Shared philosophy is the key at Vasco
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us ...”
While it was likely not with Vasco da Gama, rather it was the French Doctor Manette in mind, that Charles Dickens first penned such words in A Tale of Two Cities, and the contests featured over the course of the First Division season resemble little in cause, effect and significance to that of the French Revolution, the symbolism absolutely applies.
From a winter of forlorn desolation and gloom, where a downward spiral seemed without end, to a spring of blooming efflorescence painting a future picture of hopeful achievement. So has been the 2018-2019 season for a few clubs, however, for Vasco the drama of this reality is stark in a fashion that even Dickens would not have imagined possible.
There was the rampant period of success built of the 1980s and 1990s, when Vasco was found as a “super team” among the upper echelon of domestic football, securing glory, titles and a legacy of excellence. The club built a dynasty, luring and securing many of the game's top talent of the age, via various incentive means, and making a terrific run.
Yet, as is want, the dynasty ultimately crashed and burnt through attrition and a changing landscape, fading into obscurity and folding up in 2001 — end of story, or so it was thought. Last year, the decision was made to resurrect the team and reintroduce a Portuguese-based presence in the league, that may also serve as a catalyst in galvanising the island's Portuguese community as a whole.
Thus, after a 17-year period of self-exile from league football, Vasco came back, with a stated mantra to “Preserve the heritage and build a legacy”. However, initial returns suggested a continued banishment might have been the perspicacious decision, that more time in purgatory could not have been worse. Re-baptised into the league with a 4-1 thumping from Devonshire Colts, the script became clear that this would not be that of a fanciful fairytale.
Their first three matches yielded one point out of a possible nine, as did their next seven and at the Christmas break there was little cheer to go around, with a solitary win in the Shield, a penalty shoot-out over St David's, their only adornment to speak of.
“In the beginning, we didn't really know each other,” Ricardo Ponte,” the team's captain said. “We were a brand-new team with brand-new players, a new coach and no one really knew each other and we knew it would take a bit of time to get better.”
Likewise, coach Brian Dickinson never wavered. Even as the defeats mounted and his side stood upon the lowest rung, Dickinson remained steadfast in the notion shared by few outside the organisation that the club's fortunes would turn, eventually, and, hopefully, before season's end.
After more letdowns than success to commence the new year, it appeared the second half would simply follow the composition of the first, then came the auspicious moment, February 10, when Vasco finally broke through, ending their league drought with a 3-2 victory over St David's at Bernard Park.
“There has to be complete buy-in to the plan, tactics, the team strategies and player roles to have success and that took time,” elucidated Dickinson nearing the end of perhaps the most testing period of his coaching career, since starting out at Somerset Trojans “In the first half [of the season] we were still trying to blend and get a real synergy going.”
Defeating St David's, though, was but a prequel to something grander to come three weeks later when they made shock waves in spoiling Rangers' promotion party in handing them a 3-2 loss, their first league defeat since March 2017.
Victories over Social Club and yet another top three team, Hamilton Parish, have followed in this “spring of hope” and the future of football at Vasco, as Dickens might say, promises “a season of light”.
“One thing about this team, we never give up; we always believe we can do something great with football in Bermuda,” Ponte added. “That's what our coach has been telling us all season, we have to believe and can never give up because we have good players, we just have to put it all together and show good football and that's what's been happening the last few games.
“We never point fingers against anyone, we just keep performing our plan with the tactics the coach has given us and stay together.
“I don't want to look ahead too much, but for next season we're going to keep believing in ourselves and doing our best, work hard in training during the week and, come Sunday, play our game, game by game. We don't come to lose, we come to win.”
With a single outing remaining to bring closure to this rebirth, Dickinson is confident that, providing the players remain committed to the team concept and philosophy, positive reward will be the collective result for all concerned.
“This is not about it being my philosophy, it's a team philosophy and, as you know, philosophies evolve,” said Dickinson, who noted how he had to change the team's formation from 3-5-2 to a more conventional 4-3-3 as the season progressed.
“One thing I said when I went to Vasco was that it's never about a coach or a player. It's about philosophy and part of the philosophy we have here is that one must be drug free, must be employed and you have to believe in the system, inclusive of the sports psychology exam.
“Everyone here has bought into that and the philosophy is defining itself. Gone for me are the days when a team is based all around a coach or a singular player, because coaches and players can hold teams hostage, but when you have a philosophy and are beholden to it, whether the coach is there or the player is there, the team can still play to the philosophy and that's what we're trying to do at Vasco.
“We're trying to get that right blend of players that would not just play for themselves or the group, but for the club and community.”
Vasco bring down the curtain on the season when they face third-placed St George's Colts at Wellington Oval on Sunday.
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