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 to win the CONCACAF Nations League Division C Group 1 which resulted in us qualifying for the 2021 Gold Cup qualifying playoffs.
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:
As mentioned in Part Four of the blog series, I managed to win the CONCACAF Nations League Division C group, winning all six group games and thus gaining promotion to Division B. Not to mention I had achieved the goal the Barbados FA had set for me!! However I subsequently discovered that by winning the group, it also enabled me to take part in the 2021 Gold Cup qualifying playoffs. At the end of the previous blog, I had yet to find out who my opponents would be in the semi-finals of the playoffs, and was hoping for some good luck in the draw if we were to progress to our very first international tournament!
The Gold Cup playoff draw was indeed rather kind to us in both the semi-final and final rounds. The first playoff, which would see us face off against a second-placed Division B side, saw us draw out Saint Kitts and Nevis. The Sugar Boyz may be higher in the world rankings (situated in 133rd at the time of the draw compared to our 152nd position), and have a very decent player in central midfielder Romaine Sawyers (who plays for West Bromwich Albion and has a Current Ability (CA) rating of 130), the rest of the team doesn’t look as threatening. Therefore I am feeling confident we can beat them and get a decent result, but I’m not overconfident.
Should we overcome the Sugar Boyz in the semi-finals, our potential opponents in the final would be Bermuda. They are actually below us in the world rankings, being situated in 179th in the world. Considering we could have potentially drawn Honduras, Costa Rica or FMOverload’s Cuba, I feel we had the best choice of the third-placed Division A teams there. Overall, the Gombay Warriors’ squad looks comparatively worse than mine, although they have a massive attacking threat in their Bristol City striker, Nahki Wells, with his fearsome attacking stats and 124 CA rating. We will need to keep him very quiet over the two legs, if we’re to finally qualify for the Gold Cup, although we need to get there first, if we’re to worry about that!
It’s fair to say that my preparation for the playoff semi-final games had been majorly scuppered. Krystian Pearce, my lynchpin in the defence, picked up a back injury for Mansfield Town which would keep him out of action for 4 weeks. This meant he would miss both legs of the playoff games…oh nooooooooooo! Clearly carrying the defensive hopes of a nation on his back in an Atlasan style has been too much for him this time around. All joking aside though, it was a massive blow for my plans.
Sadly further problems have developed with other areas of my defensive line, with a major issue affecting my first-choice goalkeeper, Keasel Broome. Since the start of the save, he has been a free agent on the game, and has been playing without a club. Originally it wasn’t a problem for me as his CA rating was far above that of my other goalkeeper options. However, by not having any regular games all season, it has meant his CA level has sunk quicker than a piña colada cocktail on a Barbadian beach. Very worrying!
Just when I had a quandary of what to do with my goalkeeping situation for the upcoming playoff games, by continuing to play Broome or switch to the 21 year-old Kishmar Primus, the issue was surprisingly solved, somewhat controversially. Keasel Broome has decided to retire from playing football at the young age of 28. A young age I agree, but what made it very, VERY annoying for yours truly was that he made the announcement AFTER he had been selected for my 23 man playoff squad. WHAT?? What made it even worse was that I was unable to call-up a replacement meaning I would be left with just two goalkeepers for this important playoff game. As if the Pearce injury wasn’t bad enough, this bloody thing happens!! ARRRRRGGGHHH!!
Despite putting me in the absolute lurch for the main team, he had become a goalkeeping coach, so I offered him the under 20s goalkeeper coach role as we need more coaches for the Young Bajans. Thankfully he accepted the role, so he can still play some part in his country’s development at least. However, at that moment of time, I didn’t want to look at his face as he had pissed me off that much, so Broome was swept off to the under 20s! He’s certainly crossed off the Christmas card list this year, I can tell you!!!
My team selection for the first of these March 2020 games were no surprise if you have read the previous blogs. Kishmar Primus takes the number one shirt in between the sticks, with a defence of Ackeel Applewhaite, Shane Codrington, Ranaldo Bailey and Tafari Moore. Seb Hunte plays the mezzala role, whilst Jomo Harris plays the carrilero position, with Mario Williams the defensive option between the two supporting central midfielders. Hallam Hope and Nick Blackman occupy their familiar inside forward positions, with Kemar Headley playing a supporting ‘false nine’ position at the apex of my attack.
