Sports — 19 August 2014
Belmopan Bandits in drivers’ seat for UNCAF

BELIZE CITY—“To every cloud, there is a silver lining;” and an old Belizean saying takes it a bit further – “every disappointment da fi di betta.” While disappointments are not to be desired, it is a positive way of dealing with adversity and trying to make the best of the future.

In the case of Belize’s last minute and haphazard preparation for our September 3 appearance in the 2014 UNCAF Central American Cup, a qualifying tournament for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, this might be one of those situations that prove the wisdom of the above sayings.

Belmopan Bandits, Belize’s back to back PLB champions, had won, for the second year in a row, the right to represent the nation in the CONCACAF Champions League; only to have their dreams dashed on both occasions. After the first failure in 2013, the FFB reportedly got almost two million dollars from FIFA to make the necessary improvements to the FFB Stadium, and gave all assurances that, where the previous administration had failed since 2008, they would make good and get the Belize champion club inside the Champions League this year.

It seems that CONCACAF had bent over backwards to try and accommodate the FFB’s late improvements to the field, which work had been contracted to a Belizean, Marvin Ottley, himself a veteran star goalkeeper and established Premier League coach, whose name has also been mentioned as a potential national team coach. After some years’ apprenticeship/employment with Soli Arguelles’ Florasol, Marvin had struck out on his own and established himself as an independent florist and landscaping entrepreneur for a number of years, while maintaining his activities in the football arena.

The details of that contract and the hurdles resulting in failure to meet the CONCACAF deadline, despite a number of extensions (May 28 to June 19, to July 2, to August 10), will be better understood after Marvin has given his side of the story about the contract which, according to Vicente, was between FIFA and Marvin Ottley.

While the FFB was very late in calling up players “for tryouts” with the national team for the UNCAF tournament (by FFB press release on July 28), the Belmopan Bandits were already long in training camp, getting ready for their first Champions League match, against Mexican champions Leon, scheduled to be played at the FFB Stadium on Thursday, August 21. (Costa Rica’s Club Herediano has now replaced the Bandits in the tournament.)

At his press conference last Wednesday, August 13, FFB President Ruperto Vicente attempted to salve the pain of CONCACAF’s decision to reject the FFB field, and with it the Bandits’ participation in Champions League; he proposed that the Bandits should be assured that they would be given the right to participate in next year’s Champions League, when the field would be certain to pass inspection. But he was abruptly corrected by a member of the audience, reminding him that next year is a different story; the PLB Statutes require the current aggregate champ to represent.

Well, if what we have been hearing is true, it seems that President Vicente, who has been accused of not involving other members of his executive in many decisions, subsequently made a bold and decisive move to deal with this crisis. Some say he was pressured by Bandits owner Hon. John Saldivar to release General Secretary Michael Blease, and pass over the management of the national team for this particular venture (in the UNCAF Copa Centroamericana) to his club management team, as compensation for the FFB’s blunder which caused them to lose their Champions League berth.

Back in the roaring ‘70s, it was the norm for the coach of the season champion to be put in charge of the Belize City selection when entertaining visiting teams from Mexico, Guatemala or Honduras. And it was expected that the said coach would start with the core of his championship team, and strengthen it with additions from the other teams in the competition as he saw fit. It was a practical way to get a powerful and cohesive unit ready for competition in a short time.

If what our sources are saying is true, Bandits owner Hon. John Saldivar, along with his team manager Kenneth Budna, has been put in charge of the national team that travels to the U.S. for the UNCAF Central American Cup in September, with our first game scheduled against Honduras on September 3, vs Guatemala on September 7, and vs El Salvador on September 10. The Bandits coaching staff, head coach Leroy Sherrier Lewis, assisted by Jorge Nunez and Edmund Pandy, is now the national team coaching staff; and the Belmopan Bandits will form the core of the national team.

With all that has gone wrong lately in Belizean football, that may well be the best way forward for right now. Our U-20 males recently racked up an aggregate scoring loss of 26-0 in El Salvador, while our U-15 girls were 13-1 in Cayman. It is hoped that our National “A” Team thus represented can manage a more competitive showing against the giants of CONCACAF.

Of course, this is all speculation, based on unconfirmed reports. But that is all we have to go with right now, in the absence of any official word from the FFB. We await word from the President, who is said to be back in the country today.

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