By Santokie Nagulendran
This past Tuesday, Jamaica lifted the 2014 Caribbean Cup after defeating Trinidad and Tobago by virtue of a
penalty shoot-out, with both teams heading to the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup safe in the knowledge that they are by far the best teams in the Caribbean. Guyana, who quietly exited the competition in qualifiers, can learn from both nations as to what needs to be done to ensure footballing progress: mainly, having a strong, professional domestic league that allows teams to play regular games and grants players the opportunity to constantly develop in the process by training hard to compete in high quality battles on a weekly basis.
When Alpha Utd played in this year’s CONCACAF Champions League, it was a historic occasion: they were the first club side from Guyana to make the group stages of the tournament, and although they did not perform as well as they would have liked, the experience of playing an MLS team and other top sides in the region should have proven to be a platform for future development.
However, fast-forward two months after their last game in the tournament, and Alpha United have not played a single competitive game due to the non-start of the GFF Super League. Instead, the team has been taking part in the recent GFA/Stag Beer Futsal tournament, which is not a competition that can develop the team in regards to actual football matches. With no domestic league football having taken place since April, on what criteria can the Normalisation Committee leading the federation use to create the core of a successful National Team?
Head coach of Alpha Utd, Wayne Dover, highlighted Guyana’s need for a professional league in Guyana: “If there’s a birth of a pro league, I think it will be beneficial to Guyana in many ways. It would give our players a chance to compete competitively, our coaches to function in a competitive environment, and it would allow for foreign players and coaches to join the league, which will have a great effect on the (footballing) economy. I think the whole attitude and mind-set of the players will change dramatically, more so the people in the footballing fraternity, it will force everyone to act professionally and do things right.”
Jamaica, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, both have professional domestic leagues that allow players to focus on football without the burden of worrying about their financial security and both nations are reaping the rewards of this. The Jamaican Premier League resumed on September 7th, which allowed the Jamaican federation two months to decide which players were in-form and performing well enough to feature in their National Team for the 2014 Caribbean Cup. Waterhouse FC, Jamaica’s top club side, also featured in the CONCACAF Champions League, and whilst Alpha United have played zero competitive games since the tournament ended, Waterhouse FC have played nine competitive league games.
Trinidad and Tobago realised the need for a professional league twenty years ago as a means to improve the National Team (after producing their worst tournament performance at the 1993 Caribbean Cup), and created the TT Pro League as a result in 1999. With Guyana producing its worst performance at the Caribbean Cup this year, perhaps it is time to start thinking about setting up a Professional League in Guyana. Whilst it is a huge under-taking, T&T begun by firstly creating a semi-professional league that implemented a minimum wage for all players, and then gradually progressed to becoming fully professional over time.
The results of having a professional league for both Jamaica and T&T have been remarkable, both teams have subsequently qualified for FIFA World Cups and stars of the respective leagues (Kenwyne Jones, Ricardo Fuller, Ricardo Gardner and Jason Scotland) have earned moves abroad to England’s Premier League, arguably the best league in the world, thus gaining more experience by facing world-class opposition every week.
In fact, as many as approximately 105 footballers hailing from T&T or Jamaica have played football in other pro leagues across the world, after starting off by playing professionally at home first.
Guyana has the talent to succeed, but no current outlet to demonstrate it to a wider audience, Guyanese stars such as Trayon Bobb and Walter Moore made moves to Trinidad and Tobago in order to further their career, and both now play their club football in Europe, such is the high regard the TT Pro League is held in across the world.
Speaking exclusively, former Guyana Head Coach and current Head Coach of Trinidadian club Caledonia AIA, Jamaal Shabazz, said, “In the Caribbean where finances are low for International friendlies, a strong premier league is a necessity to have the players competing at a high level week in, week out. Guyana has not recognised the value of a Odinga Lumumba, and how he has created a somewhat professional unit in Alpha Utd, to create an avenue for people like Wayne Dover to work at a high level and excel.”
Shabazz went on to say, “Javed Ali at Slingerz is another good example of business stepping into football in Guyana and providing employment and professional opportunities for both players and staff. If we can support these efforts with a single entity ownership (of the Guyana Premier League), I predict that Guyana will soon become a force again in Caribbean football. There are clubs with strong tradition like Pele FC, Western Tigers, Fruta Conquerors, Santos, Camptown and GDF.”
Wayne Dover and Jamaal Shabazz, two men who took Guyanese football to its highest level, have both spoken about the importance of regular club football and a heightened sense of professionalism in the league. If Guyana wants to see the team one day lifting the Caribbean Cup, or qualifying for a FIFA World Cup, it needs to start at a grassroots level and professionalise the game for both its players and staff to build a platform for success.
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