Tahir Hanley (white jersey) in Caribbean under-20 qualifying action for St. Kitts & Nevis against Antigua & Barbuda on October 23, 2016, in Willemstad, Curacao. (Photo: David Heykoop)
There is no doubt that St. Kitts & Nevis international Tahir Hanley is among the next generation of CONCACAF stars. The 19-year-old forward made his senior debut in a 0-0 draw at Nicaragua on August 31, 2016. In addition to that honor, he was key in helping the Sugar Boyz secure a place in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship for only the second-ever time, scoring six goals in Caribbean qualifying, including two in the final round. Hanley took time to speak with CONCACAF.com about his future as a professional and what he wants to achieve moving forward.
How old were you when you started to play football?
I was seven-years-old when I started to play football. It was a happy moment for me. Football was my hobby and my love. Now, I am happy that it is a career option for me.
You scored key goals to help your country qualify for the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. How did you feel about your role in making that happen?
I felt great. It is a wonderful feeling when you can contribute for your country and make an impact. The Caribbean final round in Curacao was a memorable tournament for us. I would say, however, that our win over Jamaica (2-0) in the Dominican Republic in the first round was a turning point for us. It gave us a lot of momentum moving forward and thankfully the goals came…so did the performances and the results. Football is big in St. Kitts and hopefully we can show CONCACAF that we are no pushovers and that we can make a good impression and establish ourselves as a strong footballing nation.
Are there any footballers to whom you look up?
Well, there are two. Cristiano Ronaldo is one. He is a hard worker and we are seeing that every season he just improves and improves. He is a model professional and he takes his football seriously. It is a good platform he has set for young people. In terms of Kittitian footballers, I look up to my big brother Tishan Hanley. He is a regular in the national team and he also plays football overseas. He gives me good advice and I hope to play overseas like him one day in the future.
You made your St. Kitts & Nevis senior debut earlier this year in a 0-0 draw at Nicaragua. How did it feel to make your debut?
It was a dream to make my senior international debut. We did well against a team that beat the likes of Suriname and Jamaica in World Cup qualifiers. I am now working on to be a regular in the senior team. That is my next goal as a player.
In the 2017 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, St. Kitts & Nevis will face Panama, the USA and Haiti. What are your thoughts on that group?
I must say it is a tough group, but we are in this tournament for a reason. We have a right to play in this tournament and we are there to win. Caribbean teams have done well in this tournament, so why can’t’ we. We have to take things one game at a time and ensure we do our best in all games. From there, we see where we are and then we take it from there.
What is your objective in the 2017 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship?
My personal aim is to score goals, help my team to play well and to qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. St. Kitts & Nevis has never played in a FIFA tournament, so this is a grand opportunity for us. One way to look at it is that we are five wins away. It is easier said than done, but when you aim high, you shall get success.
What are your personal career goals?
There are two goals that I have in mind. I would like to become a professional football player and play overseas. Secondly, I would like to be known in St. Kitts & Nevis. When people think of St. Kitts & Nevis, they think of sprinter Kim Collins and footballer Atiba Harris. I would love to be added to this list and make my country proud. These are my dreams. It will take time, but I do believe everything will fall into place.
What is your advice to youngsters who want to play football professionally?
Keep working hard. It takes a lot of hard work. You have to make a lot of sacrifices in order to succeed. Once you stay grounded and motivated, you will reap the rewards in life and football and succeed. Watching more football also helps as well. You can watch clips of players and see what little bits you can take from everyone and apply it to your game. Finally, surround yourself with people who motivate you and care about you, including family and close friends.