Star midfielder Nicoli Brathwaite has had four opportunities to sign a contract and be well on his way to becoming a professional footballer. And while he has not signed a contract just yet, he is hopeful that the fifth time would definitely be his charm and has taken each trial as an opportunity to further his skill.
The 19-year-old initially started his athletic career as a cricketer. His friends used to play football for fun, and on the suggestion of a coach, he joined the football league. That, in turn, propelled him to join Kickstart Football Club and saw him entering the BICO Primary Schools’ Football Competition during his time at St Martin’s Mangrove Primary School. He then went on to The St Michael School where he also played in the Secondary Schools’ Football League.
During his time at Kickstart, he went through the ranks from Under-11 straight through to Under-17, even travelling overseas to the USA to represent his club, before getting his ticket to join the Barbados Football Association’s top tier team.
While in the Under-17 division at Kickstart, he travelled to England in 2016 where he was signed to Leyton Orient for one year at the Under-16 level. He was also offered a professional contract but was unable to sign due to lack of international clearance.
Brathwaite returned to Barbados, secured his student visa and returned to England to attend school. And while pursuing his education, he continued to train with Leyton’s Under-18 team and their first League 2 team for the next year.
However, when the international clearance still was not forthcoming, he went on trial to a League 1 team, Charlton Athletic, which is two leagues below Premier League, where he played with the Under-18 and Under-23 teams, but did not sign due to an internal issue.
Once again he went on trial, but this time to Southend United FC, a League 1 Club, but faced yet another challenge and was unable to sign due to his age, the players already in the system and the biggest challenge; that of still needing international clearance.
Not daunted, the Paul Pogba fan was handed a golden opportunity to go on trial at a Division 1 Club in Argentina, Club Atletico Lanus, but he was unsuccessful mainly due to his age and the required players already being in the system.
Despite the hiccups, Brathwaite rejoined the Under-23 national team for the Olympic Qualifiers, before settling down at Paradise on his return to Barbados.
“All those trials helped me to understand how life and football is, and I felt honored to have had the opportunity. When I came back, I went straight into national games, so I knew that it would have been easier for me to fit into the team and play at a high level. I knew the level I was playing at I would also be able to push the boys and help them as well,” he said.
He added that the attitude of footballers overseas was way different, but he had hopes locally the level would soon be on par with international football.
“Playing overseas compared to here, the attitude is completely different as is the level and pace of the sport. Overseas they put more resources into football. In terms of the level of play, it is a higher level there. The level here is getting better, but I feel it will be on par with clubs overseas at some point,” he said matter-of-factly.
But with five national caps he firmly believed in order for that to happen, the outlook of the game needed to change.
“I would like to change the overall attitude towards the sport from both the players and in general, but mainly from the players. If the players take it seriously I feel that would push everyone, in general, to take it more seriously which would allow football on a whole in Barbados to go further. I feel once that happens it would bring more success in Barbados in that aspect,” he said wisely.
And while a part of the senior men’s team, Brathwaite intended to soak up every bit of inspiration and advice from Head Coach Russell Latapy.
“Playing under Coach Latapy for me has been a lot different than playing under other coaches in Barbados. Each coach has their different style of coaching, but Coach Latapy takes his time and he really works with detail and is very specific with the way he wants things to be. The professionalism and the way he approaches the team, I feel like it brings a good all-round attitude to the whole team and we take it more seriously and the way we approach things is a lot better,” he said.
Now, Brathwaite, who said he rather be a critic than being aligned with any one football team as he enjoyed watching most teams play, said he couldn’t wait to get back on the Turf and sharpen his football skills.
“I am very excited to see how things will be going forward because I really couldn’t wait for training to start back. I am just excited to join the boys and get back to working towards great things and achieve what we planned to achieve a couple of months ago,” he said brightly.