Oct 22, 2015 Sports
By Jamaal Shabazz
The crowds are back! Fans are packing local venues to see matches in the Stag Elite Football League. Commissioning this Elite League is the most important step that the Normalization Committee has taken in its one year tenure. It is an invaluable legacy for a group of persons who came into the job as novices in football.
When you compare to their predecessors, a blind folded Ray Charles will see that no one can truly call him or herself a football administrator when under their tenure no football was played.
Clinton Urling and his NC were ridiculed as ‘soup drinkers,’ novices and babies in the football world. And indeed the Urling led NC were babies on their FIFA appointed entry into Guyana’s football. On the eve of their departure, having introduced the Stag Elite League, they leave on a high note. Say what you like, they got football playing again! That fact cannot be questioned.
What is the value of playing football in a country where the game was threatening to descend into disrepute? For all the criticism leveled against them, Urling and company have ensured that football is back where it belongs, on the field.
The fans, by their attendance have declared that they are not interested in disputes and divisions. What they want is to see Pele, Slingerz, Conquerors, Alpha and company play football. Their presence at GFC, Tucville, No 5, Leonora and GDF grounds reflects the reality that fans are starved for football and want the rivalry to be on the field, not in the court room or the offices.
As National Team Coach and one who is experienced in Caribbean and CONCACAF football, I see the Stag Elite League as an excellent foundation for the Guyana football programme. During our brief appearances in the World Cup Qualifiers there was much debate over the use of foreign players as against home-grown talent. Some ‘know it alls’ will go to their grave saying that players born and playing outside of Guyana should never be allowed to represent the National team. Sigh !!!!
Then there are other supremacists who think that by virtue of playing overseas the foreign based and foreign born players should be selected ahead of the locals. Sigh again !!!
Of course, where the ‘nuts and bolts’ of team selection were concerned we could not go with “swar.” The selection of the national team has to be rooted in the hard, cold facts.
For a period of just over two years there existed no league football where the local based players could compete regularly. Instead there was a series of knock out tournaments…Namilco Cup, Mayors Cup and the Kashif and Shanghai tournament…to name few.
Consequently, if a team with two national players got knocked out in the first round it meant that those players would be inactive until the national team got together or until the next tournament started. This impacted on, among other things, the fitness levels of our locally based players. There is simply no substitute for match fitness.
What we sought to do was to build a national team around players who were active week in week out, training and playing matches for their clubs. To find those players we were, in many instances, compelled to look outside Guyana. At the local level we used players from Slingerz, Alpha and GDF, the only local teams that appeared to mobilize their players to train regularly.
With the advent of the Stag Elite League the scales are now more evenly balanced. Players are active over longer periods and our choices can better extend to both home and abroad.
This brings me to the current form of one of our best players, Gregory “Jackie Chan” Richardson who is scoring a goal a game and seems unstoppable at the moment. Richardson’s talents were never in question here. I, however, have reservations about his discipline. Truth be told who other than Richardson must take the blame for him not being in the United States MLS or a European League?
Once Richardson submits himself to the disciplinary regime to which professional players are required to conform there is a place for him on the Guyana team and I daresay at any top club team in the CONCACAF region, even at age thirty three. I welcome his goal-scoring feats in the Elite League for if he cannot dominate in this League where else will he play?
Let me say that it is my admiration for this player and my belief in his talents that causes me not to bow but instead to push him towards greater heights of discipline.
I suggest those who claim to love him should do likewise for it is friends who tell friends when they going wrong.
Finally I want to mention the abundance of talent that the Stag Elite League is exposing on a weekly basis. One just has to witness the youthful GFC squad, Fruta Conquerors and Monedderlust to testify to the avenue created by this opportunity.
I want to publicly commend Mr Urling, the NC, Technical Director Claude Bolton, Rawle Toney, the clubs, the players, the fans, the sponsors, the management team and of course the media, for their efforts in the Elite League.
May Almighty God bless all our efforts and use football to unite, not divide our people. Lest we forget there were foreign troops at our borders and it is through our steadfastness that we will secure the courage to ensure they do not take one blade of grass.
Editor’s Note: Kaieteur Sport will be carrying the thoughts and observations on football related issues of National Coach Jamaal Shabazz in this weekly column for an extended period as he gives insight into the game locally and even regionally and internationally. Enjoy.
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