Relieved by FIFA's decision to lift the suspension on the T&T Football Association (TTFA), Khaleem Hyland, the T&T senior men’s team captain is now anticipating a return to leading the national team.
Hyland, yesterday, paid tribute to former Argentina captain Diego Maradona, while observing the passion for the game in the South American country which he witnessed when T&T faced the 1986 World Champions in an international friendly in Buenos Aires in 2014.
“I want to pay respect and express condolences to the family, friends and ex-teammates of Diego Maradona. World football has lost a footballing God. It is a sad week for all of us. Everyone is grieving as he had a part to play in the lives of so many people regarding their love for the game. He was a dominant and inspirational figure to millions including myself,” Hyland said.
Reflecting on his experience on Argentina soil, the Saudi Arabia-based player continued, “It was so great to witness in Argentina how they worshipped Maradona and Messi with so many billboards and posters across Buenos Aires. Their passion for the game is immense and they always want the best for their team and the country.
"I hope one day I can live to see something similar in my country. But of course, we as players need to do our part and we as a country have to really put our heads together to lift ourselves.
“Everyone needs to come on board and we need to start from now knowing that the suspension is lifted. The Normalisation Committee (NC) is in charge and everyone involved needs to give the NC the fullest support and respect in order for us to do this for the country, thinking of the future generations.”
The midfielder, who played in the UEFA Champions League for Belgium club Racing Genk, stressed the importance of stakeholders putting the development of the local game above everything.
“It is important that we know at this time the path forward with FIFA assisting in overseeing our football. Right now, the Normalisation Committee is in charge. I have had good conversations with the chairman Robert Hadad on things we need to work on and how we can work together to achieve this,” Hyland said.
“I haven’t met him (Hadad) in person as yet but we have had some great conversations over video calls and he seems like a person who wants to improve the state of our football and a great guy. All the stakeholders need to come together as one to put T&T’s football back on the map and back to a respectable position. From partners, fans, coaches and players, we all really need to pull together and play our part.”
The former San Juan Jabloteh man intends to do his part, once called upon.
"It is always a pleasure and honour to represent T&T and a dream come true to not only play but to captain the national team. As a player, it is just about being able to give back everything and share my knowledge and experiences that I inherited from the older ones who I rubbed shoulders with both at home and abroad. Once I am still in good shape and strong-minded, I will always be available to play and contribute to my country.”
Touching on Maradona’s influence, Hyland spoke of the occasion which saw him and the rest of the T&T line-up being able to take the field at the famous Estadio Antonio Vespucio Liberti – better known as the Monumental. It is one of South America’s three great stadiums along with the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the Centenario in Montevideo, Uruguay and has hosted some of the Argentinian national team’s most memorable games and provided a suitably dramatic setting for the opening match and the final of the 1978 FIFA World Cup, won by the hosts.
“It was great to play against Argentina just before the 2014 World Cup at a stadium where Maradona’s presence was strong so many times as a player and head coach of Argentina. The biggest players in the world played at that venue and played against us in that game. One of the world’s best Lionel Messi is an understudy of Maradona and we had that opportunity to take the field alongside him.
“In my life, I didn’t see a lot of Maradona live but I’ve always watched so many clips of him and his influence was massive. Playing against Messi was like playing against Maradona in many ways because of their similarities but of course, Maradona is Maradona and we will never see someone like him again,” said Hyland.