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Saint Lucia is set to host at least four men’s football matches in the next two months.
The Windward Islands Men’s Football Championships will be held in the middle of May, and the FIFA World Cup 2018 Qualifiers get underway in June.
As usual, the Saint Lucian selection for those matches will be almost exclusively home-based.
Saint Lucian football has not traditionally leaned heavily on the products of its diaspora, whilst other countries have benefited greatly from finding first and second-generation players eligible for international representation.
Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz most famously ‘discovered’ over a half-dozen British-born players including Robbie Earle, Deon Burton and Frank Sinclair on their way to the 1998 World Cup finals. Jamaica has persisted in embracing its diaspora since.
More recently, Antigua-Barbuda’s Benna Boys scaled the heights of Caribbean football, as the region’s top-ranked team. They made the third round of World Cup Qualifying with a team that included several players born in the United Kingdom.
Even Guyana, under new technical director Jamal Shabazz, have begun to embrace what may be the region’s largest groups of emigrants. They recently called up two British-born professionals as they get ready for World Cup Qualifying.
Even one-off players like Jason Roberts for Grenada’s Spice Boyz or Emmerson Boyce for Barbados have enjoyed prolonged success and have contributed to the development of the game in the country of their heritage.
Now, as outlined in an article last year on Caribbean football, there are potential disadvantages to reaching out to the diaspora. Overseas pros can create rifts in the locker room, and they are not always available due to club commitments.
But with the European season winding down, all five of Saint Lucia’s upcoming matches (including an away date to Antigua in WCQ) head coach Francis ‘Baba’ Lastic could have an unprecedented number of potential players available.
FIFA rules say players must have “a clear connection” to any country with which they intend to play. You can be born there, your parents or grandparents can have been born there, or you can have lived there for a specific period.
You can even played with one country at youth level, or in friendlies at senior level, and still appear for the country of your heritage. In many cases, it is a chance for good but not outstanding players to get a taste of international football.
Bringing in overseas players also helps build interest in the national team. The communities where the players or their families are from get pumped up, and their overseas communities – and clubs and media – are suddenly your biggest fans.
With all that said, it’s strange that Saint Lucia has not reached out to its overseas players in any meaningful fashion for close to a decade. Ironically, the last time the national team relied heavily on overseas players, one of them was the current head coach.
Titus Elva had 19 official caps for Saint Lucia. He led a group from Trinidad and Tobago’s W Connection that included Lastic, Earl ‘Ball’ Hog Jean and Elijah Joseph, Romania-based Eric Fannis, David Flavius and Jarvin Skeete from the USA, between 2003 and 2006.
That group also included home-based players such as Kester Erysthee, Faustus Tobie, Emerson Jn Marie, Tennyson Glasgow and Shawn Kirton, under various national coaches. But in recent times, there have been few “overseas” players on Team Saint Lucia.
Again, W Connection, under former Saint Lucia international Stuart Charles-Fevrier, has been central. That’s where 24-year-olds fullback Kurt Frederick and midfielder Tremain Paul ply their trade along with 19-year-old midfielder Malik St Prix.
Defender Jamil Joseph also plays in Trinidad and Tobago, with Caledonia AIA. Pernal Williams has come in from L’Aiglon of Martinique, and Zachaeus Polius plays with Harbour View of Antigua-Barbuda.
Beyond those six are many unexplored options. In defence alone, the national team could conceivably call on Leon Legge, Janoi Donacien, Anton Ferdinand, Stephane Emard, Dwight Degazon and Danny Mullarkey.
Saint Lucia-born Donacien is a 21-year-old product of Aston Villa in the English Premier League, and has played much of this season on loan with Tranmere Rovers. Able to operate at various positions, he has expressed his desire to play for Saint Lucia.
Emard, 26 years old, was called up from Canadian club Kingston FC for the 2012 Caribbean Cup, but was never given a game. Mullarkey is a relatively unknown fullback who has played for Coventry and most recently Corby Town.
Degazon is an interesting prospect. He is 22, and has played junior college, college and semi-professional football in the United States since 2012. He has trained with the national team in the past, and is very interested in representing Saint Lucia.
Gillingham’s Legge is winding down his career and is unlikely ever to get serious consideration at the age of 30. Ferdinand, like his more famous brother Rio, is the son of a Saint Lucian tailor, but he is also 30 and on the downside of his career.
In midfield, Zaine Pierre, Darel Russell, Jay Emmanuel Thomas and Junior Stanislas are among the possiblities.
Zaine, aged 21, is on loan to Messina in Italy’s fourth tier, but has struggled with injury since last playing for the national team three years ago. The dynamic defensive midfielder has also been at the centre of a contract row.
Wingers Emmanuel-Thomas and Stanislas are both in their mid-twenties and have played for clubs including Bristol City FC, West Ham United and Burnley. Both have also played for England at youth level, Stanislas up to Under-21.
Russell has long spoken of his desire to represent Saint Lucia. At the age of 34, however, time has probably run out for the British-born midfielder better known as Rusty. He plays with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the USA.
Up front, where the national team has probably been weakest of late, Caniggia Elva is the biggest name, for a number of reasons, but Leon Knight and Dominic Poleon are also available options.
Elva’s father, Titus, played for over a decade with the national team. His uncle Oliver was also an international. But Vieux Fort-born Caniggia, who is on loan with RC Strasbourg in France, has said that he would rather play for Canada.
Knight and Poleon are at opposite ends of their careers. Barnton’s Knight played for England U19 and U20, but over a decade ago. Oldham Athletic’s Poleon is 21 and has played youth football for Chelsea and Leeds. He has three goals this season.
It’s clear that there are options available, some more realistic than others. And some of them could certainly add to the national team. But from all appearances, Saint Lucia might just look to go with the status quo.
Feel free to suggest other potential players in the comments below.