FORMER US college footballer Kevon Aberdeen is on a mission to help future generations fulfil their potential on and off the field. To help young footballers achieve their dreams, Aberdeen formed NexGem Talent Management, an agency to support its clients aiming to make it on the world stage.
Aberdeen, a former Queen's Royal College student from 1990-1995 and a St Augustine Senior Comprehensive student from 1995-1997, migrated to the US after secondary school. His football talent was noticed during a "sweat" in Brooklyn and he was invited to a University of South Carolina football trial where he earned a scholarship in 2001.
"I took the bus 16 hours by myself to get (from Brooklyn, New York) to South Carolina and I went down there for a weekend and I played like my life depended on it, and the coach offered me a scholarship."
He wants to help TT footballers get the opportunity to realise their potential.
In conjunction with his childhood friend Kerwin Cunningham, Aberdeen got the ball rolling in 2021 with NexGem Talent Management.
"Now I am bringing scholarships to kids at their door – where they don't have to do anything. All you have to do is show up and be the best that you could be,” Aberdeen said.
"We spoke about doing something for TT because we know there is talent there. We know that the (local) football programme had fallen off in terms of the results that we were producing, and we wanted to help athletes because we know how hard it is to get out of Trinidad to get a scholarship or even to go pro. We started that venture.
"It started off slow obviously because of the pandemic, but Kerwin, because he lived in London, he basically had access to all those countries in Europe."
Aberdeen said Cunningham would send countless e-mails to clubs, but would sometimes get just a few responses. However, they stayed committed.
"We did not give up, but today we have access to clubs across Europe. We have access to clubs in Belgium, clubs in Sweden, clubs in Greece, clubs in Denmark."
They try to help youths between 17 and 23. Aberdeen said a TT footballer, who he chose not to name, is now excelling at the International Development Academy in Valencia, Spain.
Aberdeen said being in a European club will allow footballers from TT to become professional.
"You are developing a mindset; you are developing an attitude; you are developing eating habits; you are developing living habits; you are developing one on one with the coaches, different styles at a high level. We can market you to clubs."
Aberbeen said many athletes don't know the details of their contract, but Cunningham takes the lead in that area telling athletes about the fine print. "We basically review all contracts for these athletes.
"A lot of athletes don't know what they are signing, they sign away their life half of the time. These clubs say do this and that, and you are so happy you don't even know what is in the contract...We put things in there to protect them."
Many athletes struggle to adapt to life after retiring from playing. NextGem seeks to help athletes adjust to their new life. "We saw also a need for the athlete when they finish (playing). A lot of them go away and do their own thing, but they don't give back.
"We want to create a YouTube channel where the athlete could come back and talk as an analyst, as a life coach to the kids and help them. The kids could sit with them, talk to them...This is going to be on TV, so you are talking about advertisement, revenue for the athlete after they play the game.
"We are taking you from 17 and we are managing all the way into your retirement. That is the holistic approach we taking – we with you like a family."
NextGem has plans for 2024 which would benefit footballers in the Caribbean.
“We are going to different countries around the world and find the best talent and put them into these academies…where they could then develop and perform. We are going to Jamaica in January, we found a partner there.”
After a visit to Jamaica, Trinidad will follow. “In March next year we are going to hold our first showcase in Trinidad where we are going to bring down foreign coaches to help us scout for talent and then be able to take that talent to Europe. Also, I am going to be bringing down universities to Trinidad.”