As you might have read in the introduction to the blog series (link above), I have decided to create a challenge on Football Manager 2020 by taking charge of Barbados and trying to enhance their reputation in the world of football. The aim of the series is to try and develop football on the Caribbean island, and hopefully get the team qualified for some major tournaments and improve their FIFA world ranking. In this blog, I managed my first two games for Barbados in the CONCACAF Nations League Division C Group 1 (phew a long name there…)
NOTE: I would highly recommend you look at FMOverload‘s excellent Coaching Cuba series, as it was the inspiration for my series. Please check out the third part of the series here:
1st Group Game – US Virgin Islands (h) – September 2019
My debut game as Barbados manager was in front of a sell-out 12,000 crowd at the unique Waterford National Stadium, situated on the outskirts of the capital of Bridgetown. Opened in 1970, the five stands of the ground were jammed packed with home fans, all decked out in their yellow shirts with Barbados flags painted on their cheeks, and waving their Barbadian flags flying high in the evening air. Even though the kick off was scheduled for 7:30pm, the temperature was still a sweltering 26 degrees on this rainy Friday evening. Welcome to the Caribbean folks!!
For this game, I decided to fully utilise the attacking prowess of Nick Blackman and Hallam Hope by making them inside-forwards, in a positive, pressing and high-tempo 4-3-3 formation, with Kemar Headley playing a supporting ‘false nine’ position at the peak of the attack. Haden Holligan and Jomo Harris would command central midfield spots either side of the anchor in Mario Williams. Ackeel Applewhaite and Nicoli Braithwaite would occupy the important full-back roles, whilst Krystian Pearce would be partnered by Shane Codrington in the centre of defence. Despite a lack of match fitness, free agent Keasel Broome would be my pick between the sticks.
Prior to the match, I encouraged the lads by telling them they can win this game if they play the game to our plan. Personally, I felt confident in the lads’ abilities to get the right result but there was a touch of trepidation into this new journey, and not really knowing our standard compared to other nations in the region. I’m sure they were a little bit weary of my leadership but there were no complaints in the tactics as they ventured out onto the pitch for the national anthems.
With 12,000 people blasting out the stirring Barbadian national anthem around me in the pouring rain, it was finally time to see how big a task this would be, and whether I had chosen the right tactics. I was determined not to let these supporters down!! Somewhere on Trinidad, Russell Latapy might not have been cheering me on though…
We started very brightly by having a number of good chances within the first ten minutes, and testing the visiting keeper early on, which certainly pleased me, but I was always weary of the counter-attack from the US Virgin Islands. Thankfully our task was made far easier after a quarter of an hour, when central-midfielder Carlos Labrada got himself needlessly dismissed for a reckless scything challenge on Kemar Headley. Very, very foolish, which meant his team were under the cosh for the next 75 minutes, much to my relief and his manager’s chagrin.
Ten minutes after the dismissal and we finally broke the deadlock. Nick Blackman opened the scoring on his international debut with a wonderful 25-yard curling free-kick into the top right-hand corner to give us the lead! Cue pandemonium on the Barbados bench – a historical moment in this save and the first goal of the 94th Minute era!! YEEAAAAAAHHHH!! We continued to pressurise the Dashing Eagles’ goal (what a superb nickname for a football team by the way) but just couldn’t find another breakthrough as we went into half-time with a slender but deserved 1-0 lead.
No changes were needed at half-time, and I told the lads to continue what they were doing as they were playing well against the ten men, and it wouldn’t take long before we finally found the second goal of the night. Six minutes after the restart, a powerful drive from Blackman was saved by Brown in the US Virgin goal, only for the rebound to fall to Hallam Hope to tap into an empty net! 2-0 to the Tridents! Lovely stuff!
With a number of the players getting tired from the high-tempo running and heat, a few substitutes were made, and the fresh legs soon made an impact on the game. An Applewhaite cross from the left found Mario Harte (a sub for Blackman) who rose above his marker and nodded in the cross to make it 3-0 after 70 minutes, to put the icing on the cake! The bajan cherry was added in the fifth minute of injury time when the hard-working Kemar Headley deservedly earned himself a concluding goal, tapping in a rebounded shot from Harte.
Therefore I would start my Barbados career with a comfortable 4-0 victory over the Dashing Eagles of the US Virgin Islands. The perfect start at home, a superb performance, and the ideal debut to my management tenure! The doubters have been silenced (looking at you Latapy!)
2nd Group Game – Saint Martin (a) – September 2019
The following game on the following Monday saw us head northwest to the French dependency of Saint Martin for my first away game as Barbados manager. Fatigue was a bit of a factor resulting in Ranaldo Bailey replacing Codrington in defence, Shaquille Boyce replacing Holligan in midfield, whilst Mario Harte replaced Headley upfront. Fatigue would be a factor in this game at the Stade Albéric Richards in Sandy Ground, in the west of the island, with temperatures reaching 35 degrees for a Monday evening!! Factor 50 sun block needed for this one folks, yikes!!!
Thankfully we started very brightly once again in front of the 2,328 hardy souls who were in attendance for this ‘swelterer’. We found ourselves 2-0 up at half time through strikes from Hope and Harte (that combination sounds like an 80s cop drama series). Hope lashing in a long range low effort into the bottom left corner after 24 minutes before Harte curled his effort into the bottom right corner to double our advantage on the 36th minute.
No changes needed once again at half-time, and we soon found ourselves 3-0 up in the tie. The rampaging Applewhaite curled a long cross-field pass to Blackman on the edge of the penalty area before the inside forward first-time volleyed it into the bottom right corner! What a thunderbolt from Nick Blackman! He’s quickly getting a habit of scoring absolute screamers for the national team already, and it’s only his second international cap!!
Once again our opponents went down to 10 men when central midfielder Frantz Joseph earned himself his second ‘tranche de fromage’ for the evening. With the Saint Swallows now rapidly fading in the heat trying to chase the game, we punished them further in the last ten of the game. First Krystian Pearce nodded in a free-kick to make it 4-0 after 84 minutes, before Mario Williams curled in a delightful free-kick two minutes later for Barbados’ fifth goal of the evening.
The night was completed with a 93rd minute header from Man of the Match, Hallam Hope, who scored his second goal of the game, to give us a superb 6-0 away victory. I couldn’t have been happier as we had consistently threatened the St Martin goal, and restricted them to three off-target shots throughout the game. The attacking flow and passing between them was a joy to watch at times, and it has given me a huge boost in confidence for the games ahead.In addition, that’s 10 goals in my first two games as manager = perfection!!
The two wins put us top of the Group 1 table, two points ahead of the Cayman Islands, who we are scheduled to play next in the group. The first of two home games in October against both the Caymans and then the return fixture against the Saint Swallows of St Martin. If we win those two games, it would put us in a superb position for the final two group games, which are both away from home! Those games will be in the next blog.
I think I have earned myself a couple of piña coladas, sitting on a golden Barbadian beach whilst looking out into the blue Caribbean Sea after this debut performance as manager!! Haha! However the hard work now begins – I need to start finding additional players for this team with Barbadian heritage, they must be out there…
Please follow my friend FMOverload on Twitter @FMOverload_, and check out their blog at https://fmoverload.home.blog/. It is an absolutely brilliant FM blog and I would highly recommend you check it out! The Coaching Cuba series looks fantastic and I am keen to see it develop!!!!