Pride & Industry: Introduction Blog: HERE
As you might have read in the introduction to the blog series, and previous parts (links 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 the final two group games for Barbados in the CONCACAF Nations League Division C Group 1 with us leading the group after the four games.
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 series here:
After some superb performances in the last two international breaks, November saw my Bajans Tridents face their final two CONCACAF Nations League fixtures, both of them being away fixtures. Having earned maximum points after four group games, a win in either one of the games would confirm the group victory for my Barbados side and secure promotion to Division B of the Nations League. That’ll keep the FA bods very happy with my performance as manager!
First up was a trip to the island of St. Thomas and the Lionel Roberts Stadium in Charlotte Amalie to face the US Virgin Islands. Sadly my pre-match plans were scuppered like a shipwreck when the Barbados FA decided to organise midweek league games in the Barbados Premier League, causing a vast majority of my players to be knackered when they arrived for international duty. As a result they would be playing no part, or very little part, in this crucial game, and changes had to be made to the starting XI. Nice going Barbados FA!! Make it more difficult for me, why don’t you? Haha! 😐
The game, being played at the multi-purpose stadium in the islands’ capital, would be a very humid game despite it being a Saturday night in mid-November. 3,047 hardy souls making the effort to turn up to the stadium in the 33 degrees temperature to watch some Nations League action! Unfortunately for the home support, they would see a dominant display from my Barbados side as we had the majority of ball possession and chances throughout the first half. Despite that dominance, we could only come in at half-time with a single goal advantage. A powerful header at the back post from Krystian Pearce, from a Nick Blackman free-kick, being the deciding factor of the first 45 minutes.
The half-time talk was to gee the players up but also warn of being complacent. I did not want to concede after having wasted so many chances. Alas the second half continued as the first half had concluded. A lot of possession and chances but no second goal, with the Dashing Eagles always threatening with a counter-attack and undeserved equalizer. Finally in the 70th minute, that man Nick Blackman made an impact for our team, and it was another corking goal! Tafari Moore put a through ball to Blackman to run down the right flank, and just as it looked as if he had run the ball out of play for a goal kick, he lobbed the keeper from the edge of the penalty box at a ridiculously acute angle! Unbelievable once again from the Macclesfield lad, and the hero of Barbadian football!!
From there on in, it was a case of game management in the intense heat as the tempo of passing came down, and possession was kept. Substitute Rashad Jules gave us a deserved third goal right at the end of the game when he converted a Teriq Highland cross from the left after it was flicked on by Shaquille Stewart. He was left unmarked on the right side of the penalty area and fired past Lionel Brown in the home goal, to confirm the 3-0 victory and Barbados ultimately winning the Nations League group! My first goal had been achieved with a group game remaining = nice job!!!
However it would not be a time for celebrating just yet as we needed to jet right across the Caribbean region from the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas to the Owen Roberts Airport on Grand Cayman for our final group game. A six hour flight nonetheless! As Bootlegger would say, “it’s an absolute grueller”, and a combination of the previous match and the long flight and travel had caused havoc on my players’ condition! Therefore more changes were needed for the game at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex in the capital of George Town.
From the team who had played the US Virgin Islands, only Keasel Broome, Teriq Highland, Seb Hunte and Nick Blackman maintained their position and started against the Cayman Islands, with changes being made elsewhere due to fatigue. Thankfully a number of players who were unable to compete in the previous match due to midweek league games had now recuperated enough to take part in this game, otherwise I would have been in real trouble! The last thing I wanted was a tired squad as I am chasing a 100% record in this group, especially in the trickiest looking fixture of the schedule.
Despite the game being a ‘dead rubber’ in terms of promotion from the group, pride was at stake with a chance of the Caymans getting a decent result and improving their FIFA world ranking. As a result, the Truman Bodden Complex was at its maximum capacity of 3000 for this game in rather blustery weather in the western Caribbean.
