Getting ready for World Cup’s next preliminaries

2018_FIFA_WC.svgSt Vincent and the Grenadines has made it through to the next round of the FIFA World Cup Preliminaries. It is therefore important to get sufficiently serious to ensure that our preparations are well organised enough for us to feel that we are in with a chance of success.
The question really is what are we doing to ensure that we get the best preparation?

Past experience
St Vincent and the Grenadines first participated in the FIFA World Cup Preliminaries in early 1990s when all the world was engaged in the preparations for the World Cup of 1994 scheduled for the USA.
At the time Vincentian footballers from the diaspora were eager to return home and give of their best efforts at making the team. Everyone that had some Vincentian lineage was anxious to become involved.
Some players, who had long since passed their best on the field of play, returned home because they wanted to be part of this country’s sporting history.
The president of the Football Federation at the time was Basil ‘Bung’ Cato, the one credited with coining the phrase here, Soccer! The Game of the People.
As the team moved through the first round of the preliminaries coach, Mori Millington, did his best with the team and every sport-loving Vincentian eagerly shared the passion of the players and the team’s management.
Once St Vincent and the Grenadines had successfully pulled through the first round there was so much surprise at the regional level that suddenly there was interest from several areas outside the country.
Mori wanted to get the best help for the team. He wanted Everard ‘Gally’ Cummings, considered by many one of the best coaches to come out of the Caribbean. It was Cummings that had coached the Trinidad and Tobago football team that lost out by the narrowest of margins in 1989, against the USA, while seeking to make it through to the FIFA World Cup Finals of 1990.
Cummings agreed to work with Millington but stipulated one condition. There was to be no involvement of Austin ‘Jack’ Warner, with the arrangements for him to be working with the Vincentian team.
Warner, on the other hand, enthused and more than a little shocked, at the performance of the Vincentian team in the first round Preliminaries, got into the act.
It was announced in Trinidad and Tobago that Cummings was being made available to St Vincent and the Grenadines. This came as bad news for Cummings, a man of his word. Immediately he withdrew his personal offer to assist our football team. Mori Millington was gravely disappointed.
The end result was the appointment of Jorge Ramos as the coach of the Vincentian team.
Ramos was certainly no Gally Cummings and the team found that out the hard way.
Another embarrassing moment was when Warner met with Cato and agreed on a home and away challenge between St Vincent and the Grenadine sand Jamaica. One is not sure whose idea it was but the challenge was announced as the Columbus C up. There was vociferous protest from the political progressives in St Vincent and the Grenadines against the name and so it was changed to the Kamperveen Cup.
The second round Preliminaries was not a good experience for St Vincent and the Grenadines. The most humiliating feature was the devastation suffered at the hands of Mexico in Mexico City where we lost 0 – 11. One of the Vincentian officials returned with a newspaper from Mexico that devoted one page with a photo and notes on each of the eleven goals scored against the Vincentians in a game that was played at high altitude in the middle of the day. Vincentian players were dropping down like flies, eagerly seeking oxygen to catch themselves.
23 years later
It is now 23 years later and once more St Vincent and the Grenadines has made it through to the second round Preliminaries for the FIFA World Cup. This time the World Cup will be played in Russia in 2018.
Interestingly, not much has changed for the Vincentian team now popularly called, Vincy Heat.
We have a team of young players for the most part but they are not well known to the Vincentian public.
Many analysts thought that the team was lucky to get through to this stage of the World Cup Preliminaries and were more than a little disappointed in the final encounter against Aruba.
Several comments have been made about the team’s training thus far. The performances in the first round Preliminaries saw a continuation of the old habits of the team. The players start well, play good for the better part of the game and then threaten to give it all away in the last 15 minutes. For the most part it is a matter of inadequate fitness.
There remains a major problem with our footballers in respect of the training required to get them appropriately game ready. Many of our footballers do not relish the running part of their preparation. They fail to recognise just how much running each player is expected to do in any game of football. Successive coaches here have lamented the lack of endurance amongst our footballers.
Interestingly, former national player, Marlon ‘Thursty’ James, of Bequia, was considered somewhat strange because of his superb fitness level. He ran around Bequia consistently to the amazement of the people on the island. In games played for Hope International he was always head and shoulders about his teammates, to say nothing of his opponents, in respect of his level of fitness.
James would respectfully submit that he has always had a problem with fellow national players when it came to running. They were never at his level and they were not anxious to get there.
Vincentian football aficionados have been bothered by the seeming weak approach of the players on the current national team to training. They do not yet seem to understand that they are short of the requisite endurance for World Cup football.
Many are bothered by the tardiness shown by players in getting to training venues.
For one reason or another players get to training at different times thereby rending the team preparation a problematic.
Inadequate training makes for poor performance on the field of play and something must be done now to redress what is clearly a problem.
It may be opportune to ask whether employers are sufficiently understand of and committed to the requirements in terms of time off for players on the national team.
What is the current arrangement in terms of granting time off to the players?
Is this the main reason for the players being late to daily training?
Who undertakes to transport the players to and from training in order to ensure that they are on time and adequately catered for?
Is there a system in place to guarantee our players that they will be able to be at training as required?
Are we ensuring in any way that our players are adequately treated nutrition-wise for the training that they should be undertaking?
The rigours of training for the World Cup Preliminaries are great and it is important that our players’ nutritional levels are where they should be to guarantee optimum performance at all times.
What about access to medicals?
Are our players given access to the requisite medicals for the long haul?
Match readiness
Since the last game against Aruba where we got through to the second round of the World Cup Preliminaries we have not been engaged in any sort of competitive games. Why is this?
We read of several of the other teams entering second round Preliminaries being engaged in competitive friendlies in order to ensure that the team’s management can assess the impact of the training that is being undertaken and by extension the team’s match readiness. Unfortunately we have not heard of any schedule of competitive games for Vincy Heat prior to the start of the second round. Why is this?
Without games at a competitive level we cannot really attest to our team’s readiness of the next level of competition. WE cannot look to play teams that are of little consequence nor can we simply engage in training daily. We have to be tested and regularly.
We must therefore arrange to have practice matches and often, in the near future.
Even as we seek out teams for friendlies we must also ask whether we need to up our game in terms of the technical personnel working with the players.
Are our technical personnel at a level that would allow us to feel sufficiently competent going into the next round of competition?
If not, then are we looking for technical assistance and from where?
There is nothing wrong with our present technical staff making the same point that Millington did in 1994. If we realise that we are at a level that requires a higher level or proficiency in the preparation of the team, then let us admit to this and seek out the appropriate resources to address this.
At the end of the day Vincy Heat is representing all of St Vincent and the Grenadines and so there must be a concerted effort made to ensure that we do all that is required to afford the players a fighting chance at going forward where no other national team has gone.
If we are not prepared to go the distance we must also say so.
The time has come for the powers that be to bring the team to the nation in a manner that allows every player and team official to be household names in the country.
National support is necessary but the authorities must also deliver in terms of showing us all that nothing is being spared in doing what is expected to produce a well-trained, proficient team.
Vincentians are a proud, talented people but things must be done right if we are to succeed.