ST GEORGE’S, June 25, 2015 (FIFA) – There’s a new blend of football flavours mingling on the Caribbean island of Grenada. The roughhouse tactics and jet-heeled wingers of the past are mingling with a modern possession game to the give the Spice Boys from the Spice Island a new, refreshing taste. “We’ve changed it all up,” coach Anthony Modeste said, a lilt in his voice.
The sunny island of approximately 100,000 people is one of the world’s top exporters of nutmeg, earning it the nickname of the Spice Island. Grenada hit the headlines in 1983 when US troops invaded in one of the weirder episodes of Cold War paranoia. But the country’s football has never been at the forefront of global, or even regional, reckoning. Tall strikers, long balls into the box and wingers who doubled as 50-metre sprinters made for a predictable brew.
“Our fitness is better now,” said coach and former player Anthony Modeste. “Our concentration is better and so is our consistency. And now we try to keep the ball and move it on.
“Grenada is strong at the moment,” captain and centre-back Marc Marshall toldFIFA.com. The 30-year-old is a cagey veteran in a squad that has 12 players under the age of 25. “We’ve got youngsters, and we all believe in each other.”
The change in the country’s approach on the field is reflected in their recent results. Grenada climbed 11 places to 160th in last month’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Their 2-1 aggregate win over Puerto Rico in the last round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ has them in the hat for the third round, up among some of the region’s big boys like Canada and Jamaica.
“We try to make our opponents work real hard against us,” added coach Modeste, 39, only a few years removed from his playing days. “And when we lose the ball, we battle like hell to win it back fast.”
The raft of fresh-faced local youths in the team is complemented by the likes of Marshall, the team’s rock at the back, creator Shane Rennie and midfield workhorse Cassim Langaigne. When taken together, the melding of old and new, rough and technical, is paying off.
All of this improvement is happening at a time when Grenada is without shining past stars. Shalrie Joseph, who is wrapping up a stellar career in USA’s Major League Soccer, and Jason Roberts, once a regular in England’s Premier League with Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers, have both called time on their international careers.
“You have to play football with who you have; you can’t worry too much about the great players who’ve hung up their boots,” Rennie said in a matter-of-fact tone. Captain Marshall is on the same page. “It’s a loss, but we have young guys who are hungry,” he said, recalling the “breathtaking” feeling of lining up for his first cap as a 16-year-old alongside big men like Joseph and Roberts.
The rough stuff
It is not all total-football and modern concepts down in Grenada, a country that has never reached a World Cup but has twice taken part in the Gold Cup, CONCACAF’s regional showpiece. There is something raw too, something gritty and closer to the rough roots of street football.
“I’d call myself a tough tackler,” said Marshall, who has captained every level of national team from U-15 up to the seniors. “It’s part of the game here. I like to send a message early. Strikers like to come and showboat, so I send them a message right away. They won’t mess with me again if they hear it.”
“We keep it fair, but it’s part of our game,” Coach Modeste, an uncompromising defender in his day, chuckles when talk turns to the old Caribbean hallmark of the crunching tackle. Even Rennie, an elegant ball-mover with a soft touch and a quiet voice, sees the need for roughhouse stuff every now and then. “Mostly I like to create, but hey, you can’t let anybody push you around,” he said.
The tough tackle is just one note in a Grenadian chorus that is hitting high notes. You can not miss the feeling of family in the current national team. “I need to be the father figure,” said Captain Marshall, who plays for GBSS in the country’s ten-team top flight. “I tell the young boys ‘calm down’, and ‘let’s get on with it now.’”
The draw for the third round of CONCACAF qualifying takes place at the end of next month. “All of the teams left in the hat are there for a reason,” coach Modeste said, tamping down the belief growing in his voice. “It doesn’t matter who we get. We just need to keep moving forward and together, and we’ll be there with a chance.”