Who could lead the Golden Jaguars?

The Guyana national football team is currently without a manager after the dismissal of Jamaal Shabazz, but who is in line to occupy the vacancy? Santokie Nagulendran reports…

Guyanese football has seen highs and lows over the past two years: 2012 saw them play Mexico, Costa Rica and El Salvador as they reached the semi-finals of CONCACAF World Cup qualification for the first time in their history. However, consequent internal turmoil within the Guyanese Football Federation (GFF) has led to the team playing no matches since November 2012. With disputes over who is President of the GFF and allegations of financial mishandling within the federation, footballing matters have taken a back seat for nearly two years, a 50-man development squad made up of young domestic was named for national duty in January, but no news of that progressing has been made and no manager has been named as of yet.

Nevertheless, Guyana has been entered for 2014 Caribbean Cup qualifiers beginning in September, where they will face St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and Dominica, and as such it is time to assess the possible candidates for the position of national Manager; a job that will inevitably come with high expectations in regards to restoring the Golden Jaguars as one of the premier teams in the Caribbean and beyond. The GFF named a Technical Director, Mark Rodrigues, earlier this year, but he has yet to publicly comment on the situation regarding the national team.

In this article I will analyse statistics and factual evidence to look at possible candidates for the post:

Jamaal Shabazz

A logical candidate to begin with: here is the man who took Guyana to uncharted territories in 2014 World Cup qualifying, helped raise the team to their highest ever position in the FIFA World Rankings, and most importantly, instilled a belief in the team that had been lacking previous to his appointment in 2005. Shabazz has managed the Golden Jaguars on two separate occasions over the past eight years, and both times he has managed to dramatically improve results and enforce progression, his experience of working with the team and his knowledge of the game (as his numerous FIFA qualifications prove) means that he must surely be seen as a contender for the position.

Statistics

Guyana National Team (2000-2004) Guyana National Team Under Shabazz
(2005-2008)
Wins: 3 (23%) Wins: 11 (42%)
Draws: 2 (15%)                                                                                                                         Draws: 6 (23%)
Losses:  8 (62%)                                                                                                                         Losses: 9 (35%)

Shabazz’s first stint as national boss produced mixed results: a fantastic unbeaten run in 2006 saw the team gain 11 wins,  followed by a 100% record in 2007 Caribbean Cup qualifiers, a tournament which ultimately saw Guyana miss out on reaching the semi-finals by the mere factor of goal difference. However, this was met with a disappointing 2008 in which the team lost eight games and failed to qualify for the 2008 Caribbean Cup. Shabazz’s first foray into World Cup qualifying also saw the Golden Jaguars lose in the second round to neighbours Suriname. Overall, Shabazz’s first stint as manager began with fantastic results but ultimately declined as the team failed to maintain a consistency. Shabazz left the post at the end of 2008, but when compared to the record of the team before his appointment (since 2000 they had only won three games out a possible 13), we can see that Shabazz ultimately doubled the win percentage and thus his first initial stint has to be deemed a success, the core of the team he created during those years would stay on and help the Jaguars reach uncharted success over the coming years.

Guyana National Team (2009-May 2011) Guyana National Team Under Shabazz
(August 2011- November 2012)
Wins: 13 (59%) Wins:  11 (38%)
Draws: 3 (14%)                                                                                                                         Draws: 3 (10%)
Losses:  6 (27%)                                                                                                                       Losses: 15 (52%)

From 2009-early 2011, Guyana went on a period of massive success that saw the team win 59% of their games and under the guidance of coach Wayne Dover, achieve their highest ever FIFA Ranking (86). However, whilst Shabazz’s consequent stint from August 2011 seems like a decline in comparison, it needs to be placed into context. Shabazz led victories against Trinidad and Tobago (who were massive favourites to finish ahead of Guyana in World Cup qualifying), he took Guyana to the semi-finals of 2014 CONCACAF World Cup qualifying (the first time they have ever reached such a level), and as such, the quality of opponents Guyana faced drastically improved. The 15 losses Shabazz oversaw included games against Mexico (ranked 19th in the world at the time), Panama (ranked 46th) and he managed to guide the team to a draw against El Salvador (ranked 55th), a draw that would have been unthinkable even a year earlier. A further number of losses were as a result of the 2012 Caribbean Cup qualification rounds which saw key members of the team strike after allegations the GFF were only paying players $12 US Dollars a day, and as such, Shabazz took a largely depleted team to the tournament where they were predictably eliminated in qualification. Whilst Shabazz’s loss percentage was higher during his second stint as manager, the quality of opposition he faced during his second reign was a lot stronger than he or Guyana had ever faced before, and he cannot be faulted for it. What is critical here is that he was demonstrating signs of (substantial) progress with the team, which is what you want from a manager.

