Williams savours unlikely Pro League success
W. Connection coach Stuart Charles Fevrier paid special tribute to club captain Jan-Michael Williams as the "Savonetta Boys" executed a remarkable triumph by snatching the 2011/12 Digicel Pro League crown from under the nose of rivals, T&TEC, on the final day of the season.
On Thursday, Caledonia AIA stunned T&TEC 3-2 at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Malabar, which allowed Connection, who was two points adrift at kick off, to clinch the crown with a 8-1 hammering of Police at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
"Jan-Michael was an inspirational leader for the team and especially considering what he went through," Fevrier told Wired868.com. "He really came up big for us and I want to thank him."
Williams was in Belgium when Connection started the season and only rejoined the Pro League after his move to Olympic Charleroi collapsed, due to the European club's financial frailty, and left him unemployed.
That setback faded into insignificance when Williams' fiancée, Candice Worrell, was brutally attacked by an unknown assailant outside her Jenexcon Engineering workplace in Chaguanas on 20 January 2012. Worrell has not yet fully recovered and is in a semi-conscious state.
Williams took two weeks off from football duties to offer emotional support to Worrell before returning to the playing field.
Any concerns that the tragedy would affect the national goalkeeper's form proved unfounded. Williams said he was more focused than ever.
"When I go out (on the field), I tell myself that she is doing her best so I must do my best too," he told Wired868, in a previous interview.
There were other heroes in Connection's green and white colours too; not least its wily coach.
Fevrier, a three-time Coach of the Year and St Lucia Medal of Merit (Silver) awardee, had to operate on a reduced budget as the club felt the bite of the economic downturn.
Fevrier and Connection owner David John Williams agreed that 2011/12 would be a transition season. But that did not dampen the ambition of either man.
Despite trailing T&TEC for most of the season and routinely losing key players to Olympic qualifying call-ups or foreign clubs, Connection stayed within striking distance of its rival until the vital moment.
"I tried not to put pressure on the players this year," said Fevrier. "I also did a lot more theoretical work with them because they are young players and still learning the game.
"But, at the same time, we always believe in our players at Connection. I'm never afraid to play them and they realise that and many times they rise to the occasion."
Connection's previous triumphs were often spearheaded by foreign talent like St Lucian Earl Jean and Brazilians such as Gefferson Goulart and Jose Seabra. There can be no doubting the work of the coaching staff this time.
Fevrier highlighted the role of each member of his backroom staff and made special mention of the motivational prowess of his compatriot and assistant, Jean.
The biggest praise was reserved for the players, though.
There was the leadership of not only Williams but also national midfielder Clyde Leon and veteran defender Elijah Joseph. And they coaxed the best out of talented youngsters like 17-year-old midfielder Jomal Williams, who represented the national under-23 team, and striker Hasim Arcia.
But the spirit of team might have been epitomised by defender Jelani Grosvenor who was fifth choice at the start of the season but ended up in the firing line as Connection clawed its way to the title.
"Jelani had a trial with us and I kept him because of his attitude," said Fevrier. "His level was not where I would have liked it (to be) at the time but you could tell he was a player who wanted to learn.
"Because of injuries and Olympic call-ups, he played the last five games of the season alongside Elijah and did very well. I am proud of his progress in terms of his knowledge and tactical discipline."
Incidentally, Connection also won the Reserve League as further evidence of the club's solid footing despite financial cutbacks.
But the Pro League title, after a seven year absence, has filled Connection with the most pride.
The club captain and custodian, Williams, put it into perspective.
"Not having Candice to share it with me was bitter," said Williams, whose fiancée is now allowed to spend the weekends at their Couva home. "But being part of the youngest team to win a Pro League title and after the club has not won it for so long? Sweet!"