As I expected and feared, the first half performance of the lads was rather sluggish and looked very tired, with few highlights from either side throughout the first forty-five minutes of action. Thankfully the deadlock was broken in our favour when Nick Blackman stroked away a 36th minute penalty, slotting the ball just beyond Ramon Sealy’s reach. We soon doubled our lead five minutes later when Kemar Headley rifled his effort inside Sealy’s near post to give us a rather flattering 2-0 lead at half-time.
The momentum was naturally with the home side in the second half as the Caymans threw everything at us in the second half, going more attacking as the half progressed. Unfortunately I didn’t have many choices on the bench due to low match condition to make any real tactical changes, and just had to batter down the hatches and hope for a cheeky counter-attack to kill off the game.
Just when I thought we might get away with a 2-0 victory, the home side finally breached our defence and scored in the 89th minute. A Joshewa Frederick-Charley (what a name!) low cross from the left found the onrushing Jonah Ebanks, who’s snapshot beat Broome on his inside post! NOOOOO! At this point I was fearing that we were going to throw the 100% glory all away, and was fully expecting a Caymans’ equalizer (because that’s how FM works sometimes). Thankfully my nerves were soon quelled when Headley (who was absolutely dead on his feet) somehow managed to grab his second of the game in injury time when he slammed in a Hallam Hope pass from the edge of the box to FINALLY end the contest!
My personal goal of getting a 100% performance in the group had been finally achieved, and I was super, super, super happy. It had been very tough though! The lads were very happy back in the changing rooms, although they were too shattered to have a full on party. Nonetheless they had worked hard these past few months and deserved some celebration for a job well done. Just as I was about to crack open one of the local Cayman ales, my mobile phone soon pinged into life, and a message appeared from the big boss of the Barbados FA…
“Well done to you and the boys, we are all very happy you have achieved promotion! Enjoy the deserved celebrations tonight and best of luck in the playoffs! Everyone is very excited for it!!”
I looked at my assistant Randolph, and I nervously asked him “Errrm, the FA bods are happy, but what’s this thing about ‘playoffs’?”. He laughed loudly at my question and said, “I think you better look at the qualification rules, Gaffer! Especially concerning the 2021 Gold Cup!!” I had completely forgotten about the Gold Cup and assumed that there would be a separate qualification system for that, but oh no dear reader, that is certainly not the case…
Just like the European equivalent, the Nations League acts as a way for teams to qualify for the regional competition, in this case the 2021 Gold Cup. Therefore by winning the group, not only did we achieve promotion to Division B of the Nations League, but it also meant we have qualified for the 2021 Gold Cup Playoffs. According to Wikipedia (I needed to check the format of this as I didn’t know how it worked from the link above), Barbados will have to play a two-legged ‘semi-final’ fixture against a team who finished as runners-up from the Division B groups. Should we overcome that tie, we will then have a two-legged ‘playoff final’ against one of the teams who had finished in third position in their respective Division A groups. Win that tie, and we’re on our way to the Gold Cup held in America!!
Ooooooh! We could potentially qualify for our first major international tournament, and this opportunity has certainly arrived a lot sooner than I had planned. Regardless, I am determined to grasp this opportunity with both hands! We would need to be very lucky in the playoff draw as there were many big teams who had yet to qualify for the Gold Cup, but if we could avoid them, and (importantly) beat those teams drawn against us, we’d be going to the Gold Cup! Football…Bloody hell!!
In addition to the Gold Cup opportunity, our group victory had also seen our FIFA world ranking continue to improve with my Bajan Tridents now up to the heady heights of 152nd in the world – an eight position climb since I took over! The sky’s the limit, lads!! Onwards and upwards!
So in the next blog, we’ll find out who we will be drawn against in the Gold Cup playoffs. Let’s hope and pray the playoff draw is extremely kind to us, and perhaps…perhaps…PERHAPS?…Barbados can then qualify for their first ever Gold Cup!! I’m super excited already!!
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!!!!