The fact that Shabazz managed 11 wins during a period in which a relatively inexperienced team such as the Golden Jaguars faced stiff competition of the highest level is a testament to his managerial acumen. Shabazz is a manager that, whilst not having a perfect record, is the most experienced candidate Guyana could appoint, his ability to raise standards within the Guyanese team in the past makes his case a strong one. Virtually any Golden Jaguar who has played under Shabazz will testify that the work ethic and level of professionalism he instilled into the team from 2005 was the root cause of the consequent success the team enjoyed over the years, and it is for this reason he must be seriously considered for the role.

Wayne Dover

As shown in the statistics earlier, during 2009-2011, Guyana had an excellent 59% win ratio, their highest of the decade, but who was in charge for this period of success? The answer is Dover, assistant to Jamaal Shabazz during his two reigns as manager and thereby another strong candidate for the vacancy as he has been involved with the team for the past eight years. Dover took charge of Guyana for their last World Cup qualifier against Mexico that took place in the USA, and despite eventually losing 5-0, Guyana held Mexico 0-0 right up until the 78th minute, suggesting Dover can achieve great things with the team and has the ability to coach them for the big games they will inevitably face in the future. As well as a strong record with the national team during 2009-2011, he has a remarkable record in club football, currently manager of powerhouses Alpha United. Dover  led them to numerous league titles and qualification for the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). His successful record, along with his knowledge and experience of working with Guyanese players, means that he would be an excellent candidate to take the Golden Jaguars forward.

Carl Cort 

An outside candidate, but a serious contender nevertheless, Carl Cort was part of the outstanding team which took part in World Cup qualifying. He is one of the few Guyanese players (along with younger brother Leon) who has actual experience of playing in a top European league, playing in the English Premier League and at one point commanding a £7m ($11.4m US Dollars) transfer to Newcastle United. Currently playing for American club Tampa Bay Rowdies and having recently attained FIFACoaching badges, he would be a young, hungry manager who could add a fresh dimension to the team. Cort’s playing career at the very top level would mean he brings an exceptional knowledge and experience of the game to the post that few other candidates could match, his only setback being would he lack the necessary managerial experience?

Collie Hercules

Another former player, Collie Hercules played as a forward for the Golden Jaguars from 2002-2008 and is highly respected by his peers, having played club football in Colombia and Trinidad during his career. Having retired from playing the game, Hercules has since coached the under-20 national team, received his coaching licenses, and was a member of staff under Wayne Dover’s reign as manager. His playing experience and coaching roles make him a very suitable candidate for the post. However, recent events have seen Hercules suspended from his role as Vice-President of the GFF and as such it presently seems unlikely that he would be appointed manager despite his great credentials.

Charles Pollard

A legend in Guyana, Charles Pollard began his playing career over 20 years ago for Alpha United and went on to play in the USA before finishing his career for the North East Starsin nearby Trinidad. He currently coaches Slingerz FC in Guyana. Having been a captain for the national team from 1999-2007 and a part of the team during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, he has experienced the highs and lows and demonstrated leadership qualities vital to the post. His experience of managing a top domestic club in Guyana means he will have great knowledge of which players can make the jump to the international stage and he has shown he is ready to speak out when needs be, recently questioning the GFF’s decision to omit striker Gregory Richardson from the 50-man developmental team chosen by a technical committee.

Tom Curtis

As Shabazz proved, the best person for the job does not always have to be Guyanese. Tom Curtis from England had a very long and successful career playing in his homeland before taking up the role of manager and Technical Director of Antigua and Barbuda, taking them to their highest ever position in World Cup qualifying and recruiting overseas players of Antiguan heritage such as Dexter Blackstock to represent the small nation. After leaving the position in late 2012, Curtis said he “got a lot out of the experience, I was able to develop myself as a coach and experience a new culture”. Now currently back in England managing the Under-18 Bristol Rovers Academy, Curtis would be an interesting candidate for the position, with vital experience of improving a team in the Caribbean and proven coaching success. He could be the man the Golden Jags need.

Ivan Persaud

The final candidate is Ivan Persaud, currently working within the GFF and he was part of the technical committee which recently chose a 50-man squad for future Guyana games. Persaud is a former player and has vast experience working on the administrative aspects of the game, so his knowledge of Guyanese football needs no questioning. He has said of his experience: “I’ve been in administrative positions, and I lived in London and I was one of the first persons to start sending back [foreign-based Guyanese] players to play for Guyana because I noticed that Jamaica and Trinidad did the same thing and they went to the World Cup.” Persaud has never managed a high level team and as a result his lack of managerial experience could be questioned, although his role in the development of Guyanese football at a grass-roots level may make him a wildcard option for the Jags.

By Santokie Nagulendran

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Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. Santokie is a London-based journalist who contributes to The Guyana Times, Sports Desk Guyana and Seat Capital. Meanwhile, you can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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