ST GEORGE´S, Grenada.- Grenada’s football story could easily qualify as a fairytale.
But don’t be fooled; the recent success of the ‘Spice Boys’ was the result of old-fashion hard work, tactical intellect and a collective will to scale heights beyond the mediocre.
Over the past two years or so, Grenada’s football has gradually, yet measuredly, swept up to be a force of respect, not only in the Caribbean, but the wider Concacaf.
The team from the Eastern Caribbean has underlined its recent surge with promotion from League B to A of the Concacaf Nations League (CNL), and consequently, qualification to the Concacaf Gold Cup 2021.
Grenada had participated in the 2009 and 2011 editions of the Gold Cup, and its latest qualification brings an end to a prolonged dry spell.
Coincidence or design, a former player turned coach is seemingly leading a revival of Grenada, who is ranked 159th by Fifa and 20th by Concacaf.
Rankings aside, former national team midfielder Shalrie Joseph is fronting a movement that has seen international football on the island trend upward, a climb being celebrated by the entire country.
“I knew I always wanted to coach and my journey being the head coach of Grenada has been very satisfying and rewarding. I absolutely love the players, whether local or overseas, and the other coaches I work with,” Joseph told Concacaf.com in an exclusive interview.
“It was hard for me to leave my home in Boston and move to Grenada for two years, and being able to do that and qualify for League A and the Gold Cup, it was worth it in the long run,” he added.
Joseph, who had 20 caps for Grenada, said the path to success was dotted with obstacles, but instead of allowing them to become a source of burden, he used them as motivation.
“It was not always smooth sailing as some days were frustrating, but those experiences made me more resilient, and to this day, I am loving the opportunity to coach Grenada,” he said.
Joseph said that living in the United States and playing in Major League Soccer (MLS) exposed him to a quality of life and to the professional environment, both of which helped to shape his thinking as he delved into the world of coaching at this high level.
“Living in America and playing in the MLS have made me into a stronger person, and I think without that, I would not be able to deal with a lot of what I had to deal with as coach.
“I want to thank Anthony Modeste, who helped me to understand what it takes to work in the Caribbean, and Grenada in particular, in becoming a successful coach.
“Anthony is the most capped Grenadian player, has coached the national team on two occasions and also played in the Gold Cup, along with myself. He was a childhood friend and I am today grateful for his experience and the knowledge he has passed on to me,” Joseph noted.
He paused to salute other members of the technical and management staff, whom he claims bought into his philosophy and what he aspired to achieve with the National Team.
“My manager Carl Lee is one of the most outstanding gentlemen I have had the privilege to work with…the goalkeeper coach Desmond Noel; Jerry Alexis, the strength and conditioning coach also played a big part, and equipment manager, Kevaughn Hooker. They all played their part in this team’s success, as much as I am,” Joseph shared.
The former New England Revolution standout says part of the strategic plan to guide the team up the ladder was set on a foundation of balance.
“In Grenada all they [the people] think about is winning, and the way I was taught and brought up in the coaching field, there were differences in ideologies. I want to play beautiful and attractive soccer, I want my team to be easy on the eyes for fans to enjoy the game, so I wanted the soccer to be attacking, but in unique and admirable ways.
“Don’t get me wrong, I needed to win games and that was the only way for Grenada to move on, but sometimes the process of developing and training players has to come first. As a coach of a senior national team, I needed to win games and develop the local players in the process,” Joseph reasoned.
He lauded his entire team for its commitment to the mission and sense of purpose. Still, Joseph could not hold back a few worthy mentions.
“One of the decisions I made was that if I was going to bring in overseas players, they will have to be the best in their positions, so I brought in the two center backs from Shrewsbury Town in Aaron Pierre and Omar Beckles, and they were the backbone and spine of our defense and helped us get a lot of the shutouts and wins.
“Also, Jamal Charles, who scored some game winners for us, and Kairo Mitchell, was also outstanding as a forward when called up on Our midfield, with young players, came through with hard work and allowed us to dominate,” Joseph outlined.
As a young coach, the former Seattle Sounders man says his coaching philosophy is heavily influenced by individuals who are not afraid to push the limits of traditional thinking.
“The modern-day coach is what fascinates me, like guys who are changing the game by implementing their styles, their philosophies, their way of thinking, their tactical genius and their strategies, and those are the ones I admire and love watching.
“All around the world in any league you can see, those guys are changing the way soccer is being played. I think guys like Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson are the coaches I saw as a player and who I admired.
“When I became a coach, there are guys like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Zinedine Zidane… Bruce Arena is someone I have always been fond of and seen up close and personal and I really admire his tenacity, man management skill, and his ability to motivate players,” the 41-year-old expressed.
Regionally, Joseph said he looks up to Jamaica’s Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore, who he respects as a player and coach.
“In the Caribbean, Theodore Whitmore, who I saw as a player and who is now the coach of Jamaica, is someone who has been able to do a lot with Jamaica. As a Caribbean person, I would love to emulate and get my team to play like his,” Joseph concluded.