President of the St Lucia Football Association [SLFA] Inc. Lyndon Cooper says it is necessary for local players to perform at a higher level in the game in order to upgrade their standard of play.
On Wednesday, at a press briefing, the SLFA provided a comprehensive analysis of soccer related developmental programmes and initiatives being engendered by the organisation to help players reach their full potential.
In addition, the ongoing Referees Programme was highlighted among other major components in the thrust to develop the ‘beautiful game’ of football on the island.
Cooper said the SLFA is in the process of sourcing persons to assist the SLFA in achieving its developmental goals. He listed some major components of the ‘developmental plan’ that the organisation is pursuing.
“We are encouraging players who have qualified to represent the national team …and with the assistance of the SLFA we still share the view that we need every single player to be performing at a much higher competitive level than what currently exists,” noted Cooper.
He said the SLFA remains committed to assisting the players “in whatever decision that they make, once it is within the limits of the overall objective of the SLFA.”
Focusing on the National Referees Training Programme, Cooper said, the SLFA has taken a “second look” since over the past four to five years, the standards have fallen short of the requisite level.
In an effort to tackle this issue, he explained: “We have made a policy decision for a six-month period to redo the department.”
The SLFA president said the past procedure that required prospective referees to pass a fitness test and then submit the application process with a medical certification to FIFA, no longer exists. “To get onto a FIFA list, you must be part of a pool of match officials that must be selected to go to the U-14 CFU tournament,” he explained. “Fortunately, there are two U-14 Boys and Girls tournaments (respectively) in different years. And if CONCACF decides that your competence at that level is reasonable, they would then select you to go to the U-15 CONCACAF level.”
He added, “If CONCACAF feels that you are competent enough to go on a FIFA list, they would advise your country to nominate you. The nomination goes to FIFA and then to CONCACAF for final approval.”
Cooper said if the association is not able to source individuals who have a “moral responsibility” to ensure that they train and get prepared for that 3-Tier approach to access the list, “it means that we are always going to struggle”.
He stressed that the SLFA has made it abundantly clear that format needs to be changed and have mandated that “every Saturday” will involve the training of referees. Furthermore, on the last Saturday of each month, participants must submit a fitness test to the office of the SLFA’s general secretary.
Also, said Cooper, the SLFA has employed additional staff to “enhance that department …to ensure that we achieve the development plan.”
The SLFA head disclosed that shortly, the unit will initiate an Intermediate Referees Course for the new persons that have been recruited and those who qualify in terms of age and fitness “to stand a chance to be on a FIFA list”. He said the intention is to allow the SLFA to reposition itself regionally and internationally “and to give those young upcoming match officials the opportunity to aspire to the top.”
Cooper further informed that the SLFA is getting a national team prepared for the second half of the Nation’s Cup, which is due next March. Fortunately, he said, Saint Lucia has secured its place in Div. II after being relegated.
He acknowledged the input and determination of the Head Coach Stern John and his technical team “for taking the opportunity to assist us in achieving our long-term goal, which is to qualify for a World Cup” and with two games to go, Saint Lucia has secured a qualifying spot for the Gold Cup. He described this latest accomplishment as a “significant achievement”.
John lauded the efforts of the Saint Lucia National Men’s Team for their successes in the last two games of the Nation’s Cup. He stated that “we have been able to get maximum points in both games …and next March, we have two more games to finish the schedule and we need to take this as seriously as possible.”
As part of the preparations, the head coach disclosed that Saint Lucia will take on San Marino in two international friendlies, on November 17 and 20, at the Daren Sammy Cricket Grounds [DSCG].
John reported that currently there is a local team in training “where the local guys (players) get a chance to showcase their skills to represent the Saint Lucia National team”. He said for the upcoming friendlies the technical staff will try to utilize as many local players as possible “so the local players will get a proper opportunity and a good chance to get into the team for next year.”
He explained that the training regime involves at least three sessions per week, but due to the ongoing Blackheart Knockout Football tournament players participating in the competition are allowed time off to play and train with their district teams.
The coach said there are presently at least 20 players in training and “the numbers have been scattered …because some of the guys play on Saturdays and Sundays and they have to recover, so we give them a couple days off to recover.”
While acknowledging the abundance of talent on island, ultimately, John asserted: “We need to demand more from the players, because the same product that’s coming from the leagues are going to come into the national programme. So we need just a little better product.”
John believes that the island has the requisite talent to do well on the regional scene, recognising commitment and hunger as the two areas that will carve an avenue for progress to the next level.
John, who hails from TunaPuna in Trinidad, has played professionally for several clubs in England including Nottingham Forest, Coventry City, Southamton and Birmingham City. His most prolific time was spent at Columbus Crew in the United States where he scored 44 goals in 55 appearances. Stern Johns’ 26 goals in one season sees him tied in 5th place on the MLS record board, behind such names as Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He was also named on the best eleven in the MLS that year.
Speaking recently, he thanked fans for their support during recent outings and understands that attractive football and winning will only serve to better the fan base. However, the National Head Coach has asked for patience with the national programme.
He highlighted that St. Lucia currently has a large pool of local and foreign based players who are eligible for selection and insist that local players will get a fair shake contrary to some local utterances. He is adamant that team SLU, in this new programme, is attempting to turn over a new page and encourages fans to continue supporting the players.
John, who has also coached Central FC and Anguilla, says it is always going to be difficult for players who do not operate in a professional football environment but is convinced the 12th man will make all the difference.
The St. Lucia National Team is currently in training as they look ahead to upcoming engagements. Positive results in those engagements will improve the position of Team St. Lucia regionally and possibly lend to a higher FIFA ranking.
The coaching staff of Team St. Lucia also includes Francis Lastic as assistant national coach.