Producing some of the best football players in the world does not necessarily equate with having a strong national team. This sounds paradoxical, but for Surinam it is a harsh reality.
Take a look at this impressive list of players - Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. They have played or play for the Dutch national team and some of the top European clubs. They also were born in Surinam, but did not stay long enough to make an impact. Many would-be players and stars emigrated to the Netherlands as youngsters as their families tried to find better opportunities and to improve their lot in life. Meanwhile, their native country is suffering and lags far behind the rest of the world in football.
Surinam has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup™, the Olympic Football Tournaments or any of FIFA's competitions. "Surinam is blessed with some talent that is now being showcased in the world," says national team midfielder and former team captain Orlando Grootfaam. "If we had the proper infrastructure, we could have more talent out there in the international world. A lot of talent here is dormant. They just don't get the opportunity to develop themselves."
Surinam lies on the northeast coast of South America but is a member of CONCACAF, not CONMEBOL. It is struggling in CONCACAF, but it would be overmatched in South America. "Based on our level of development, we felt it was good to start in CONCACAF, where you have certain countries at certain levels," said General Secretary Ewald Gefferie. "We have also looked into the possibility of participating in South America's competition. But based on the level right now, it is not suitable to start with those giants."
|Surinam players as their anthem is played|
Surinam's glory years came in the late seventies, when they advanced to the CONCACAF round of the 1978 World Cup qualifiers, eliminating Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana along the way. They did not win any of their five matches in the final round. Just reaching the level of Jamaica, who qualified for their first Cup in 1998, or even Trinidad & Tobago, who have never qualified for football's promised land, would be considered a major leap forward.
"I don't think we'll end up as a World Cup team," said Rodney van Engel, a national team midfielder who has played amateur football in the Netherlands with C.C. Capelle in Rotterdam and is trying for a pro career in Belgium. "We take two steps up, two steps down. We don't have the power to come up like Jamaica or Trinidad & Tobago. They have more power than us. But in time we can make it if they spend some money."
The federation does not have much money and needs a major sponsor to help seed its youth programmes. Having the same regime stay in power in the Surinaamse Voetbal Bond (SVB) would help as well.
"It's up and down because we don't have a consistent programme for the national team," Grootfaam said. "At every election we get other people and another system. Some systems are good."
Having no professional league compounds problems. Every player is an amateur and they perform in a 13-team national league that plays on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Many players go to school or work during the day and train three times a week at night, either with their club team or the national team. The players do not get paid for their efforts, but their passion is never questioned.
ONLY ONE DEFEAT
SVB President Louis Giskus realized it would be difficult to qualify under the present conditions. "To qualify you have to play very hard and you need a lot of experience," Giskus says of many CONCACAF rivals. "Here, we are amateurs. The boys work during the day and in the afternoon they maybe train for three hours, maybe four days a week. There is a difference between an amateur and professional."
So Surinam has implemented long- and short-term plans. The long term is to develop youth talent. The short term was to bring in a foreign coach - only the second foreign coach in the country's history. Uruguayan native Edgardo Baldi, a much traveled coach (Nicaragua, Brazil, Panama, Bolivia), has directed the team since November 2003. He has a history of taking bottom-of-the-table teams and transforming them into respectable sides if not championship-winning teams.
Since Baldi took over, Surinam have lost only once in 20 friendlies against local sides. The team practices and plays at the Andre Kamperveen Stadium, named after the founder of the Caribbean Football Union who was assassinated in 1982. The 15,000-capacity facility has seen better days, but fans flock to it for important matches.
Baldi has raised the level of the national team, defeating Aruba 10-2 on aggregate, winning 2-1 away, and then running away with the game at home, 8-1. But reality struck when Surinam came up against the pros from Guatemala in the second round. They managed a 1-1 draw at home in the first leg, but fell in Guatemala, 3-1.
So, now they must wait another four years before they can qualify again. Baldi says Surinam players have fine technical and physical qualities. "But the problem is when we talk about tactics, mental discipline and responsibility," he said. "One solution would be to develop players at a much earlier age. If you want to go to university, you have to go to school. You can't go directly to university. The main responsibility for this is the SVB. It's just not the national team, but the clubs. People have to contribute to forming youth players. They have to teach them when they are young."
