Shabazz return to coaching front at Morvant Caledonia as Park Street venue set for upgrade

Morvant Caledonia United versus Defence Force at the Park Street Recreation Ground in Morvant during the 2016-17 Pro League season.

Jamaal Shabazz, who famously guided Morvant Caledonia United – under the club’s previous name Caledonia AIA – to the 2012 Caribbean crown, has reinstated himself as head coach of the club.

And while he vows to steer the side out of the deep end in the new 2017 Pro League season which kicks off on June 9 and runs through to December 17, helping the club rise as the mecca of hope for the Morvant/Laventille region, remains his biggest aspiration, after the Pro League crown.

Shabazz said that with the help of the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation and the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) through its facilities management headed by Anthony Blake, the Park Street Recreation Ground in Morvant is set for an upgrade is expected to include fencing of the venue and resurfacing of the playing field.

It’s only the beginning according to Shabazz, who would like in the near future a facility, equipped with a dormitory and gym—somewhere he says young men and women can aspire to be a positive part of in a community constantly reminded of the negative effects of crime.

“A football facility will do wonders for a community like ours, and even if you blindfold Ray Charles (the deceased American music pioneer who was blind from age seven) he could see that.”

Action between Morvant Caledonia United and San Juan Jabloteh during the 2016-17 Pro League season.
Last season, for the first time in the ground’s history, Park Street welcomed top flight football when Morvant Caledonia hosted three of their Pro League matches at the venue. And, it was well-received by a football-mad community, with crowd attendances estimated around the three-thousand mark.

Only the Mahaica Oval in Point Fortin, on its very best days, could compete with such an estimate. 

Shabazz believes an upgrade to the Park Street venue will present Morvant Caledonia United merchandising and marketing opportunities, gate receipts, an overall atmosphere of belonging and a representative of the people and community.

“Facilities in the communities could ensure that the Pro League and its clubs go on to another level, financial viability, crowd support and participation and more accountability on the part of the players on the pitch,” said Shabazz, the club’s longstanding technical director and founding member.

He said the commitment of sponsors such as the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT), Massy, Courts, National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) and National Petroleum (NP) to football and community development has kept Morvant Caledonia alive, and has given the club the impetus to continue to drive forward. But without a home, he says clubs continue to struggle on the brink of extinction.

Morvant Caledonia, a former club of current Trinidad and Tobago national team coach Dennis Lawrence, national youth coach Russell Latapy, as well as another World Cup 2006 player Densill Theobald, and even Pro League CEO and former national forward Dexter Skeene, had, for a long time, been one of the most attractive teams to watch in the Pro League.

But the once formidable force of the Pro League have finished second-from-bottom in the last three seasons.
Action between Morvant Caledonia United and San Juan Jabloteh during the 2016-17 Pro League season.
The post of head coach also became vacant last March when last season’s coach, Rajesh Latchoo, accepted a long-term move as coach of the Dominica National Team.

“It’s a good challenge for me now,” accepts Shabazz, a former Trinidad and Tobago Men’s and Women’s coach, and ex-coach of the Guyana national team.

He blamed the loss of marquee players over the years for the team’s dive in performance.

“When you lose a group of players like Radanfah Abu Bakr, Walter Moore, Keyon Edwards, Nathan Lewis and others all at once, it would have always been difficult to get the type of quality to replace them instantly. The players coming in after had neither the talent nor the commitment of the Morvant Caledonia philosophy that we would have liked.”

In the past, under the club’s previous name and under Shabazz’s full commitment as coach and backed by former top-flight assistant, Jerry Moe, Caledonia had won the Caribbean Club Championship (2012), three FA Trophies (2008, 2011 & 2012-12), back-to-back First Citizens Cup titles (2011 & 2012), the Pro Bowl (2008) and the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield (2012).

But one title – the Pro Leaue crown – has always proved elusive as the unicorn for Caledonia.

In the six seasons between 2007 and 2013, Caledonia finished runners-up four times and were twice third-place finishers, coming closest to the crown in 2007 by finishing one point behind then champions and neighbouring rivals San Juan Jabloteh.

Back in the hot seat, Shabazz said the thrill is returning to compete against the likes of Stuart Charles-Fevrier (W Connection), “young upstart Angus Eve” and others.

But says it is his great respect for the work done by Anthony Streete at St. Ann’s Rangers last season, guiding the team off the bottom, which stands as one of the main factors which motivated his return to the coaching front.

With Moe committed to the club’s youth programme, former midfielder Abdallah Phillip will continue in his role of last season as assistant coach.

“I feel that working under me will be the kind of mentoring that he (Phillip) needs at this stage in his coaching career,” explained Shabazz. “He is a very motivated young man who bleeds Morvant Caledonia. It’s going to be an interesting opportunity for us working together.

“Given the group of players we have now, we have set a two-year plan. We would like to finish in the first five [this season] while giving valuable experience to the talented bunch and by 2018 we would have our young coach Phillip and a more seasoned squad competing for the Pro League title.

“At present we have one real remnant of the Caledonia team that we built 10-12 years ago, Kareem Joseph, and we call him ‘the last of the Morvadonians’. And together with a cast filled with youngsters and our customary seasoning of Caribbean flavour, I think we will produce some very appetizing football.
Goalkeeper Glenroy Samuel, right, celebrates making a save for North East Stars against Police FC during the 2016-17 Pro League season.
“This season from what it looks like on paper, the teams look more evenly matched, players spread across the rosters, the league will be more competitive.”

A new-look Morvant Caledonia welcomed the return of goalkeeper Glenroy Samuel and central midfielder Kerry Daniel, who both represented North East Stars last season.

Other new signings include Brazilian defender Murilo Barbosa, 34, Dominicans Rufuson Pierre Louis, 21, and Kelrick Walter, 27; Barbados forward Shakille Belle, 20, Ghanaian midfielder Yahaya Amuzu, 22, former St. Ann’s Rangers youth player Joshua Sylvester and 20-year-old Alexis Blackwell of FC Santa Rosa.

Quincy Ballah, 21, and Simeon Bailey 20, both former Cale’ youth players, and teenagers Joshua Alexander, Steven Richardson, Renaldo Che Francois and goalkeeper DeJourn Charles are new young talent scooped up by Morvant Caledonia.

They have been integrated into a squad that includes Kareem Joseph, Maestro Mensah, Lester Joseph, Otev Lawrence, Kareem Baptiste, Anthony Charles, Taje Commissiong, Michael Ten-Pow, Dominic Douglas and Guyana’s Kelsey Benjamin and Sheldon Holder who have all been retained from last season.

Morvant Caledonia will face Club Sando in the opening clash of the 2017 Pro League season from 6pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium on Friday 9 June, followed by reigning champions Central FC against San Juan Jabloteh from 8pm to complete a double-header at the Couva venue.

Trinidad and Tobago Pro League 2017
Round One Match Day One fixtures
(Friday 9 June 2017)
Ato Boldon Stadium
Club Sando vs Morvant Caledonia United—6pm
Central FC vs San Juan Jabloteh—8pm

(Saturday 10 June 2017)
Arima Velodrome
North East Stars vs Point Fortin Civic—7pm

(Monday 12 June 2017)
Ato Boldon Stadium
Defence Force vs Police FC—6pm
W Connection vs MIC-IT St. Ann’s Rangers—8pm