The Waterford National Stadium was jam-packed and awash with colour and noise from the 10,600 partisan home support (as well as a large away contingent). Yellow and blue streamers cascading from the stands whilst Barbados flags were flying high in the air, with many supporters proudly displaying yellow & blue paint or the trident painted on their cheeks. This game was one of the biggest games in Barbados’ football history, so naturally this game was a complete sell-out, and had brought extra media attention to the game. Everyone on the island was invested in this first leg! As a result, there was a touch of anxiousness within the crowd and within the team, knowing this was a superb chance to finally qualify for something!
The nerves had gotten to the dugout, where the coaching staff and myself were seated. I was confident of a positive result when the draw came out, but with the injury to Pearce and retirements (bloody Broome), confidence had been rattled a little to the point where I was a tad nervous going into the game. Alas the pre-match tension within the dugout would be broken when my coach Jamar Weekes let off a long, nervous fart. Let’s hope our chances aren’t ‘gone with the wind’, huh?
As expected, the game was a very nervy encounter with neither side wanting to lose the first leg. Despite this, we were certainly the better team having dominated ball possession and having the majority of goal-scoring chances throughout the game. Thankfully we were able to make the breakthrough in the deadlock and come away with an important 1-0 win. The two inside forwards combined once again as another Nick Blackman header from a Hallam Hope cross into the box, found the back of the net.
At the end of the game, I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t convert more of our chances and give ourselves a great advantage for the away leg. Would I be ruing those missed opportunities? However I was overjoyed by our defensive play which earned us a clean sheet in the home leg, and stopped any away goals from tilting the tie in the favour of St Kitts & Nevis. This meant that an away goal in the second leg would give us a strong advantage in the playoff tie, and I was confident we could score past them again.
The second leg of the playoff was at the 3,500 capacity Warner Park football ground, situated right in the middle of Basseterre, the capital city of St Kitts & Nevis. A 1 hour 40 minute direct flight from Barbados to St Kitts’ Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport, which was a short distance away from the football ground.
As this game was just a few days after the first leg, a few personnel changes in the starting XI were made to combat fatigue from the first leg. Teriq Highland came in for Ackeel Applewhaite at left-back, whilst Renaldo Marquez replaced Mario Williams in the centre of midfield. Finally Jomo Harris’ role was switched to a defensive ‘Ball Winning Midfielder’ to give us some extra bite and solidity in the centre of the park. Something I felt the side perhaps lacked a little in the home game. Otherwise it was the same team selection and tactics as in the first leg as I felt we could get that important away goal early on.
Indeed it would be the perfect start for us as that desired away goal came after just four minutes, when that man Nick Blackman pinged in yet another curling free-kick from 25 yards to give us the lead, as well as strengthening our position in the tie. Disappointingly Atiba Harris gave the hosts an equaliser on the 30th minute mark after some poor defending from a set-piece gave the veteran centre-back an opportunity to successfully strike at goal. The goal also worryingly gave the home side the momentum in the game, especially with their 3 strikers upfront. However two minutes later, and the turning point of the game happened when left-back Devaughn Elliot got himself needlessly sent off for a stupid lunge at Hallam Hope. Madness erupted from the home fans for that decision from the official, but I was delighted!
With the man advantage on the field, the momentum swung back in our favour, and we were able to capitalise upon it. Kemar Headley proved to be a lethal striker in the box when some slick passing through the St Kitts defensive line allowed him to slot the ball past Julani Archibald to regain the lead for us. Then 11 minutes into the second half, he again finished off some fine play from the midfield and scored by the penalty spot to extend our lead to 3-1. From there on in, we never looked like losing the tie as we slowed the tempo down and maintained ball possession, whilst also switching to a ‘Balanced’ philosophy. Headley almost completed his hat-trick towards the end of the game, but his header sadly ricocheted off the post.
In the end, we came away from the Warner Park ground in Basseterre with a superb 3-1 victory, and 4-1 win on aggregate. As a result we would now be facing Bermuda in the playoff finals, with potentially just 180 minutes separating us from a Gold Cup qualification berth. It’s fair to say that ‘football fever’ was now infecting the island, with the Barbadian populace hopeful of that long-dreamed qualification!
As well as earning a playoff final spot, the playoff semi-final victory has also seen us rise up the FIFA world rankings further. We are now up to 143rd in the world rankings, and only five places behind our previous opposition of St Kitts and Nevis. A seventeen place improvement since I took charge of the Bajan Tridents!
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!!!!