Trinidad and Tobago’s European-based defender Sheldon Bateau is not surprised by Belgium’s progress to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. And this is based on first-hand experience of having passed through the system in Belgium where he played professionally for three years with Jupiler League club KV Mechelen. Bateau signed with the club in 2012, making 79 appearance before joining Russian club Krylia Sovetov Samara on loan in 2015 before eventually signing a full time deal. He then moved over to Kairat FC in Kazakhstan where he is currently continuing his career.
Before their exit on Friday Bateau was in Brazil’s corner but now it’s no guessing who he will be backing to go all the way.
“Having spent three years in Belgium I know that they have been working and planning to win this World Cup and they have a well balanced team also,” Bateau told TTFA Media.
“Their system from U-10 to the senior players is very, very professional and it shows in the current team. I’ve played with and against some of their players like Batsuayi, Chadli, Boyata, the brother of Lukaku, Jordan, as well as Munier. Now they will play against Brazil and it would be a challenge for both teams but I will not put it past Belgium to go further also,” he said before Friday’s clash.
“I was supporting Brazil but now they are going home, I’m a big fan of Thiago Silva and for me they had one of the most complete teams at the tournament,” he added later on.
With the distance between Kazakhstan and Russia just under 3,000 kilometres, the former San Juan Jabloteh player is no doubt feeling smelling the action even as the Kazakhstan league continues during the same period of all the drama and thrills happening across the border.
“I think the World Cup would have a big impact anywhere in the world. It can be close or a hundred miles away and the world would stop when there are games. It’s no different here except for the fact that our league is still going on at the same time but the bars are always full on match days,” he said.
Bateau also gave his views on the level of football at the World Cup, the showing of CONCACAF nations Panama, Mexico and Costa Rica which he all faced on qualification and the VAR system.
“The level is high and every game you can see total football being played. After all it’s the biggest stage in a player’s career so every game is a chance to prove yourself and lift the spirit of your country. You can see that no team wants to lose and there were some surprises early in the tournament but it just goes to show that the game is changing rapidly and it’s not so much the history a team has but who is better on the day,” he said.
“The Concacaf teams fought well but apart from Mexico you can see we’re still a step behind where the quality of football is concerned. We are good fighters but fighting is not all we need to improve as a region.”
And on VAR, the two-time T&T World Youth Cup squad member stated, “I think the VAR system slows down the game at times but FIFA is all about fair play and with VAR there’s no doubt that it’s harder for any team to be cheeky.”
Anticipates role of TTFA Home of Football in taking local game to improved levels
Having experienced the system in Belgium and observing their processes, Bateau is also hopeful that local football development will receive a much needed boost with the oncoming completion of the TTFA Player Accommodation hotel and the Home of Football Training Centre in Couva. At the moment the surfaces on the two additional training pitches are progressing nicely and are near completion for use while the hotel is presenting a more impressive look with each week that passes.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction and now I would like to see us improve in some of the other areas like with anything which you want to be successful or get to the next level. But definitely it should be a welcomed boost because now our players can be more comfortable when it comes to preparing in a good facility and environment for the game,” Bateau said.
“When you compare the Belgian system to ours, firstly the Pro League has a big part to play in the development of players. This is where I started off but even then things were better and there needs to be a boost in terms of the league itself and the support for it.
“We can even go back to the U-17 team that qualified for South Korea in 2007. We were together for about three years before qualifying for the World Cup and the same group of players qualified for the U-20 World Cup, so they found the solution but since then that process was never repeated. It is my hope now that with some of the developments I am hearing about with the home of football, it will be a positive and much needed lift which I am looking forward to,” Bateau added.