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Scaling the heights

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Class of 2019: Bermuda have impressed observers at home and abroad on their Concacaf Gold Cup journey. Hundreds are expected tonight at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, for the final match against Nicaragua (Photograph courtesy of Mexsport)

The knock on Bermuda football historically is that we have produced some fantastic individuals but few fantastic teams. Generational players but rarely a team for the generations. Kyle Lightbourne, one of the few who could be said to fit into the former category, has it within his reach to coach a team to stand alongside the pantheon of greats in the latter.

It is a perilously difficult thing to put overachievers, those who can be considered to be great, in order of priority. They are subjects of debate that will rage on for ever without really being settled.

Pelé v Maradona, Puskas v Di Stéfano, Cruyff v Beckenbauer and, in this modern era, Ronaldo v Messi, with Brazil 1970 universally accepted as the greatest team of all time.

In the Bermuda context, we have had Wendell “Joe” Trott v Frankie Brewster, Wendell “Woolly” Baxter v Lorenzo Symonds, Granville “Sam the Cat” Nusum v Harold Madeiros, Robert Calderon v George Brangman, Carlton “Pepe” Dill v Randy Horton, Andrew Bascome v Dennis Brown, Cyril “Dago” Steede v Bernie Dickson, Ralph “Gumbo” Bean v Coolridge “Bumla” Bell, Clyde Best v Arnold Woollard, Shaun Goater v Kyle Lightbourne. Bermuda 1967 v Bermuda 1992.

All iconic figures and stars of their generations, who each played a significant role in the evolution of football on this island.

And now we have Bermuda of the 2019 vintage.

All of which reminds of the legendary quote authored by Arsène Wenger during one of his gloriously amusing verbal jousts with Sir Alex Ferguson amid indisputably the greatest coaching rivalry in the history of English football, if not world football:

“Everyone thinks they’ve got the prettiest wife at home.”

This team that Lightbourne has put together have earned the right to be part of any conversation — at present and going into the future.

No matter the result of their final Concacaf Gold Cup group B match, tonight against Nicaragua in New Jersey, where the expected invasion of Bermudians may effectively turn a neutral venue into a home game, what they have accomplished is significant in that it runs counter to the state of domestic football, which, indirectly or not, finds itself tainted by association with many of our societal ills.

The benefit that Lightbourne has is that he coaches a largely professional squad — footballers who play for a living and are not prone to being caught up in the pressures of reaching the required standard while having to make a living through alternative means.

David Burt has repeatedly reminded that the Bermuda Government contributed $100,000 to the national team cause, but let’s be real here: that is but a drop in the ocean in the overall scheme of things and not remotely approaching the budgets of the leading teams in our Caribbean region, let alone those in the wider realms of Concacaf.

Nahki Wells, the most decorated of the present crop, spoke in an interview after the heroic defeat by Costa Rica of his pride in playing with this team, and wondered aloud what might be if more of the locally based players were given opportunities to enter the professional environment.

Fiscal prudence being such a catchphrase for the government of the day, if not its mounting detractors, wholesale investment in this or any sport is highly unlikely at a time when there is not enough to go around.

But we can dream. And in this squad of players that has done so well at the Gold Cup, and come autumn will be playing home and away against Mexico and Panama — the first, Concacaf’s most accomplished country at the World Cup; the second, having reached the highest level in the 2018 edition — we see the evidence of what a consolidated professional effort can produce.

From back to front, there are areas to applaud.

There is more to giant goalkeeper Dale Eve than his funky hairstyle and dazzling dance moves. His athleticism, shot-stopping and command of the defence have been a feature of the Bermuda effort. With the right handling — no pun intended — a professional contract must surely be in his future, whether it is in England or any other part of the world.

Danté Leverock is the third captain of the Lightbourne regime, after Wells and Reggie Lambe. However it got there, the armband has landed on the right man.

What an inspirational leader, his reaction to some rough treatment early in the Costa Rica match by dishing out some rough treatment of his own indicative of his determination to lead from the front and show that Bermuda will not be cowed by the aristocrats of Concacaf.

In midfield, Osagi Bascome plays with a calm and ability to pick a pass that serve inexorably as an extension to the international career of uncle Andrew that was so cruelly cut short by injury.

But it is the energy of Willie Clemons that stands out in the middle of the park. Few players can have covered as much ground or provided as much industry in attack and defence as the slightly built man who plies his trade in Swedish football.

And for all that forwards Wells, Lambe and Zeiko Lewis cannot find a shooting boot between them up to now, their cleverness and movement in pulling defences from side to side have been a sight to behold; it is only when the 18-yard box comes into view that sensory perception runs skewwhiff.

Each will know, in the golf parlance of “drive for show, putt for dough”, that their job ultimately is to stick the ball into the back of the net, so they will be truly satisfied only when they are regularly exercising goalkeepers and seeing the back of the net shudder.

The stars of the show cannot be the stars without the buy-in of their team-mates, and it is thoroughly refreshing to see all 23 enjoying one another’s company. Their mood is infectious.

The trick — for the Bermuda football team, domestic football and the community in general — is for this feel-good factor to be sustained and to permeate all we do.

Class of 2019: a Bermuda fan adorns the flag in Frisco, Texas, for the Costa Rica match (Photograph courtesy of Mexsport)