TECHNICAL Director of the St Lucia Football Association [SLFA], Ces Podd says the unit is setting the drills in motion for rebuilding and development process within the camp.
Despite St Lucia’s non-participation in the World Cup Qualifiers (WCQs), he says that St Lucia has talented players that can rally together to take the country to a higher level in football.
In a recent inclusive with The Voice, Podd laments about the country’s non- appearance at the WCQs and speaks candidly about his relations with the players.
The technical director envisages his ultimate goal as being directed towards the overall development of the sport locally –and to harness and enhance players’ skills for top competitive play.
“If you ask me whether our team was prepared and ready to go and win or do well enough in that tournament, my answer would be no,” declared Podd.
He added, “There were so many areas that we would have needed to improve on, in terms of preparation …that if I was asked that question , it would be no.”
Podd admitted, “It’s a shame that it happened the way it did, but we have to move on. There’s a lot of positives going forward…and again, I’m about development. I look over our development in the last few years and we’re heading in the right direction and it won’t be long before we have success.”
At age 18, Podd, a Kittian-born British citizen, begun his professional football career playing in the English League Div.11 and III. He later transitioned to a player development specialist where he mentored young players before pursuing higher studies in coaching skills.
Later on, after serving a stint in St Kitts/Nevis; he moved to Saint Lucia and took on the official role as the SLFA’s technical director, in 2010.
Citing the recent disturbances between the SLFA unit and a group of national players over St Lucia’s non-participation in the WCQs, Podd said, the scenario has not totally affected the method in which the SLFA operates.
However, he said, “It’s kind of ripped the heart out of the process that we put together.”
The technical director explained that the process is defined as – Long Term Player Development (LTPD). He referred to this initiative starting off with the late Casim “Vasso” Louis, who was very influential in paving a successful path for the island’s young footballers.
“We knew about all the shortfalls in our development …about not being lazy, being organised and having that winning mentality and all that,” said Podd.
He added, “We had to instill that in the youngsters because you cannot do that with the older players, they already have their way of doing things.”
According to Podd, the process begun with getting the youngsters involved in the LTPD programme. Vasso and another former coach Victorine “Sugar” Lawrence (also deceased ) had made a huge input in helping to create that development and building phase for the youth.
He said Vasso and Sugar worked with the youngsters to achieve amazing results: “If you look at those results, the results will speak for themselves. The kids haven’t lost a game in two years and haven’t even drawn one at the international game in two years, they’ve won them all.”
The technical director explained that when COVID hit, the main concern was about the SLFA’s overall programme. He said: “The SLFA has invested a lot in those kids and had even put them into an institute where they do their schooling.”
Podd noted, “This is something that St Lucia should be proud of…is the collaboration between various organisations like the education department, sports department, football association to make this happen. This is the only country in this region that’s done that, and our kids will benefit from being educated as a group of ‘essential athletes’ to go on and do great stuff for the country. And moreso, some of them may also go on to get international contracts.”
He continued, “So, they’ve missed a whole year of that development to take part in group football or international tournaments.
“So that’s been one of my biggest upsets. Yes, I’m disappointed that we were not able to take part in the WCQs, but as technical director we want to play in every game.”
Podd stressed: “We’ve got kids and youngsters in the natonal team who could benefit from it as well. But our concern has got to be not just that …we have to be concerned about what COVID is doing.”
He continued, “This thing (COVID) is taking lives …so when you’re asked by FIFA to do a risk assessment, it has to be thorough and the answers have to be precise.”
Voice: How much of a data base does the SLFA keep on its players – local based, semi-pro and professionals plying their skills overseas?
Podd:”We have a list of about 20 players. When we bring international players in, it’s for two reasons: It’s for the local players to learn from them, and for us to work together and put a team together that is capable of matching the ability and the experience of the other teams that we are going to be coming up against.
“In our region, top countries with massive populations like Mexico and Honduras- professional teams and teams like that. So, if we are going to compete then we have to widen our pool, and the only way we can do this is to go aboard.
“We are very systematic in the way we’ve done it. So that if we bring a player in it’s because we need that player to strengthen a certain position, or we need experience playing against a bigger country. The Nations League has exposed us to a different level and FIFA are expecting results now, so we now have to make sure that we are developing our football in line with what FIFA expects.”
Voice: Does FIFA provide guidelines on national team structure – and is there any department within FIFA that caters for players’ professional development?
Podd: “We are monitored on what used to be a two-year basis… but we are now monitored every year, and we have a FIFA official monitoring what we’re doing almost every month, so we have to show progress.
“There’s a guy called Lenny Lake who is responsible for assisting us with anything that we need. But first of all we have to get guidelines on how we go about certain things. For instance, one of the areas that we have to improve upon is coaching – the level of coaching.
“Because we only have up to the D’ License …and its only coach Emmanuel Bellas who has the C’ License. So that’s something that I have been pushing for.”
Voice: Can you briefly outline the procedure that you and the national coach employ in selecting prospective players for national representation?
Podd: “We have an overall development plan for football in general and it’s not just about the Senior Men’s team. Development is about improving what you already have and what happens is when the senior team goes out there, it’s what most people see. They don’t see the development that goes in, they see the finished product. So, what we have to do is to look at what we have and assess it on a regular basis. So, for instance if you look at the results of the senior men’s team and the Nations League games that we’ve played in, the results haven’t been very good.
“But the performances…will show that the football we play is organised. There is a philosophy behind it, players understand their role and the performances of some players are probably as good as that of players from the bigger countries.
“So, even though we’ve not had the results we could see progress in the way that we play.”