More can follow in Crichlow’s footsteps
With one Bermudian, Kane Crichlow, already on their books, Watford are keeping their eyes open for more talent, although that is not the only reason Richard Thomas, the Premier League side’s academy manager, is on the island as part of the Iconz Soccer Camp.
“From a recruitment perspective it’s difficult because Fifa governs that we can’t just try to recruit from all over the world, so it really isn’t about that, but spreading the name Watford globally, which is what we’re trying to do as a club,” Thomas said after a session at the Clyde Best Centre of Excellence for under-11 players on Thursday.
“Obviously, our first team is littered with players from all over the world, so it’s great that we get to go out and see the youngsters so that they are aware of our club and our brand, which is very important to the club, our board of directors and owner.
“We understand that lots of people here hold British passports, so if somebody does move to England for school or because of their parents’ work, it could be a nice thing, regardless of where they take their football.
“It’s not so much a recruitment drive for us, more awareness and branding and making sure the children are aware of who we are; that’s the most important thing. It’s more about making sure they enjoy the game and have fun.”
The camps were conducted by Thomas, along with Lawrie Dudfield and Mike Edwards, both former English professionals.
One or two players will receive the opportunity for a weeklong trial at Watford, whom Crichow joined last season from League One side AFC Wimbledon on a two-year contract after a successful trial.
However, the 19-year-old has been sidelined with a broken ankle injury after a promising start to the season.
He picked up the injury while training with the first team after going in for a tackle with defender Daryl Janmaat.
“He spent most of the preseason with the first team and went on their tour to Austria, so I think he’s left a good mark on the first-team staff and also the players,” Thomas said.
“He’s got to get back fit again and show the levels of consistency and maturity that allows him to stay around that environment.
“It [injury] is a real shame because he was doing very well for the under-23s with a number of goals and assists already. He’s got plenty of time on his side, fortunately.
“He’s a lovely kid, he brings that relaxed island mentality, which is lovely to see and that spreads to people around him. He fits in our environment really well.”
Dudfield, on his third visit to Bermuda with Iconz, who have linked up with Young Men’s Social Club, is happy that they are fulfilling their mission through their elite camps.
“To create lasting relationships with Bermuda, our core business is UK soccer tours and bringing over groups from America,” said the former Hull City striker.
“It’s an unbelievable place to come and work; we’ve had fantastic feedback from the parents and the Bermuda Football Association. It’s about offering tangible opportunities, and that starts by bringing real people out like former players.
“We came this summer and saw a number of players, 10 and 11, and spoke to Richard about it and he was keen to come out. Unbeknown to us he has an affinity to the island as his sister lives here. He was really keen, from a development standpoint, to come out after we told him the standard we’d seen.
“We’re all ex-players and work with clubs and really try to bridge the gap between what’s real and what’s not.”
Troy Lewis comes from a footballing family. His father is Fred “Pinks” Lewis, whose brother, Eversley, played in Scotland for Aberdeen in the 1960s. Now Troy’s son, Zeiko, is following in the footsteps of his grandfather and great-uncle as a professional footballer with Charleston Battery in the USL Championship in the United States.
“Football has done a lot for me,” Lewis said. “It got me into university and a university degree, but my aspiration wasn’t to be a professional footballer. I enjoy the part of working with the youngsters and seeing them grow up, and seeing what they turn out to be.
“You have some players who look very good when they are young, but you also have to make sure they are a good person, so if football doesn’t pan out for them, they still have other avenues to fall back on.”
Lewis is a key figure in the camps as an official of both Social Club and the BFA.
“This camp is to gauge the talent, but also to create pathways to get out there,” he said.
“With the Fifa regulations, you just can’t fly out there for football; you also have to go for education, so that’s why we are also bringing in schools.
“We brought in Brook House School. Iconz does tours and have relationships with different clubs in the UK and US.
“Because their coaches are former professionals, it’s easier for us to get some of their coaches here, which is creating pathways not just for our players, but also Bermudian coaches to go over and see what true academies are like, get different ideas and techniques and hopefully come back and raise our level in Bermuda.”
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