Central FC made another bold declaration today as the Digicel Pro League outfit confirmed the capture of 26-year-old Trinidad and Tobago international attacking midfielder Ataullah Guerra.
Guerra, a former Caledonia AIA player, spent much of 2013 on loan with Finland Premier League club Rovaniemen Palloseura (RoPS) but opted to start the New Year with the “Couva Sharks” after his contract expired. He has signed on a six-month deal that allows him to move in the next transfer window if a move opens up for him abroad. Both parties retain an option to renew for a year, though.
At present, Central is fourth in the Pro League and trails leading team and Couva rival, DIRECTV W Connection, by eight points. However, the Sharks are just two points behind second place Police FC and one shy of defending champion team Defence Force.
Guerra hopes to help Central narrow the gap and he is the club’s second high profile signing this season after talented Trinidad and Tobago international goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams joined the team in the last transfer window.
“Fans should expect to see a new Ataullah because I have a new perspective and a different attitude to life,” Guerra told Wired868. “I will try to be a better role model on the field and I want to score goals and do my best for myself and my country. I want to put Central on the map and make it one of the biggest teams in the Pro League.”
Central managing director Brent Sancho, a 2006 World Cup player with Trinidad and Tobago, also hailed Guerra’s developing maturity and said he was excited by what he saw of the playmaker on the training ground.
Central is still awaiting the final clearance for Guerra but his international transfer clearance came through on Boxing Day and the Sharks hope to be able to use the player against San Juan Jabloteh on Sunday.
“Speaking to Ataullah, he has matured tremendously as a person,” said Sancho, “and he is better a player than I even thought he was when I look at him up close.
“He still wants to play outside Trinidad and Tobago, if possible, and we are giving him the comfort that he can if something comes up.”
Caledonia coach Jamaal Shabazz is sad to see Guerra go but explained that it did not want to be drawn into a bidding war with Central. Instead, the “Eastern Stallions”, who also let go of Grenada international striker Kithson “Bully” Bain and Guyana defender Jamal Smith, will try to compensate with some younger signings while versatile veteran Conrad Smith could also return from St Ann’s Rangers.
“Basically, we hate to see him go,” Shabazz told Wired868. “It is a huge loss because he plays in the way we like and we developed a real close relationship over the years. But we think he is better off in Central because of what they can offer for him at this time…
“We had two high spending seasons but now we are in a situation where we have to stabilise our budget and be very strategic in terms of salaries and expenses.”
2013 was an unforgettable year of mixed blessings for Guerra. His 33-year-old brother, Marvin Guerra, was murdered just two weeks after the “Soca Warrior” left for Finland. And, three months later, his sister-in-law Beverly Nurse, the widow of slain Mark Guerra, was also gunned down.
There were difficulties on the field too. Guerra scored just once for RoPS and admitted that he struggled to fit into the team’s direct style while he was upset the Finnish team dragged its feet over the paperwork required for his US visa, which denied him the chance to play at the 2013 Gold Cup.
“Finland was a nice football environment although the money wasn’t great,” said Guerra. “Personally, I (felt) the club should have released me when the (TTFA) requested me and (RoPS) kind of kept me back from getting the opportunity to represent my country…
“I didn’t find my rhythm there. I didn’t fit in fully with the style of football they were playing and players didn’t always have the confidence to give me the ball (and) we don’t speak the same language so sometimes it is hard to explain yourself during the game…
“Sometimes you need a little support around you when you feel that love and so on. But I just tried to keep working hard and I played with my heart and soul for the team.”
Guerra admitted that he felt comforted to rejoin Central coach Terry Fenwick, who gave him his senior debut at Jabloteh, while the Sharks also got the Warrior a three-bedroom house in Chaguanas where he now lives with his mother and girlfriend, Afiya Collingwood.
“I want to try to keep myself away from the gang war and so on and just concentrate on my football and do bigger and better things for my future life,” said the former John John resident. “I am getting older now and I chose Central because I got an offer that I was comfortable with and it is also an opportunity to play with a coach that understands me.”
Fenwick, a former England World Cup defender and one of local football’s most successful coaches, said Guerra was at the top of his own wish list.
“For me, Guerra is a natural goal scorer but his real strength is as a provider and I don’t think there is anyone better to play behind (Rundell) Winchester and (Dwight) Quintero,” said Fenwick, who recently steered Central to the First Citizens Cup title and the TTFA FA Trophy final. “There aren’t many game changers around at the moment but we’ve seen him do this for the national team and it’s a role that we’ve been missing at Central this season.”
Central had also hoped to unveil the capture of Willis Plaza in this transfer window although the former Jabloteh player might return to Vietnam. Athletic Tobagonian defender Omar Charles and solid Jamaican midfielder Toric Robinson will both leave in this transfer window.
Fenwick said Central is pursuing several other options although Guerra is likely to be only one who takes the field against Jabloteh this weekend.
Related story: Ataullah Guerra ended a tumultuous 2013 on a high note with a superb performance against Jamaica. Click here to read.
Upcoming Pro League fixtures
(Friday January 3)
Caledonia AIA v Point Fortin Civic, 6 pm, Hasely Crawford;
Defence Force v W Connection, 8 pm, Hasely Crawford;
(Saturday January 4)
North East Stars v St Ann’s Rangers, 3.30 pm, Larry Gomes;
(Sunday January 5)
Central FC v San Juan Jabloteh, 5 pm, Hasely Crawford.[standings league_id=1 template=extend logo=true]