Not an easy road
No one should envy the position of head coach Kendale Mercury as he attempts to prepare the St Vincent and the Grenadines senior men’s football team for the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, beginning next month.
Mercury, with the best intentions, knowledge and desire to put on show the best possible team for the entire qualification round, has found himself operating between a rock and a hard place.
At the core of Mercury’s woes and headaches is the lack of preparation going into the qualifiers versus the likes of Curacao, Cuba and Guatemala; not to dismiss or taken slightly, the tenacity of a youthful British Virgin Islands outfit.
The calendar of St Vincent and the Grenadines’ qualification matches, sees them travelling to meet Curacao on March 25, before returning home to host the British Virgin Islands on March 30, in the first two matches in the FIFA window.
Thereafter, Mercury’s men head out to Guatemala to face the Central Americans on June 4, and will welcome Cuba here on June 8 at the Arnos Vale Playing Field.
But a combination of the effects of the health protocols surrounding the coronavirus pandemic because of the spike in cases here since late December and some hesitancy on the part of the national football policy-makers, have left the team short of readiness.
Added, the suspension of the national club championships, again for cautions of health, have compounded the situation.
Beyond the immediate Vincentian space, the overseas-based footballers, who Mercury and his technical team have on their radar for national representation, may be stymied because of travel regulations.
So it is now a case of fast-tracking the team’s physical and psychological preparedness and beyond the coronavirus fears, the country is also battling the threats of the dengue fever and not forgetting the high possibility of an explosive eruption of the La Soufriere volcano.
These are not withstanding the fact that St Vincent and the Grenadines’ status in football at this time, puts them only ahead of the British Virgin Islands in Group C of the qualifiers.
However, going to such a competition, the World Cup and the pride it holds, every country endeavours to optimise their preparations for the marquee occasion.
The task is huge for the next three weeks or so when the local players are called to assemble for a camp. Again, it will not be a normal camp, as they would have to operate in a bio-secure bubble, much against the grains of their patterns of socialisation, psychological make-up and customs.
On the brighter side, modern day sports people better get accustomed to this type of operation, as it is how things are evolving as a consequence of the pandemic.
It may be a challenge and surely a test of the mentality of all concerned who will be part of the proposed live-in camp from on or about February 19.
Whilst Mercury and his charges would place much emphasis on the physical, technical and tactical aspects of the team’s game, equally everyone’s head has to be in the right place.
The team’s philosophy has to be clearly defined, understood and instilled. Too, this philosophy must have a buy-in from all concerned, inclusive of the wider Vincentian public, mainly the very result-oriented supporters of football.
As such, one has to guard too against a bunch of players who would have never faced such formidable, organised teams, with such footballing pedigree, all in the same group.
This again adds credence towards ensuring that the right type of goal-setting, mental rehearsals and imagery are put as premiums as they gear up for battle next month.
Undoubtedly, it will not be an easy road for the Vincentian footballers and the country as a whole, but the gloom that looms, that moral support for Mercury and his team can do them well, even amidst the adversities and the many mountains that are before them.