Oct 11, 2015 Sports
By Santokie Nagulendran
There’s a hint of irony in the fact that a 33-year old veteran striker whom many had written off has stolen all the headlines so far in the GFF Elite League which began a few weeks ago. The league’s long-term aim is to develop a new generation of young local players who can compete at the highest level, yet for now, it is Gregory ‘Jackie Chan’ Richardson, part of the previous generation of Guyana’s finest footballers, who has captured attention around Guyana. Richardson is one of the many players who has joined a new club in the Elite League and it’s no surprise that the three teams who have remained undefeated as of Friday night (Alpha, Pele and Slingerz FC) have done so due to the shrew acquisitions they have made this season.
Pele FC were not given much coverage in the build-up to the league, with heavy focus on power-house sides Alpha United and Slingerz FC dominating news stories, even GFC were heavily hyped up as a team more likely to cause a stir in the league. However, in what is surely the most astute signing of the season, Pele FC recruited Richardson from Alpha United and he has paid the club back in spectacular fashion, even scoring a two-goal brace against his former club Alpha not so long ago in a 2-2 draw. His presence has been complimented with the capture of Travis ‘Zorro’ Grant, also formerly of Alpha, as the duo have massively strengthened Pele.
Naturally, with a remarkable 5 goals in 5 games so far, many fans are questioning why Richardson was not part of the National Team for World Cup qualifiers this year. When I spoke to Alpha United Coach and Assistant National coach Wayne Dover for an interview in February, he cited that whilst Richardson was the most talented player of his generation, his attitude and discipline was what kept him from making the National Side. It was not too long ago that Richardson was suspended by Alpha for breaching club rules whilst during a CONCACAF Champions League game in USA.
The Golden Jaguars are a side that are attacking, they scored six goals over two games in June, so the inclusion of Richardson may not have had such an impact as fans would like to think on a side that was more in need of defensive quality rather than more attacking options. At 33 years old, one must also question whether Richardson fits into the make-up of a young National side which coach Jamaal Shabazz hopes can stay together as a unit for years to come.
Slingerz FC came into the league as undoubtedly the favourites, having won Kashif and Shanghai’s famous tournament earlier this year and also being undefeated in all games this calendar year. Owner of the club Javed Ali confidently declared that he sees the league as a chance for his club to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League and face the best clubs in North America. The club have not lost a game (as of writing), and only conceded one goal in the first four games they played, a credit to new signing Winslow McDowell, a goalkeeper who featured for St Vincent against Guyana in June. Fellow new signing from SVG Jolanshoy McDowell has also been a revelation in central defence alongside Golden Jaguar Colin Nelson, and this is an example of one benefit of the league; it allows Guyanese players to learn from overseas players as they develop their own game.
One critique may be that Slingerz do not have enough firepower in their line-up, having drawn three games and famed striker Anthony ‘Awo’ Abrams failing to find form, but the West Side club do have Domini Garnett, an Under-23 National Player who this time last year was prolific for Grove Hi-Tech, having returned to Guyana after a short stint at T&T side Morvant Caledonia United. Garnett scored his first goal for the club last week and will surely prove his worth as a great signing by adding to that tally in the coming weeks as he develops with the team. The club also announced more big signings on Thursday. Dominican International Julian Wade returns to the club after a trial in England, whilst US-based Golden Jaguar Brandon Beresford has also joined in what is arguably the biggest transfer of the season, as he is a talented attacking midfielder who is more than capable of finding the net. With the new signings added to an already strong side, Slingerz undoubtedly have the strongest side in the league.
Alpha United have also benefitted from new signings: midfielder Dwayne Lawrence joined from Slingerz FC this season and made an immediate impact on his debut against GFC two weeks ago by scoring and making an assist to help Alpha to their first win of the season after two draws in their previous games, whilst National Under-23 defender Sherwin Skeete has been a useful addition to Alpha’s back-line. That’s not to discredit the club’s more experienced players, such as Kithson Bain and Daniel Wilson, who have been instrumental in the team settling towards the top end of the table.
Of course, where there are incomings there always has to be outgoings; many young talented Guyanese players are not taking part in the Elite League this season, having found greater pastures in the more lucrative and established T&T Pro League: Kareem Knights of GFC and Sheldon Holder of Alpha United have joined Pernell Schultz at (Jamaal Shabazz owned) club Morvant Caledonia United in Trinidad, which is fantastic for their career development, whilst also being a loss for football in Guyana at the same time. Guyana Head Coach Shabazz did however state on Thursday that there are plans to have Schultz, a prolific scorer, return to his old club Fruta Conquerors for some portion of the Elite League.
Transfers have been key for the fortunes of clubs this season: with many new signings reinvigorating teams such as Pele and Alpha. Currently teams can sign any player not already signed to a club in Guyana, and once the transfer window opens up once again after the 14-game ‘Genesis’ part of the league ends, teams will be able to sign players from fellow clubs in the Elite League. It will be critical for clubs to use the window to bring in the right players as they all search for glory in a league which has remained competitive during its early stages.
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