STERN JOHN is Trinidad and Tobago’s most prolific goal- scorer with 67 goals in 101 international matches.
At the age of 31, however, John has no intentions to hang up his boots and will be aiming to lead TT to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
“It is an honour to be considered among the greats, it has been fantastic to get that number of goals. I just want to continue doing well and play for my country because I still have a lot to offer. Teddy Sheringham played until he was 42. I want to play until I’m 39 years old” he said.
Speaking to Newsday on Thursday, the Southampton FC forward revealed that this time around the qualifying campaign will be much more difficult.
He pointed out that the squad assembled for the Germany 2006 World Cup was the best-ever and TT will miss the services of stalwarts Dwight Yorke and Russel Latapy.
National coach Francisco Maturana has been blooding the local talent and has called up several young players for tomorrow’s international friendly versus England at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo.
Seventeen-year-old defender Akeem Adams, striker Hayden Tinto, 22, and Jamaal Gay are in the squad for the England match and appear to be in the fray for the 2010 campaign which kicks off on June 15 against Bermuda.
John believes, however, that the young players have a lot of work to do still.
“We need players to step up. The new guys are very promising but they need to show their worth now,” he said, “our best players need to be on the team always,” he continued.
John explained that he learnt a lot from Latapy and Yorke by just being around them.
“When they returned from Europe and were liming I would be the one going for their drinks,” he admitted, “ I wanted to see what skill or knowledge I could acquire from them about how to be a professional,” he added.
“As a young player you want to play professionally but playing in a World Cup is a dream I will forever cherish,” John explained, his voice quivering.
“Many great players have never played on the world stage and I am privileged that I have gotten a taste of it and I want more,” he added.
Despite scoring 67 goals for TT and an impressive 12 in the Germany 2006 qualifications, John has been criticised for missing too many chances before scoring.
“I have nothing to prove,” he explained,” if you look at my history I have always scored goals. Half the people who criticise don’t play the game. Football is like a lottery, you can’t score and win if you don’t take a shot,” he pointed out.
The lethal forward noted that he is never fazed by his detractors and requested that they continue since he tends to play better under pressure.
It was while under extreme tension of having his 30th minute penalty saved against CONCACAF powerhouse, Mexico, in TT’s final game of the qualifiers that John hit a double including a long- range winner for a come-back 2-1 victory that ensured TT finish fourth in the group. The result would guarantee a play-off against Bahrain which TT won 1-0 to book their place in Germany.
The goal ranks among John’s favourite but his left-footed strike against Honduras to win 1-0 on October 7, 2001 holds a special place in his heart. The victory effectively eliminated their hosts’ chances of reaching the Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup and meant nothing to TT since they finished last in the group. The victory, however, was dedicated to national player Mickey Trotman who died in a car accident just four days before the Honduras game. After defending for most of the match and seeing several shots rebound off the TT woodwork, John, playing as a sole forward, smacked a shot past the Honduran goalie to put the visitors ahead. He was subsequently mobbed by his teammates who cried uncontrollably at the half-line.
The former Major League Soccer (MLS) player believes that football and sport in general can play a vital role in reversing the decline in moral values in society today.
“When we qualified for the World Cup in 2006, for the first time everyone in the country came together. Maybe we have to qualify again for it to happen again,” he argued.
“We need to get the youths to be a part of something - football, basketball whatever. They must feel that they belong to something,” he said.
With the likes of Brazilian legend Ronaldo being involved in a fracas with prostitutes in Brazil on April 28 this year, John believes that footballers have a role to play as role models even if they don’t view themselves as such.
“Children copy what they see, even my own son tries to imitate me so we have to be careful what we do. The Stern John Football Academy has been established and aims to teach children the rudiments of the game.
The TT forward holds a ‘C’ licence in coaching and will be preparing for his “B” licence. He revealed, however, that he has no intentions of coaching any country or club and wants to stay focussed on working with children.
Since leaving local outfit Malta Carib Alcons in 1996, John has played for nine clubs scoring 144 goals in 11 years. In 1998 and 1999, John was the MLS top scorer while playing his trade with Columbus Crew and was named in the MLS Best XI in 1998.
At 31 years of age John still has the knack of putting the ball into the ‘onion bag’. The Southampton striker ended the 2007/2008 season with 20 goals and was named as the club’s “Player of the Year” last month.
Speaking to Newsday, he revealed a few of the secrets needed to be a successful striker.
“My first touch on the ball for the game, I try to be simple and just make a good pass. I don’t want to start the game by giving away the ball. When you get your chances, even half-chances you must try and hit the target,” he explained, “at least let the goalkeeper do the work,” he added.
“As a striker you must learn to play off the ball, any movement is good movement,” he noted.