Willie Clemons views World Cup qualifiers as shop window
Willie Clemons is determined to prolong his playing career overseas as he continues to search for a new club.
The Bermuda midfielder endured a frustrating domestic campaign with Dalkurd, culminating in the club dropping into Sweden’s third tier after going down 3-1 to Landskrona Bois over a two-legged relegation play-off.
Despite the setback, the 26-year-old was keen to stay with the club and help them fight for promotion at the first attempt. However, a combination of a change in manager and the financial consequences of relegation, resulted in Clemons’s contract being terminated in mid-December.
“I was really disappointed to leave the club,” said Clemons, who was restricted to just 18 league appearances because of injuries, hampering any real consistency on the field. “I had settled in the city, liked the club, fans and people and had even played some really good football prior to my injury.
“However, because of relegation, the previous manager being sacked and there being no income from television rights in the third tier, the club were looking at cost-saving.
“I was one of the higher-paid players and there was a clause in my contract stating the club could terminate it. They are looking to do a complete rebuild, keeping on only a core of young players in the squad and try and have more domestic-based players.
“The club is trying to go in a different direction and I understand that. I’m disappointed but that’s football, it’s unpredictable and just the nature of the game.”
With the season ended and his time at Dalkurd coming to a close, Clemons had opportunities arise immediately in Sweden, Iceland and his preferred choice of England, with a number of clubs across the Vanarama National Leagues, interested in his services.
However, just as possible offers looked set to materialise, the National League North and South seasons were declared null and void in February, after clubs voted in favour of ending the campaigns with many suffering the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I would have loved to have gone to England and I had a number of opportunities in the National Leagues,” he added. “In the end it just turned out to be bad timing and things just didn’t work out because the seasons were declared null and void.
“Going to play in England is still definitely my preference and hopefully by September when the seasons return I can explore those opportunities again. It is a case of keeping fit, biding my time and seeing what happens in the coming months.”
Clemons will have ideal opportunity to showcase his talent to possible suitors as part of the Bermuda squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Surinam and Cayman Islands next month.
The midfielder, who opted to miss the first two group B encounters against Canada and Aruba last month owing to safety concerns surrounding the pandemic, is relishing the opportunity to represent the country again.
“It’s definitely a chance for me to put myself in the shop window,” said Clemons ahead of a trip to Surinam on June 4, before taking on Cayman Islands at the IMG Academy Complex in Bradenton, Florida, four days later.
“I missed the first two games as I wasn’t vaccinated and everything was a little difficult with Covid restrictions. I’m still a little sceptical of playing in Surinam, but we will follow all the protocols and be as safe as possible.
“I’m excited at the chance of playing for Bermuda again and to test ourselves as a squad. I need to be playing football again and be able to show people what I can do.”
Clemons’s availability will provide a boost to head coach Kyle Lightbourne, who is facing somewhat of a selection headache with a host of senior players set to be omitted from the squad.
Lightbourne will definitely be without his established central-defensive partnership of recently retired captain Danté Leverock and suspended Jaylon Bather, while talisman Nahki Wells’s availability remains doubtful as he contemplates a period of rest at the end of another typically gruelling season in the Sky Bet Championship.
Add to that the loss through injury of Watford forward Kane Crichlow, who scored in both of the opening qualifiers, and the squad could once again proved to be much changed.
Despite the obvious voids left by key personnel, Clemons — who featured in both the impressive Concacaf Gold Cup and Nations Leagues campaigns — has warned Bermuda’s rivals to underestimate them at their own peril.
“The squad might not have a number of the players who featured in other major tournaments but it is a big opportunity for new players to come in,” he said. “It will be a test but I’m confident we have the personnel to come in and take their chance.
“There is no reason we can’t go to somewhere like Surinam and get a result. If we did I wouldn’t even consider it a shock. People have underestimated us as a nation in the past and we’ve proved them wrong.
“No nation should be underestimating us any more because we’ve shown we can give bigger nations a real test.
“We’ve done well against the likes of Mexico, Haiti and Costa Rica, so a team like Surinam isn’t a particularly scary proposition. As a squad we almost expect to go and get results now.”