'Letts' make a deal!

American-born Young Reggae Boy signs pro deal with Belgian 2nd division club

By Ian Burnett
Sport Editor

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

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American-born Jamaican youth international Chad Letts has crossed the Atlantic to sign a professional deal with Belgian Second Division side Royal Union Saint-Gilloise.

The 18-year-old, who was a member of the previous Jamaica Under-17 team, recently inked an 18-month contract, with the option to extend for two additional years.

Royal Union Saint-Gilloise currently lie in third place on 12 points in the eight-team points table behind Beerschot Wilrijk and Mechelen on 18 points, each after eight rounds of games. Early last year the club came under new management as Tony Bloom, chairman of current English Premier League outfit Brighton & Hove Albion, was confirmed as majority shareholder.

Letts, who has been training with the club on and off since last summer — but was unable to sign earlier due to his age — is ecstatic at the opportunity to finally realise his dream of playing professional football.

“I'm extremely excited about it and I'm looking forward to what the future holds,” he told the Jamaica Observer from his Belgian home last evening.

“Now I really want to work hard and get into the starting line-up and win as much as possible with my team.”

His parents, too, are extremely elated about the future of their son, particularly his father Sefton “Gully” Letts.

“We are very excited because we think Belgium is hot and is the place for his development and the place to be for young players because if you look worldwide Belgium is pushing out world-class players, left, right and centre,” Sefton offered.

He continued: “He has already played four years with the Under-19s and he had one more year and we never really wanted to come back one more year to play. He has trained with the first team at Atlanta United (2018 MLS Cup winners) and he has played with the USL (United States Soccer League) team, though no official games, but he has been on the roster. We just wanted to push him because we know, here in the US, there are a lot of limitations and we just want to maximise his full Agent Damani Ralph played an integrale role in the decision to move to the European League.potential, so that's why we thought about Europe.”

The young Letts left home in Atlanta, Georgia, at 13 years old to join the Philadelphia Union Academy accompanied by his mother Nascine.

He spent two seasons with the Union before moving back to Georgia to join the Atlanta United Academy. In Philadelphia, Letts tallied 15 goals in 33 appearances for both the Under-17 and Under-19 teams, while at Atlanta United he struck 17 goals in 31 matches last season.

This time his move to Europe will be without his mother but, in an ironic twist, his dad believes that Chad's less than ideal experience in Jamaica during the Under-17 qualification campaign has provided him with the tools to survive on his own in an unforgiving world.

“It was a horrible experience,” claimed Sefton, of Chad's time with the Young Reggae Boyz.

“We think the mental toughness that was required to be with the U17s has served him well. For example, there would be like 30 guys staying at the Reggae Boyz house and there were times when he had to take a shower outside with a hose... he wasn't used to that, and the field at the Technical Centre (at UWI, Mona) was horrible, but he just had to adjust and it took some getting used to, and also while they were there they had to be focusing on schoolwork, so he was somewhat kind of multi-tasking.

“In Europe it is the same thing, because he has to find out how to get to training, and now he has to bicycle ride to training because that is what everybody does; rain, cold, sunshine, it doesn't matter, and if he's late he's fined, so he has to make it to training on time. No one cares about how he gets there, he has to get there.

“In one year he travelled like 12 times to Jamaica for the U17s and it's very costly, but he's committed to the programme and, despite the shortcomings, that's where his heart is because we kind of groomed him with the Jamaican culture, so he is very much into the music and he can tell you the latest on what's going on in Jamaica.”

Chad has taken the transition from North America to Europe in stride, but admitted that he struggled at the outset, and especially when he had to travel back and forth across the Atlantic in the latter part of last year.

“Being on and off has been really tricky, to be honest, because my first experience in Belgium it was a lot of adaptation because everything is different. The culture is different, the language is different, and I was struggling in some of the drills, but within a week I was able to pick myself up and focus hard in training.”

He has overcome those early difficulties and is now more at home. In fact, he says he's ready and prepared to face the challenges of the world head-on.

“I'm comfortable now. I'm not even going to lie to you; it was a struggle at first, but my mother, she's been teaching me how to cook, and honestly I think this is the right thing for me because I want to mature and really become a man and know what it is like to be out there on my own. So I feel like this is the right step, and even letting go of my mother and my father is the best thing that could happen to me, because I know what the real world is like now.”

For now, Chad is placing all emphasis on his immediate development at Royal Union Saint-Gilloise, and his proud father is in total agreement.

“Right now he's trying to make the squad, and then the starting 11, and he is playing for a contract to be renewed. So there's a lot on his plate, so international football is not priority right now, but down the line, yes it is. We are just focusing on development right now, and later definitely the Reggae Boyz, no doubt.”

Chad will watch his team battle Mechelen in first-leg semi-finals of the Belgium Cup today as he awaits his work permit, but he can't wait to hit the pitch and get his professional career off and running, especially with Europa League qualification games coming up in March.

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