Fri, Jul

“Over the last couple of months, I realised it is very hard to get on top,” said Trinidad and Tobago and Vibe CT 105 W Connection goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams. “But it is three million times harder to stay on top.”

At 22, Williams is still learning his trade and he has already had to endure some punishing lessons. There was a particularly difficult examination, on February 4, at the Morera Soto Stadium in Alajuela , Costa Rica when Trinidad and Tobago lost 4-0 to the host nation.

Williams was culpable for the opening goal when he allowed a speculative effort from Harold Wallace to squirm home. The mishap was especially unkind to the young goalkeeper as, 24 hours earlier, he was named the Pro League’s best goalkeeper and most valuable player for the 2006 campaign.

“(That mistake) really hurt me but I just had to go on concentrating hard,” said Williams. “I remember (national coach) Wim (Rijsbergen) told the players that ‘in order to be a great player, you have to suffer great defeats’. I knew it was supposed to hurt but I am supposed to use that to achieve something positive.”

Williams could not have a better opportunity to remind Trinidad and Tobago fans about his talent than tomorrow when Connection faces Mexican champions, Club Deportivo Guadalajara—who are better known by the nickname ‘Chivas’—in the CONCACAF Club Championships quarter-final from 8 pm at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium, Marabella.

Rijsbergen’s repeated criticisms about the standard of the local Pro League job predictably riled several clubs and Connection is no exception. Williams, who was handed the mantle of the domestic competition’s marquee player, has more reason than most to take the match personally.

“It is an opportunity to show that football is football,” said the former St Anthony’s College student, “and not because they are from Mexico means that they are automatically better than us in Trinidad .”

Williams spoke with some authority on the subject. At Connection, he began as understudy to the agile Colombian goalkeeper Alejandro Figueroa.

At just 21, Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier was convinced that the Couva boy was ready to lead the south Trinidad-based outfit as they launched the defence of their Pro League title. Connection finished second to Joe Public on goal difference but, on a personal level, the season was a tremendous success for Williams.

“When I began the 2006 season, I thought that all things were possible and I dreamed of being the best player in the country,” said Williams. “But it was a distant goal and I really thought it was a bit far fetched…

“Getting that award in my first full season gives me a lot of encouragement to go forward and I must credit it to my faith in God and to my family and friends.”

Five years ago, Williams was on the brink of migrating to the United States and a sport scholarship with the University of South Florida but, at the moment, he prefers the dream of football stardom to furthering his academic career.

Connection club owner David J Williams—of no relation—offered him the chance to become a professional player and his namesake never looked back.

In 2001, Williams was a non-playing member of “Team 2001” who represented Trinidad and Tobago at the Under-17 World Championship while he was only 18 when he won his first international cap under Fevrier in a goalless draw away to Botswana.

Last season, Fevrier further motivated his talented employee by making him one of the club’s three captains in a remarkable display of confidence in the rookie custodian.

“Jan has been one of the most improved players in the entire country over the past two years in terms of his rising market value,” said Fevrier. “He is the sort of guy who loves challenges and he brings leadership and quality to the first team. We believe in him.”

So too does Rijsbergen who opted to stick with the Pro League star even when he was offered the services of 35-year-old England-based goalkeeper Clayton Ince—albeit belatedly—for last November’s international friendly away to Austria.

Williams conceded four times in Vienna but there is a feeling among local stakeholders that he is getting better with every appearance and he emerged with much credit from Trinidad and Tobago ’s runner-up finish in the 2007 Digicel Caribbean Cup tournament.

Chivas should offer another opportunity to showcase his talent even as he helps to bolster the reputation of the Pro League.