As the proverbial ‘miracle man’ James Salinsa Debbah and his team-mates continue their ‘process’ empowerment at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium this morning, this desk decides to reflect on two of the most important personages, though deceased, in its attempt to remind Debbah and friends to remember them as they step in their shoes, as national coaches.
Coaches Walter M. Pelham and Deputy Wilfred ‘Kiljani’ Lardner, who later took over as head coach succeeded because of positive political circumstances at the periods of their tenures as head coaches.
Coach Walter M. Pelham was known as ‘Radio Moscow’ and was an ex St. Joseph’s Warriors’ ‘old man’ who took over from Cameroonian Anthony Kuoh, with Wilfred ‘Kijany’ Lardner as his deputy.
Walter was a forthright man and he got the backing of Lardner. They knew that their worth as coaches depended on how much they understood the philosophy of the overall development of the players under their care.
And one of their successful campaigns was the finals of the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa, (SCSA lll), held in Monrovia in the 80s which they led the national team against Ghana’s Black Stars.
Since all the former players who have been appointed to head the various national teams were part of the 80s’ Lone Star, (Debbah, Kervin, Joe, Kojo, Janjay, Chris, Makor, Weah) they are aware of the headaches that the two incredible coaches went through.
Assisting the technical team was of course the evergreen Josiah N. Johnson, ‘Masayo’ the man who teamed up with players like Philip Robinson, and the Sackor brothers that ‘devastated’ many defenders against Lone Star. It was this man, (Masayo) who later introduced the philosophy ‘football is like biscuit,’ into the history of coaching, for he served as national coach for almost fifteen years.
Following Masayo as his mentor, Pelham and ‘Kiljani’ supervised what soccer loving Liberians came to be described as ‘from me to you kind of football’ or ‘tao-tao.’ This is the kind of play that a player simply has to guide the ball as it moves leisurely on the green turf and onto a team-mate, with the crowd cheering wide.
Coincidentally, it was at such moments that Masayo would sit on the coaching bench screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘Football, football, football.” Will those days come back to provide entertainment for those who are crying for Messi, Torres, Maurino and Ronaldo? This could be the greatest challenge facing Team Debbah.
Though, despite his impressive coaching exploits, it was not Walter but rather farsighted Coach Wilfred ‘Kijani’ Lardner, assisted by Manneh Peters that took the nation to its first African Cup of Nations in 1996 with many of the former stars part of the campaign. At their gathering this morning, Team Debbah should observe a minute of silence for Pelham and Kijani, because they were some of the coaches that made them.
Admittedly, it was because of Lardner’s achievement with the Lone Star that the LFA believes Team Debbah, not may, but ‘can’ make a difference. Team Debbah must, along with the Liberia Football Association, pay homage to Pelham and Lardner’s memory. Lardner knew the worth of sports writers and I owed my worth as a sports journalist to him.
Sleep on Lardner; sleep on Pelham; sleep on Manneh Peters, your spirits live on in the stars you left behind.