This newspaper is very proud of the three young Belizeans who spearheaded a public relations and fund-raising initiative to bring Deon McCaulay home and get him into training camp for Belize’s World Cup qualifier in June. In fact, we’re more than very proud. We’re very, very proud.
The problem is, this initiative does not solve the problem inside the administrative and coaching structure of Belize’s national football selection. Our three young Belizeans involved themselves in the aforementioned initiative because they believe, as do most Belizeans, that the Belize selection was not at its best against the Cayman Islands because our most successful striker in international games, Deon McCaulay, was not in Belize’s striker package against the Caymans.
They say in big time sports that you fire coaches because you can’t fire a whole team of players. It is the management, hired by the owners, who assembles players and signs coaches to contracts. When the team does not perform up to expectations, coaches get fired by managements. It would be impossible to replace the whole team in mid-stream, so the coaches are the sacrifice.
Where Belize’s shoddy performance against the Caymans was concerned, everyone, including FIFA, could see that bringing in McCaulay would immediately improve the Belize selection. But there were Belize selection coaches who had taken sides with management against McCaulay. These coaches, in pursuance of their own situations and ambitions, gambled and lost. They have to be replaced immediately, because they will poison the selection’s training atmosphere on Deon’s return.
National football selections are different from professional sports franchises in that there are no private owners of selections: it is the nation and people of Belize who are the owners of the national selection of Belize. Where the daily preparation of the selection is concerned, the president of the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) and his executive officials have almost all of the authority. In fact, they are the ones who choose the team. It is true that the vast majority of the players the FFB calls up at any given time to the national selection, are contracted to play for clubs in Belize’s semi-professional league, the Premier League of Belize (PLB), which is comprised of individual franchise owners. But the FFB, which is an elected body sanctioned and by international football’s governing body, FIFA, has a great deal more power over the selection than the PLB owners, who are the direct employers of the selection players.
For different reasons, the FFB operates like a sort of Mafia, and in the late 1990s one Dr. Bertie Chimilio became the FFB president, or Godfather. Chimilio then became so entrenched and autocratic that a UDP Cabinet Minister, Hon. John Saldivar of Belmopan, decided to get involved when the whole nation of Belize was calling for Chimilio’s head. Without Saldivar involved in the opposition to Chimilio, Chimilio probably would still be there.
Saldivar is an outstanding politician who has been involved in the sports of Belmopan for more than a quarter century. His motives are, ultimately, political. As it stands, he controls three of the eight PLB franchises – Belmopan Bandits, the defending championship team which he personally owns, and the Belize Defence Force (BDF) and Police teams which fall under the umbrella of his Ministry of National Security.
In order to strengthen his Bandits team a couple years ago, Saldivar hired Belize’s best striker, Deon McCaulay. Deon delivered the goods for the Bandits, but then he wanted to travel to Atlanta for a tryout with a professional soccer franchise in that American city. Saldivar wanted the Atlanta franchise to pay him for Deon’s release, which was not an unreasonable request, but Deon was desperate to pursue his opportunity, and the general public pressured Saldivar to release McCaulay, which he eventually did, quite reluctantly.
As we said before, Saldivar is an outstanding politician, and his fuss with Deon did not reduce his popularity with Belmopan voters. We believe that the main reason Deon was not in camp for the Belize selection’s games against the Cayman Islands was because Saldivar has a grievance with him. And the FFB and the selection coaches fell all over themselves to please John Saldivar. Now that the people of Belize have called back Deon for the selection, heads will have to roll amongst those who conspired against him. John Saldivar is too big, and Ruperto Vicente, the FFB president, at this point would be a difficult fish to fry. The coaches, then, are the ones who have to go.
The average fan does not realize how important morale and chemistry are to a sports team. Even if you can appreciate the importance of morale, chemistry is hard to pinpoint because it is so subtle. There is one of Deon McCaulay’s goals which will live forever in Belizean football history. This is when he beat Nicaragua almost at the final whistle to send Belize to the Gold Cup for the first time ever. The goal was made by Evan Mariano, who drew two Nicaraguan defenders, then split them with a pass into space. Mariano had developed chemistry with McCaulay, and knew that it was Deon who would reach that space and gain possession. The Nicaraguan goalkeeper had to come out, and Deon beat him. The finish was neat, clinical. Belize went berserk.
Belize presently does not have chemistry in its striking line. The return of the great McCaulay does not guarantee chemistry. That chemistry will have to be created by June. The present coaches will be a problem, because they gambled and lost. They joined in the conspiracy against Deon for their own selfish reasons. Saldivar can’t score goals, and neither can Vicente. It is goals which win football games, and drive nations into ecstasy. This is now a case of Maccabee Version, black god, and glory.
Power to the people.
(Ed. NOTE: Maccabee Version, original lyrics by Max Romeo.)