HELP FROM FIFA AND SEEDORF
|A descendent of Surinam, Dutch great and current Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard|
Surinam has taken a major step forward thanks to the FIFA Goal Programme, which funded the new Emile de la Fuente Sportscentrum in Paramaribo. The center, built on land donated by the Surinam Government, is named after the former federation president (1952-1955). It cost USD 700,000 to build.
This new facility has one natural grass field, a grandstand, locker rooms, a dormitory for 96 players, administrative offices and conference and dining rooms. "We see that as a building block to start developing Surinamese football," Gefferie says. "The priority right now is to professionalise football with the support of FIFA."
There is outside help as well in the establishment of the Clarence Seedorf Complex in the capital. Seedorf, who plays for AC Milan, remembered his roots and gave back something to his native land, building a sports center primarily for children to learn the beautiful game and to love it as well. "We are very grateful for Seedorf's efforts," Gefferie said. "If we can make use of these types of players to develop . . . that will help us reach our ultimate goal."
2014 FIFA WORLD CUP™
Surinam officials would love to utilise the Netherlands as a conduit to develop current Surinam players to the best of their ability and to return home to play for the national team. Football culture in Surinam and the Netherlands is like night and day. "In Surinam, people don't live football, they just look football," said Van Engel, the Dutch-based player. "In the Netherlands, however, they love it," he added. "They sleep with it. They think about it. It's another experience when you go there." Dozens of players with Surinamese backgrounds play in the Dutch League, but are not good enough to perform for the Dutch national team. Surinam football officials would love to entice these players to play for their homeland. But there is one problem: the Surinam Government does not allow for dual citizenship, at least not yet. The government is looking into the possibility of changing that law.
For now Surinam can only plan and dream. The dream is to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™. "Based on that, we started to develop youth in a special programme with the support of FIFA," Gefferie said. "In fact, it is not early enough. If we can reach it earlier, it would be fine. Our goal is to develop football systematically to reach the finals in 2014."
The Surinaamse Voetbal Bond (SVB) was founded in 1920 and joined FIFA in 1929. Surinam has never reached the FIFA World Cup™ final (it has participated in 12 qualifying tournaments), Olympic Football Tournaments or any of FIFA's other competitions. Surinam's best FIFA World Cup™ showing was in qualifying for the 1978 competition, when it reached the CONCACAF final round. Surinam does not have a professional league, but does have a 13-team national league. Transvaal is the most dominant team, followed by Robinhood.
Formerly called Dutch Guyana before gaining independence in 1975 and becoming a republic in 1987, Surinam is situated in South America. The country covers an area of 163,265 km2 and has a population of 435,000, almost half of whom live in the capital, Paramaribo.
Surinam World class
Dozens of Surinam-born footballers have acquired world-class status playing for the Netherlands. Frank Rijkaard, the former Netherlands national coach now putting Barcelona through their paces, is just one example. As a player, he was European champion in 1988, alongside the legendary Ruud Gullit, who now coaches Feyenoord Rotterdam. Both had a very successful career playing for AC Milan. Other Surinamese players who have shared the limelight include Patrick Kluivert (UEFA Champions League winner in 1995, now with Newcastle United), Edgar Davids (also Champions League winner in 1995, now with Inter Milan), Clarence Seedorf (three-time Champions League winner; AC Milan), Aron Winter, Gerald Vanenburg (record holder for league championship and cup titles in the Netherlands), Michael Reiziger, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (both now with Middlesbrough), Bryan Roy (UEFA Cup winner in 1992) and Gaston Taument.
Former Ajax goalkeeper Stanley Menzo also originated from Surinam. As current goalkeeping coach for the Netherlands national team, he is the first Surinamese ever to join the Oranje's coaching staff.
The first person with Surinamese roots ever to don Dutch colours was Humphrey Mijnals. Ironically, his last of three appearances for the Netherlands was in Paramaribo on 3 July 1960, when the Dutch side beat hosts Surinam 4-3.