball because I was the smallest player on the field. I remember the first time I played for T&T, it was a CFU game at the National Stadium and there were a lot of people there and I was really nervous and 5 minutes into the game I felt like 80 minutes had gone already because I was so excited and nervous at the same time. I also would never forget the day we qualified for the Under 20 World Cup. It was an amazing feeling and it was also the highpoint of my career thus far.
However the most memorable moment in my young career was the under 17 qualifying game in Jamaica with the lone goal coming from Kevin Molino to make us qualify for our first Youth World and that has been my hardest game ever to date.”
Sheldon sees himself as part of history in the making. He wants to someday play for Manchester United. With all that rich history on his side already, there must be a recipe worth the while and he hopes that other upcoming youngsters can follow his words.
“For the up and coming players…just set your goals and work hard towards them, because nothing good comes easily in this day and age. It’s easy to get caught up in the wrong crowd but to be somebody you have to make sacrifices and not because you live in the ‘GHETTO’ means you can’t achieve something in life because I have lived in the ‘GHETTO’ all my life and so have most of my teammates and we don’t let that affect us negatively. Instead we use it as a way of working hard every day to one day help those that are not as gifted or as talented,” Sheldon said.
He will lead the T&T team in qualifying action in April when they come up against the best in Concacaf for one of four places at the World Cup in Colombia which runs from July20-August 20, 2011. Good luck to Sheldon and the Boys!