By Michael Benjamin
Football has been touted as the world’s most popular sport and its participants engage in shrewd tactics, techniques and strategies in attaining lofty goals. Over the past years, the sport has witnessed an upsurge in local activities and to some extent, has improved the lot of many of the local ball weavers.
Amidst this backdrop, some players have managed to experience a change of fortunes, none more apparent than Gregory ‘Jackie Chan’ Richardson, a dapper, dexterous player whose prowess on the field has earned him a lucrative contract in Major League Soccer. Guyanese football officials and players alike have had the good fortune of competing in semi-professional clubs in Trinidad and Tobago where they were able to acquire much needed international activity. Additionally, some of the local coaches were, and some still are, involved in the above mentioned leagues in the North East Stars FC among others in the Twin Island Republic.
Guyanese footballers are yet to emulate their Jamaican counterparts and compete for World Cup glory; this despite our close proximity to Brazil, arguably the world’s most powerful football nation. To this extent, local accomplishments are a far cry from that of our neighbours to the south.
If the truth be told, the efforts of local football administrators in support of the dreams and aspirations of Guyanese football stalwarts in the latter groups’ bid to accrue international acclaim are oft times hindered by a paucity of sound structural brainpower coupled with the lack of requisite funding to address such objectives.
One wonders aloud if, even amidst this backdrop, local football administrators are dedicating enough mental and physical energy to create the type of opportunities concomitant successes for their charges in the various sub-associations.
Of all the local clubs, Alpha ‘The Hammer’ United FC, by dint of its track record, has earned the right to be regarded as the cream of local teams. It has been the unprecedented national league champions two years on the trot, in 2009 and 2010, ever since that tournament came into existence, four times Georgetown champions plus two times Kashif and Shanghai champions, in 2008 and 2010.
This phenomenal team have also enjoyed a home advantage once during their triple attempt to procure honours in the Inter-Guiana Club championship, the other two attempts occurring in French Guiana and Suriname. Add their domination of the Fruta Conquerors Namilco Championships in 2005, 2008 and 2010 and their astounding qualification for the 2nd round Caribbean Football Union Champions Cup in 2010, which has augmented a plethora of other local achievements and the claims by Lumumba of his team being the best local football unit is effectively endorsed.
Over the years also, the club has witnessed several administrative changes as Lumumba employs experimental strategies to arrive at the right combination to convert his charges into mean fighting machines.
The concomitant result of such strategies creates a competitive atmosphere where club members strive for near insurmountable goals. Undoubtedly, despite the views of the naysayer, ‘The Hammers’ continue to pound out success after success and are indisputably a cut above the other local clubs.
While most executives would feel heartened by such remarkable accolades Lumumba remains adamant that the footballers are still to realize their true potential and unless he continues to administrate with an iron fist, they would continue to wander along the wrong path and eventually into obscurity.
With such fears besetting his thoughts, Lumumba has recently sounded the battle cry to his charges, “Shape up or ship out!” The vociferous President remains adamant that despite the glossy accomplishments of his charges, much more can be extracted from them with the right application coupled with the requisite discipline. “This is the first real test since I’ve improvised new measures to assess them to determine whether they are content to waddle in mediocrity or to register tangible accomplishments,” explained Lumumba.
His aspirations for the team intact, the vociferous Lumumba admits that the cost of attaining a lucrative spot within the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), CONCACAF and consequently the FIFA rankings is not only a challenging but an extremely costly endeavour. “I have expended millions of dollars to get the team to its present status and visualizes a further input of between 28-30 million dollars if the local players are to come on par with their Caribbean and international counterparts,” he pronounced. Notwithstanding such fierce ambitions for the team’s development the Alpha boss believes that the public and the corporate community are very important stakeholders and he feels obliged to reciprocate their moral and financial input. “There are times when it appears as though the best efforts are dwindling to naught but I persevere because I feel an obligation to the Guyanese to produce a team worthy of their applause,” explained Lumumba in response to a question of his persevering character.
He further regards his involvement as a means of reciprocating the chivalry he enjoyed while interacting with the Guyanese society over the years. “Ever since I have taken over the reins of power, I have spent millions to hone the skills of these footballers,” he said. His projections for the young footballers will be a costly affair yet Lumumba continues to toil away because he is confident that the players are talented and with proper guidance would one day gel into competitive world beaters. “Already the cost of molding the team to its present status has been prohibitive yet there is need for about another 28 or 30 million dollars to achieve the ultimate goal,” admits the Alpha United boss.
Amidst all of the challenges, Lumumba, considers himself the lynchpin of the success story of the Alpha United FC. He took over the reins of authority some 5 years ago when, according to him, the club was at its lowest ebb—poor infrastructure, players that lacked the requisite discipline and unavailability of adequate funding to propel the team to their aspirations. “When I undertook to manage the club it was a mere shell with absolutely no resources,” intimated
Lumumba. Many persons would have become frustrated and disillusioned by such state of affairs but the Alpha boss said that he was buoyed by the challenge of positively turning the fortunes of the players.
Subsequent to his initial evaluations after taking over the reins of power, Lumumba said he decided to start the rebuilding process by firstly instilling several fundamental initiatives which included discipline and the installment of a reputable coach to nurture the team to an acceptable standard.
So it came about that Gavin Brown was initially selected for the job. “He was a good coach but my projection for the team forced me to continue the search for just the right person to match the high ideals I nurtured for Alpha United, declared Lumumba.
Consequently, he employed the proverbial chop and change strategy that witnessed a procession of coaches, most unable to match Lumumba’s high ideals.
Other than Brown, some of the most noteworthy names to have nurtured the Alpha footballers to their current status are Marvin ‘Pug’ Wilson and Clifton Babb among others. Lumumba’s propensity for excellence eventually drove him to seek out the services of Wayne ‘Wiggy’ Dover, a local coach that has procured a wealth of experience while attending various courses under the auspices of the world football body, FIFA.
This seemed to have been, not only the right, but the wisest choice since ‘Wiggy,’ upon his appointment in 2006 has been instrumental in guiding the local football unit to a number of local titles plus several overseas engagements that netted fluctuating yet pleasing results.
He agrees with his boss that indeed there is an endemic disciplinary problem that if left unchecked could balloon into uncontrollable proportions. “Notwithstanding this, I believe that when we eventually get on top of this situation we will then have a unit suitably fit for national duties,” opined Dover.
The accomplishments of Alpha sounds like a fairy tale yet they are real. Even so, Lumumba is adamant that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
“We have the talent both administratively as well as on the field. It is now up to the players to convert talent into achievements,” posited Lumumba. His mission is to facilitate this process at all costs.
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