Sun, Jun

Jul 2, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Trinidad and Tobago defender Sheldon Bateau (4) and United States defender Bryan Reynolds (5) battle for control during the first half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

T&T footballer Sheldon Bateau is set to end a 10-month absence with the T&T men’s senior football team when the Soca Warriors meet Guyana in two friendly internationals this week at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo, Port-of-Spain.

The Belgium-based defender who has been capped 54 times with the T&T senior men’s team says that after “a positive discussion” with head coach Angus Eve he has agreed to play at least one of the two meetings between the Warriors and Golden Jaguars on May 13 and 15, respectively.

He aims to reposition himself as a mainstay in Eve’s plans with FIFA World Cup qualification and CONCACAF Nations League (CNL) campaigns on the horizon.

Back in T&T on holiday from another season with SK Beveren in Belgium’s Challenger Pro League, the second-highest division in that country’s professional league system, Bateau spoke exclusively to Guardian Media Sports on Thursday at his home in East Trinidad.

“It was always a goal of mine and of my generation, to get to a senior World Cup. We’ve been to two youth World Cups before and the bigger picture is getting to the next World Cup and we can only do that with the best players being available,” he said.

“I think we still have enough quality to get to that World Cup and with my level of exposure and experience I would love to be a part of it and help lead the team.”

He added that it was also hard to ignore that the 2026 World Cup to be hosted in CONCACAF by Mexico, USA and Canada will also be expanded to 48 teams from 32.

It means that with the three co-hosts already guaranteed automatic spots at the showpiece event, this confederation will be afforded another three spots from the qualification process and a possible two more via the inter-confederation play-off.

“It is actually one of the best chances that we would have and for me, I like to live my life without regrets. At the end of the day, the coach would pick his squad and that’s up to him but I want to put myself into a position where I have no regrets, I would have given my all like always for my country, and at the end of the day I could live with that.”

Bateau, 33, has not featured in national colours since T&T’s embarrassing exit from the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup in the USA last July, which included being hammered 6-0 by the hosts on July 2 to mark the end of a forgettable campaign. T&T had started the competition on June 25 with an encouraging 3-0 win over St Kitts and Nevis but three days later were blown away 4-1 by Jamaica who at one point led 3-0 after just 30 minutes.

Although Bateau played every minute of each of the three matches, T&T’s final group match against the USA was the last time he represented the senior team. During that stretch of nine matches out of the team T&T beat Curacao 1-0 and lost 5-3 to the same opponents and recorded identical 3-2 wins against El Salvador and Guatemala in the CNL League A group stage. The performances were rewarded with a quarterfinal showdown in the competition against the USA where T&T was again beaten 3-0 in the first leg in Austin Texas before achieving a stirring 2-1 win in front of a home crowd at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

Subsequently, however, the Warriors would also come out on the wrong end of a 2-0 result in CONMEBOL’s Copa America CONCACAF Play-off against Canada for a spot in this summer’s competition.

Finally willing to lift the lid on his absence from the senior team picture during the period Bateau said, “For me, it's all about giving a hundred percent and after speaking with the coach I felt like I wouldn’t be able to do that. I shared that with him and we had a mutual agreement more or less.”

He added, “There would have been other personal issues I would think on both ends probably but, in the end, I would say there was a mutual agreement.

“It is no secret, when you play at a certain level some things as a professional you don’t agree with. Not only myself, other players would have shared their sentiments but for me, the main thing was just the mental factor. Especially after the Gold Cup it was really difficult functioning under the circumstances at a high standard.”

The failed 2023 Gold Cup campaign did not take its toll on Bateau alone. Months later, team captain Kevin Molino suddenly peeled back the veil on the national team and more so the management of head coach Angus Eve.

Days after Eve named Molino in a provisional 40-man squad for the September 2023 international window for CONCACAF Nations League matches, the then Minnesota United playmaker launched a tirade as reported by

“I don’t want to be a part of this mess,” Molino reportedly told Wired868. “I don’t want to be part of a set-up where the national coach is using the national team for his own benefit. I don’t want to be part of that. For me, he lost the locker room. One hundred percent, he lost the locker room.”

Speaking on Thursday, Bateau, a close friend of Molino dating back to their time with several youth national and club teams, rubbished any idea that his own time away from the national team was a result of being blacklisted.

“It definitely wasn’t connected to the stance that Molino took. That was a personal choice that he made. Of course, we spoke about it and there are things that I agreed with (that he said). It's no secret to anybody who would have been watching T&T for the past few years.”

During his time away, Bateau has thrived at the club level. Initially signed to SK Beveren on loan from Turkish club Samsunspor, Bateau penned a two-year permanent deal at the start of the just-concluded 2023-24 season and was also named club captain.

Following a solid 32 appearances last season, the former Fatima College defender made 28 appearances this season, scoring three goals and providing one assist. This coupled with the fact that another FIFA World Cup campaign is about to begin, Bateau says is the ideal time to resume his international career.

He said, “I feel quite good. To me, age is just a number and to be honest with my experience I think with all those factors I can be an asset to the national team.”

Hopeful for new energy from new executive

Bateau has been capped at Under-17, U-20, and U-23 level for T&T and made his senior team debut in 2013. During his 10-year stint as a senior Soca Warrior, he has played under five different managers.

He has also seen his fair share of TTFA presidents come and go. In April’s TTFA election, Kieron Edwards came into the helm replacing the Normalisation Committee headed by Robert Hadad.

T&T also has continuous top-flight, competitive football being played via the T&T Premier Football League.

All encouraging signs for the country's footballing future, said Bateau.

“Trinidad football has always had potential, it's just for us sometimes to put ego aside and work together at all levels.

“With the league being down for a while, it's really good to have a league up and running, being able to have access to it online is really a good feeling to be able to see some of my peers, some of the youths because I am also looking at younger players to help them to get outside as well, is really positive.

“I think we can work together a bit more at all levels because with these things going on and with the new federation taking over hopefully things can continue to go in a positive direction.”

SOURCE: T&T Guardian