Jamal Shabazz has been hailed as the saviour of Guyana’s football for two successful stints at the national team’s helm, but after the latest debacle to befall the Golden Jaguars , he is left with egg on his face and a badly tarnished image.
The Trinidadian’s explanation for the game-changing non-appearance of England-born defender Matthew Briggs for the crucial return game against St Vincent last week, has left the Guyana fan base questioning the competence of the man who presided over the Jaguars’ historic CONCACAF semi-final World Cup qualifying placing three years ago.
Now they are out, at the hands of lowly St Vincent in the first round of the pre-qualifying group stage series for 2018, with players reeling from Shabazz’s tale of the key defender being unwell to play, after a reported bombshell revelation by an official embarrassingly contradicted him.
The story of Briggs not being cleared by The Football Association of England to represent Guyana and was thus ineligible, reportedly made by a Normalisation Committee media official on social media website Facebook, has raised serious questions about Shabazz’s desperation to maintain a high reputation which must surely be in tatters by now.
The absence of Briggs from both games of the St Vincent tie and three other highly touted England-born players from the first encounter, triggered by management shortcomings, capped a slew of blunders for which Shabazz cannot escape blame.
It is an issue the coach is yet to address publicly and neither has the Normalisation Committee’s leadership. Instead the Chairman Clinton Urling has boldly stated no action will be taken against anyone from the bloated management team.
As the man with sole responsibility for having the best players on the pitch for the two games, it was Shabazz’s call to initially press the Normalisation Committee hard enough, to sort out the clearance of Briggs from the English FA to represent his new country. It is not the onus of the player to seek that clearance personally as any football administrative intern would know, national ruling bodies interact on an association to association level.
It was a case of negligence that broke the camel’s back, in the Jaguars’ quest to advance as the four Englishmen had been with the Jaguars for friendlies, three months prior to last week’s games.
If Briggs and company were on the field from the first minute at St Vincent’s Arnos Vale ground, we would’ve been having a different conversation today. Instead St Vincent blasted four goals past a hapless Jaguars defence for a 4-4 draw at Providence that sealed the later team’s fate on the away goals rule. To add insult to injury Shabazz was assisted by two operations managers on the squad, yet the four players’ passports were not ready until the proverbial “ninth moment” before the return game.
The claim of national elections hindrances is lame as at no time was the Government shutdown or a national emergency situation enacted.
Neil Danns, Sam Cox and Marcel Barrington were thus belatedly cleared to play, but Briggs was left on the sideline.
The biggest indictment on Shabazz’s part though, was the tale he spun to the public about Briggs being unwell to play when he eventually got his passport.
Given the pronouncements by Urling days after, as reported in Stabroek News, it seems accountability has no place in the Normalisation Committee’s handling of this national team.
Those on-field and off field shortcomings, which are causing a huge embarrassment, would’ve resulted in some form of censure if not outright sacking of members of the management staff, of any serious football entity overseas.
Shabazz’s hand is in all of the blunders, from team selection to the inability of the four English-born players to compete fully in the two-game tie. Notwithstanding the reality that the Golden Jaguars could still stay alive in the competition if St Vincent is disqualified for fielding an ineligible player, if the Guyana Football Federation’s protest is upheld by FIFA, the team would’ve been in a better place today if things were done differently.
The Jaguars needed to protect their two-goal away advantage from the 2-2 away draw , but from reports the team’s strategy for the decisive game was all haywire with not enough attention placed on defence.
Afterwards the coach came over like the typical West Indian team official, blaming the players and not attributing the fact that the buck stops at him.
When young dynamic forward Trayon Bobb was eventually inserted into the playing 11, the Kaieteur News reported he started in defence instead.
Shabazz’s use of the youngster in recent times has brought into question the coach’s team selection ability. Bobb has proven to be a natural goal scorer wherever he plies his trade on the international club circuit. In 2012, he became the first Guyanese to score a double in World Cup competition away from home when he notched a brace in El Salvador, in that historic Jaguars display. Yet afterwards he was being stifled in midfield, a position which Shabazz has failed to see the importance of using Gregory “Jackie Chan” Richardson in, if he was observing the player’s growing playmaking ability, when in his accustomed role as striker, before being discarded.
If Richardson has an attitude problem, as Shabazz has reportedly explained, then it his job to go the extra mile to sort out, given the player’s quality, amidst meagre player resources available in the country. The same applies for Devon Millington, as the two players’ clubs have been doing, while Ronson Williams’ sacking as custodian has not been justified.
Shabazz must remember his remuneration is more than any previous Guyanese coach of national teams has ever enjoyed, and his performance is expected to be better than every last campaign.
When one harks back to 2006 when he inexplicably dropped goalkeeper Richard Reynolds for rookie Jason Lloyd, which cost Guyana a Gold Cup debut place, by the latter goofing two elementary saves in a key Caribbean Cup Finals game, it is obvious the selection weakness on Shabazz’s part is still evident.
Otherwise the competition then , was a brilliant display by Guyana led by the Trinidadian, but against higher level competition, Shabazz’s resume is not that sparkling.
Immediately after defeating Trinidad and Tobago in that famous 2012 march to Brazil 2014 campaign, we were stopped 2-0 in the return fixture. Later humiliations of 4-0 to Costa Rica, 5-0 to Mexico and 7-0 to Costa Rica, in the coach’s absence, are still on record. In between, his refusal to use Richardson for a penalty shot that was eventually missed by one of the overseas-based Cort brothers, that robbed the team of a potential victory against El Salvador at home, cannot be forgotten.
There is no denying Shabazz seems to be an excellent motivator and team preparer and has admirably given exposure to local players, in Trinidad, but he should not be deemed untouchable.
So if Urling, who has done a good job leading the Committee in reviving the sport following a period of listlessness, feels that way, he would do well to investigate and discover that a few Guyanese coaches overseas like former players Charles ”Lily” Pollard and Clyde “Oiler” Watson, have good qualities too.
The World Cup is what every fan cares about, so any early failure at qualifying is unacceptable.