“Hyland is a big part of the future of Trinidad and Tobago’s football,” says national team boss Jamaal Shabazz. Quite a statement to lunge on a fresh-faced 23-year-old; but a calculated one at that. There are big hopes for him.
Hyland has endured a fairly nomadic career. He started at former TT Pro League side San Juan Jabloteh, who had to withdraw from the nation’s top division last year after financial issues, where he tasted little success. Celtic, by all accounts rather surprisingly, then came knocking on the door in 2008 and he impressed in the trial only for Jabloteh to turn down a bid just under £500,000.
Interest did not fade out and next were Portsmouth, who were heavily linked but nothing materialised as Hyland was unable to get a work permit granted in time. It was difficult to work out where Hyland was going to end up, with considerable interest but no movement, but he came into luck. Belgian club Zulte Waregem recruited him and Hyland joined their development scheme before making the move permanent in 2009.
Indeed, this turned out to be a fruitful move and Hyland began to make a name for himself in Belgium. He clocked up nearly 50 appearances for Waregem, producing some pioneering displays in the middle of the pitch, and subsequently in 2011 Genk, a top level Belgian team with Champions League pedigree announced the signing of the Trinidadian. As one could expect, the media in his homeland went overboard and this was a truly momentous transfer for such a young, precarious talent.
It had all happened so quickly. From the little-known, financially-stricken Jabloteh to the highly accredited Genk in Belgium in the space of four years. Genk are perennial achievers with supporters used to silverware on a regular basis. So Hyland had to make a mark, and he did.
Although not a prominent starter for Genk, Hyland has performed admirably when called upon by the club’s manager Mario Been. Been was the assistant coach of the Trinidad national side in 2007 and hence knew the midfielder’s capabilities when he arrived in 2011.
Hyland appears to be flourishing in Belgium, which is positive news for the national team. He’s one of the few players in the national setup with a European club (albeit that is beginning to change), and Hyland’s recent performances for Genk give a Trinidad side impetus to move forward and progress. He collected the Man of the Match award last weekend, starring in an emphatic 4-1 win over Club Brugge in a domestic encounter. One goal, one assist and an all-round dominant presence in midfield .
The likes of Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy are long gone. The pair played prominent roles in Trinidad’s endearing World Cup 2006 journey which was their first ever appearance in the prestigious tournament. But since those days the team has enjoyed very little success – suffering a shock exit from 2014 World Cup qualifying (their earliest from World Cup qualification since 1994) and waving goodbye to German Otto Pfister whose inability to charm the federation cost him his job; despite a win percentage of over 71% in just seven games in charge.
Shabazz was appointed in November after leaving his post as Guyana boss. He appears to take a palpable liking to Hyland, who has recently expressed his delight at rejoining the squad.
“I’m thrilled to be back in the national team. I’ve been focusing on my game in Europe with Racing Genk, but Trinidad and Tobago is always close to my heart. I’ve missed representing the Red, White and Black.
And they’ve missed him. It’s been evident not just of late but also in the last few years that the national side has lacked a creative influence in midfield. A player who can dictate games, produce moments of magic and add experience to a squad low on confidence.
The reacquaintance of Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones is also a boost, plus Ipswich Town’s Carlos Edwards who is still very capable at international level at the age of 34. If those two and Hyland can hit the ground running then it would definitely give the fans hope again and lift their spirits ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia – which they should be realistically aiming towards.
The pressure isn’t so relentless that Hyland is expected to fill the iconic shoes of former player Yorke, but his importance to the team is becoming increasingly more noticeable. This is a 23-year-old talent with Champions League experience and has done terrifically well to force himself onto the European scene at club level. Shabazz is on his side, as so are the fans, and his recent elaborate displays for Genk will only benefit him. Over to you, Khaleem…