Anticipation high as Caribbean Premier Showcase provides platform for young footballers to parade skills for overseas scouts

By January 04, 2024
Oniqueky Samuels, Showcase Coordinator and Special Advisor Oniqueky Samuels, Showcase Coordinator and Special Advisor

It is every young footballer's dream to play on the global stage, but first they would require the necessary platform to parade their skills with hopes of being recognized by astute overseas-based coaches.

Such is the case for some of the Caribbean's top young players, who are provided an opportunity to take their talents beyond the shores and, by extension, bring their dreams of making it big on the global stage within reach, courtesy of the Caribbean Premier Showcase.

The Caribbean Premier Showcase, conceptualized by Jamaican-born Oniqueky Samuels in 2014, was meant to be a mere recruitment drive for universities and colleges in the United States, but has since blossomed into a developmental workshop.

The event is designed to test the mettle and skills of players from across the region under the watchful eyes of over 30 coaches from universities, colleges, clubs and academies across the world.

Having made stops in Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada over the years, Samuels, the Men’s Head coach and International Advisor at the University of Maine, Fort Kent, has opted to bring the showcase back to Jamaica, with action scheduled for Friday and Saturday starting at 9:00am.

St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) Sports Complex in Santa Cruz will be the first stop, before Samuels and team cap things off at the UWI-JFF Captain Horace Burrell Centre of Excellence in Kingston.

The showcase involves a number of games in the morning from which coaches will select the various players they want to see advance. In the afternoon, an All-scholastic team, selected by ISSA, will square off against an All-star team selected by the coaches. Following those engagements, the All-manning and All-daCosta Cup teams will lock horns against the All-star teams selected by the coaches.

After leaving Jamaica the Showcase will head to Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Samuels pointed out that his inspiration to launch such an initiative stemmed from his own journey, as he was awarded a scholarship to the University of Maine, Fort Kent in 2007, and has made full use of the opportunity.

The soft-spoken Samuels completed two degrees at Maine, Fort Kent, and later transitioned to Union College where he started his coaching career. After spending two seasons at Union as a graduate assistant, he was hired by Maine, Fort Kent as an academic advisor and assistant coach, before taking the reins as of his current position in 2018.

“I'm excited about how everything is manifesting. It started as just an itch to give back to young Jamaicans as soon as I got an opportunity coaching. So, I wanted to recruit you know personnel from similar background as mine and it has transitioned into this that you're seeing now,” Samuels, who is also the founder of the Samuels Soccer Foundation, shared.

“It is so satisfying, a lot of persons are hopping on board and making this an official event. That's the main objective, to make this an official annual event that can give young Caribbean players an opportunity to excel, whether you know excel in football or excel in academics because at the end of the day it started by just you know offering scholarships to universities and colleges,” he added.

According to Samuels, another key component to the Showcase is the fact that it also prepares the successful recruits mentally for their transition into a new environment.

“It helps with the want-to-do-well mindset because you want to make better for your family. So, at the end of the day, you have me that have gone through with you have Rajay [Maragh] that has gone through it, many of the personnel who are assisting and volunteering for this showcase, have gone through it. We also offer that connection and relationship with the coaches as well, so if there are issues or any kind of conversation that needs to be had, you know we're going to have those conversations. So, we kind of maintain somewhat of a relationship as a kid gets an opportunity. They're not just thrown out into wherever they land and just expected to do well,” he explained.

 

That said, Rajay Maragh, the Showcase’s chief operating officer, argued that it would be remiss if they didn’t stress the need to balance academics and the athletics to allow for greater success. This, he said is often an issue as some student-athletes forget that they are students first.

“That is one of the challenges we had last year too. So, we had a player who did well at the showcase, the coach is interested. We go into the system, and we pull up his profile, but the grades are not matching. These days, Colleges are not necessarily giving full scholarship like that. They'll give you an academic scholarship, and an athletic scholarship and together that would make it a full scholarship. So, you may have a coach that offers a player 60% in sports scholarship, which means the other 40 needs to come from your academic progress,” Maragh revealed.

On that note, President and founder of Value FC Emelio Williams gave insight into what the coaches will be looking for.

"Whether you play top tier college football or professional football, one of the first things is just character. You know your academics well. I'm a supporter of schools because we run two professional teams in Europe and you're a brand. The club is a brand, the team is a brand, each player is a brand. You might score 30 goals for the season, but if your actions bring the club in disrepute, it's all for nought. So, character and all the things that come with just the discipline, the commitment, the drive, being a good teammate, hard work. Those things are massively important to any college coach and to any professional organization. I would say character and then obviously your football and talents or your academic, your athletic talents are massively important," he said.

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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