Jun 07, 2015 Sports
By Santokie Nagulendran
One of the numerous casualties of the political turmoil that engulfed the GFF during the reign of former President Christopher Matthias was the indefinite suspension of the “GFF Super League”, Guyana’s premier division
of club football. The league, made up of sixteen clubs from all over Guyana, had begun in 2009, taking over from the National Football League which ran until 2001. Unfortunately, there has not been any league action since May 2014, in the midst of all the battling to remove Matthias from office, the league was essentially forgotten and thus no premier domestic football has taken place in over a year now.
The repercussions of the league’s absence have been widely felt: Guyana’s top footballers have had no consistent football in over a year, and have relied on tournaments such as the Mayor’s Cup and Kashif & Shanghai to get match action. Alpha United, in particular, have felt the effects of not having a league: having won 5 titles in a row, the team, led by Coach Wayne Dover, managed to make history last year by becoming the first Guyanese team to qualify for the group stages of the CONCACAF Champion’s League, the region’s premier club tournament.
Alpha’s efforts to qualify were aided by the fact that the qualification tournament, against the best teams in the Caribbean, was held during a time when the GFF Super League was taking place: therefore the Alpha players were fit and had experience of playing consistent 90 minute matches over the course of the year.
Contrast that to this season; with no Super League, Alpha United players struggled to gain fitness, their only avenue to play games were through annual tournaments, which doesn’t provide consistency for the players. At one point last year, they even entered an indoor futsal tournament just to get game time, so it was no surprise to see them fail to qualify for next season’s CONCACAF Champions League, losing to Trinidadian side Central FC, a team who have had the advantage of playing a full domestic season in Trinidad. Alpha’s loss was a blow for Guyanese football, as the Champions League provides a platform for Guyanese football to be shown to an audience of millions.
The lack of fitness as a result of no league has also hampered the National Team, which features numerous players based in Guyana who have not had the benefits of playing league football this season. Coach Jamaal Shabazz of the National Team has repeatedly emphasised how much effort it is taking to get the players up to a required standard of fitness, so the absence of a league has also had a massive detriment to the country’s National team.
However, that all looks set to change, with the GFF Technical Director, Claude Bolton, recently announcing the formation of the “GFF Elite League”, replacing the Super League, and consisting of eight teams. In a press conference this week, Bolton said, “You cannot have a strong national team without having a league; it is proved that a league strengthens and better prepares national teams. This is why we are proud to have the Elite League which will develop Guyana’s football in the future.”
The eight teams invited to form the league have all gone under CONCACAF Licensing procedures and they will begin games inAugust. What is interesting is not all the teams in the new league played in the previous GFF Super League: both Slingerz FC and Georgetown Football Club (GFC), teams covered in previous columns, have been promoted to Guyana’s top footballing division for the first time. The reason? They match the criteria of having a healthy financial standing, a CONCACAF License, and being deemed to have been competitive in results over the previous three to five years.
Having eight teams in the league will improve quality and competition: a problem with the GFF Super League was that with sixteen sides taking part, there were frequently one-sided results which reduced the appeal of the league. It will be compelling to see if Slingerz FC, only formed in 2013, can mount a challenge for the title against favourites Alpha United, having surprisingly defeated them in this year’s Kashif and Shanghai tournament. With Slingerz containing National Team players such as Vurlon Mills and Colin Nelson, it will be interesting to see how they fare in their debut league season.
GFC are also another team which will be looking to impress in the league: whilst they lack the glamour of star names, the team has been built around youth, so we could see future National Team players arise from the team, such as Keron Solomon, a talented young defender who has impressed many. Ironically, Slingerz FC star player Vurlon Mills had served as coach for GFC, but with the team now being in direct competition with Slingerz, it is unknown if he will retain that role. Alpha United will be confident of being successful in the league, having been Guyana’s dominant club side for years under the guidance of Coach Wayne Dover.
Teams such as Western Tigers and Riddim Squad, regular teams in the GFF Super League, may feel aggrieved they have not been included in the Elite League, and it remains to be seen whether the GFF will create a league pyramid system that will allow teams to be promoted/relegated, or if regional associations will be asked to form their own leagues as before. Five of the eight teams chosen are from Georgetown, and there have been questions raised as to why teams from areas such as Linden have not been included. However, based on criteria, the eight best equipped clubs have been chosen to contest the inaugural season of the league, and hopefully, it will lead to a better future for Guyanese football.
P.S Good luck to the Golden Jaguars as they play 2018 World Cup Qualifiers over the coming days!
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