There was applause and handshakes all round in midweek at the Boscolo New York Palace Hotel in Budapest, Hungary as Cayman Islands’ Jeffrey Webb and Antigua and Barbuda’s Gordon Derrick officially replaced controversial ex-FIFA Vice President and Works Minister Jack Warner at the helm of the CONCACAF and Caribbean Football Union (CFU) respectively.
Webb and Cuban delegate Luis Hernandez were particularly scathing about the perceived mismanagement and corruption that were a feature of Warner’s reign.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Pro League football representative, W Connection and Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA, would get the first taste of the new set-up when they compete in the finals of the CFU Club Championship. Not surprisingly, no one knows when and where the final round will be held yet although that might be decided today.
In their way is the Antigua Barracuda, which is owned by Derrick, coached by the ABFA’s technical director Tom Curtis and managed to secure the right to represent Antigua and Barbuda despite having never played competitively on the island. Barracuda play in what is effectively the United States third division.
For all the talk of a new era in the Caribbean, Derrick already bears some resemblance to his predecessor, Warner. Connection and Caledonia still remember the challenge of competing with the last CFU president’s Joe Public team while the owner had oversight over referees, fixtures and competition rules and routinely used his influence to poach players.
At the CFU’s semi-final group stage in Trinidad, the Barracuda jerseys featured numbers which so closely matched the colour of the shirts that it was virtually impossible for reporters and match commissioners to follow the game.
Match Commissioner Wayne Cunningham admitted that the Barracuda outfits were farcical but gave a nervous chuckle when asked if a formal complaint would be made.
There is likely to be similar unease for Connection and Caledonia owners when they meet Barracuda.
Connection, theoretically, might have solved the problem on May 10 but the Pro League outfit failed to hold on to a lead that would have eliminated the Antiguans. But the host team, which had already qualified, played a second string squad in preparation for a local Digicel Pro Bowl semi-final match against Caledonia that kicked off within 24 hours of the CFU fixture.
Still, Connection opened the scoring before their youthful team succumbed to a Barracuda comeback and lost 2-1. Haitian team Victory SC, who faced a full strength Connection and might have progressed if the Trinidad and Tobago team took its final fixture seriously, was eliminated as a result.
The kindest thing that might be said of Caribbean fixture lists is “amateurish.”
Victory was the beneficiary of a similarly unsporting quirk in the competition when it met compatriot, Baltimore, with both teams knowing beforehand that a draw would eliminate Guyanese club, Alpha United. And that proved to be the subsequent result.
Alpha President Odinga Lumumba, who claimed to spend over $188,000 (US$29,000) on his team’s regional campaign, insisted the club was eliminated by “fraud, match fixing and collusion” and complained unsuccessfully in writing to every CFU and Caribbean football official right up to FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the United Nations Secretary General.
His loud grumbling is part of the messy backdrop to the CFU final round, which determines the two regional representatives to advance to CONCACAF level.
Caledonia qualified for the final group stage on Wednesday night with a 5-0 win over the Cayman Islands’ Georgetown Soccer Club, which, thankfully, is not run by Webb.
Devorn Jorsling and Conrad Smith both scored doubles for the “Eastern Stallions” while substitute Trevin Caesar also got on the score sheet.
Caledonia’s starting team in the Cayman Islands comprised: Ronson Williams, Kareem Joseph, Nuru Muhammad, Radanfah Abu Bakr, Walter Moore, Cornelius Stewart, Stephan David, Keyon Edwards, Trayon Bobb, Jamal Gay and Jorsling.
Caesar was introduced in Stewart’s place in the 79th minute while Smith and Nathan Lewis replaced Gay and Bobb respectively in the final 10 minutes. Zane Coker, Kemron Purcel, Sheldon Holder and Colin Nelson were unused subs for Caledonia.
The Puerto Rico Islanders, which competes in the US second tier as well as in its island’s domestic league, is expected to be the fourth qualifier for the final group stage.
Caledonia and the Islanders played to a goalless draw on Monday.
The CFU final four should offer intriguing match-ups and healthy competition. But that is if one doesn’t factor in the damaging effects of mismanagement and misplaced ethics.
The new CFU has not started well.