“No pain, no gain” is a famous saying. For Khaleem Hyland, as he grew up in Carenage, Trinidad, there were no truer words. In fact, in a very literal sense, he lived by them.
The highly-rated versatile midfielder’s mother used to ‘cut his tail,’ according to local parlance, because he used to run away from home in order to play football at “the Pen,” located in the Big Yard, with the older boys in the area. “My Mom found I was too young to play with the older guys,” Hyland recalled.
Poor fella. Far from ‘horsing around aimlessly’ or ‘making mischief,’ he knew he was onto something as far as football was concerned, but Mummy didn’t get it – at least, not yet. Pretty soon she did, though; in fact, everybody did.
“Elder folks in the community saw my capability, and my Mom eventually realised my talent,” Hyland said. “I am thankful for her support. She sacrificed herself for me to make it in life to achieve my goal.”
Considering what he has achieved, the pain of those ‘cut-tails’ may have proved to be well worth it. His rise to fame was rapid, to say the least.
His professional career got started in 2007 with San Juan Jabloteh in the TT Pro League. In January, 2008, at the tender age of eighteen, he debuted for Trinidad and Tobago’s senior team. On June 1 of that same year, in an international friendly versus an established, imposing England side, he received a rousing ovation at the Hasely Crawford Stadium after dribbling cheekily past widely-renowned central midfielder Steven Gerrard who, understandably embarrassed at that point, responded instinctively with a scything tackle, for which he was rightly booked. A few days later, Hyland celebrated his first goal at senior international level.
All the while, interest in capturing his signature was mounting. Work permit issues ended up denying him the move to England he craved, forcing him to make a compromise. SV Zulte Waregem in Belgium thus proved to be his destination early in 2009. He impressed over the course of his 72 overall appearances there, drawing further attention from different clubs – including Galatasaray and Tottenham Hotspur – in so doing. In August, 2011, however, it was K.R.C. Genk who sealed a deal for him.
Given the club’s participation in the esteemed UEFA Champions League tournament the following season, Hyland, twenty-two years old then, was granted the opportunity to test himself against Europe’s elite, and became only the fourth Trinidad and Tobago national after Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy, and Marvin Andrews to play in that competition.
Two years later, he enjoyed another wonderful achievement, winning the Belgian Cup with Genk at the end of the 2012/2013 season. It was a victory that ensured Hyland would have the privilege of playing in another elite European club competition the following campaign – the UEFA Europa League.
Evidently then, Hyland’s career thus far is chalk full of high points – more on the club front than for country, though, which is something he is no doubt eager to fix, with the 2018 World Cup firmly in sight.
As many highs as there have been, however, there is no smooth road to success, and Hyland’s is no exception. For one thing, he had to deal with his older brother’s untimely death in 2009. The loss of a loved one to death, especially a favourite sibling, is one of the worst things a human being will ever have to deal with during their lifetime. Hyland, however, tried his best to cope and battle on, forging ahead, despite grief, with the plans he had shared with his brother.
As a versatile midfielder and sometime central defender, battling and fighting against odds is one of the things he does best. That toughness and resilience have taken him quite far already and no doubt will take him much further. His growing list of admirers expect just that from him, in this most promising of football careers.