Roberts: Nations League will help grow Bermudian game
Jason Roberts believes the Concacaf Nations League will help create a professional environment for football in the region and “drive opportunity” for countries such as Bermuda.
Roberts, the former West Bromwich Albion and Blackburn Rovers striker, attended the Bermuda Football Association awards ceremony and symposium last week in his capacity as Concacaf’s director of development.
He was invited to Bermuda by Mark Wade, the BFA president, who he met at the Nations League launch in Miami last month, and said he had been impressed by the “will and determination” of those involved in the local game.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time with the president discussing his thoughts and the thoughts of the technical group,” Roberts told The Royal Gazette. “Everyone has been so positive about [the Nations League].
“What the Nations League will allow us to do is have regular competition. It will drive development and provide an opportunity for teams to play 20, 25 games over a cycle.
“It’s a competition that will allow [Bermuda] to grow. I’m hugely excited by the Nations League as is everyone I’ve spoken to.”
Roberts was restricted to just 12 appearances for Grenada, who he qualified to play for through his father, because of his club commitments in England. But with all Nations League matches to be played on Fifa international dates, he believes there is no reason why Bermuda will not be able to call upon their top overseas-based players.
Bermuda will play four qualifying matches, against Sint Maarten and El Salvador at home and Aruba and Dominican Republic away, to determine the three divisions for the inaugural Nations League, which starts in September 2019, as well as the ten remaining Gold Cup spots.
“I played for Grenada from 19 to 35 and I only gained 12 caps because of the games outside of the Fifa international windows,” said Florida-based Roberts, who was appointed Concacaf director of development last November. “We would invariably lose after three or four games of the World Cup qualifiers.
“I was very passionate about representing my country. When you’re the record signing for Bristol Rovers or West Bromwich Albion or Wigan Athletic and you say ‘I’m going to represent my country of Grenada,’ it can throw up some challenges. But I was sure that’s what I wanted to do.
“I think this qualification phase is going to be a really good barometer for a lot of our member associations who are organising camps and getting more friendlies to get ready for the games.”
Roberts has been tasked with growing the game across the region by strengthening the confederation’s core development programmes, particularly at the grass-roots level.
After retiring in 2014, he worked as a television pundit in both England and the Caribbean, but always felt football administration was his true calling once he graduated from the Uefa Masters for International Players executive course.
“I was fortunate to do a lot of media work after I retired, but I was sure it was in administration where I wanted to make a difference,” said Roberts, the nephew of Albion legend Cyrille Regis, who died aged 59 in January.
“I’m really happy that I’ve been given this opportunity at Concacaf. What we’re trying to do is create an environment where we can have more professional standards and foster a more professional environment in our region.
“I want to make it a feature to visit a lot of our member associations and learn about the programmes they’re putting in place.”
The 40-year-old established the Jason Roberts Foundation in 2007, as a charitable organisation that provides opportunities for young people to build confidence through sport in England and the Caribbean.
He says the experiences he gained while playing for Grenada, as well as the four years he spent living on the island after retiring, have given him a unique insight into the inner workings of football in the region.
“I think that gave me a perfect backdrop and a good level of knowledge to be able to come into this role because essentially it’s about development, it’s about running programmes, it’s about using sport to inspire people and it’s about creating an environment so people can achieve their best results,” he said.
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