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🇲🇸 Why is Premier League veteran Lee Bowyer managing Montserrat?
The former Leeds midfielder says he's ready for a challenge and committed to the cause.
Getting CONCACAFed explores stories from the Concacaf region. From Montserrat to Mexico, Aruba to the United States.
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Lee Bowyer just got here, but he wants you to know that he wants to be here.
Well, it depends on who you are - and what here means, being that he’s yet to be able to coach the national team he’s taking over in a true home match, mostly because of an issue with a ferry company.
But, yes, it’s him coaching Montserrat, and, yes, he’s committed, signing a three-year deal with the intention of leading an island with a population of just more than 4,000 on a shock run to the World Cup.
Why would Bowyer, a veteran of nearly 400 Premier League matches whose previous managerial stops were at English clubs Charlton Athletic and Birmingham City, turn up to coach a tiny island in League B play of the Concacaf Nations League?
“It’s a challenge. That’s why,” Bowyer said in a phone call Monday. “I’ve been a player, and people write you off. I’ve been a manager, and people write the team off. I’ve played in teams that, on paper, should never win the game and we have.
“I’m coming into this with an open mind thinking, ‘OK this is knockout football. Anybody can beat anybody in a one-off game.’ That’s my mentality, and that’s what I’m bringing to the players.
“Everywhere we go, from what I hear, people think ‘We’ll beat Montserrat’ because of the population. … Look, things change.”
After a 3-2 opening win at Barbados, capped off by a stunning late free kick from Lyle Taylor, a 3-0 loss Monday to the Dominican Republic in rainy Santo Domingo helped Bowyer grasp how big the challenge might be. Still, the 46-year-old manager says he’s eager to get to work on making that change happen, turning the potential the island has into reality.
Montserrat’s FA may be good at a number of things, but communication is not one of them. Fans had to sleuth out that Bowyer was the new manager was from training pictures posted on social media, which gave his appointment the air of a wrestler making a surprise entrance to a bout.
Is that…Lee Bowyer’s music?
At least we had the photos. The federation tweeted earlier this month for the first time since March, apologizing since it couldn’t get into its account.
The social media manager didn’t have a lot of material to choose from when picking photos. Bowyer noted he had only two-and-a-half hours of training time to learn his team and get things ready for what would be a 3-2 win over Barbados.
Then it was a long trip to the Dominican Republic, where Montserrat had to ‘host’ the DR because of those logistical issues. Even within that, Bowyer felt the trip could’ve been smoother and set his players up better.
That’s why he felt it was important to be part of the first two games, even though the ink on his contract was still wet. Bowyer wanted to get to work and start seeing where his experience can help Montserrat sand down some of the rough edges.
“These are things that I’ve got to try and guide people behind the scenes on: Itinerary-type things so it’s better for players’ recovery and things like that,” he said. “I’ve been in the game so long, and I know what they need, so I’m going to try to bring a bit of that side to the organization as well.”
The Emerald Boys experienced some surprising success under Willie Donachie, growing from a team that was ranked last in the world in 2002 into a team in League B of the Nations League that made the qualification round of the 2021 Gold Cup.
Now, Bowyer wants to push Montserrat to places it never dreamed possible.
The biggest dream is the 2026 World Cup, which nearly every Concacaf team is targeting since the U.S., Mexico and Canada already are qualified and up to six more places are up for grabs.
The World Cup qualification journey starts next year. Montserrat has never gotten out of the first round it has played in, and right now Bowyer is still working out his team’s strengths and weaknesses and its chances in the Nations League
“I'm not dreaming too far ahead. I'm literally going to take each camp at a time because I have to put this puzzle together,” he said. “I have certain pieces at the moment, and these pieces have got to learn what I demand from them.”
A British Overseas Territory, volcanic activity forced more than two-thirds of Montserrat’s population to flee in the second half of the 1990s. While some people moved to the north of the island, many went to the United Kingdom. Bowyer has an up-close seat to scout players who are eligible for the team as children born to immigrants who left Montserrat during the first wave begin to start their senior careers after coming through UK academy systems.
Two new recruits, both 21 years old, formed the starting center-back duo on Friday. Nico Gordon, who worked with Bowyer at Birmingham City, and Reading’s Jeriel Dorsett made their international debuts and repeated their partnership Monday.
Bowyer said he already knows of four more eligible players he wants to bring into the team and already has made contact with two.
The ex-Leeds, Newcastle and West Ham midfielder probably isn’t researching players with Monserrat heritage and drawing up CNL game plans at all without his relationship with another Montserrat player, forward Lyle Taylor.
Bowyer managed Taylor at both Charlton and Birmingham City, and Taylor was Bowyer’s first call after learning from his agent that Montserrat was interested in hiring him as manager.
He got the lay of the land from Taylor, learning about some of the program’s history and the current player pool. Bowyer said he felt that with Taylor on the field, he knew he’d have a chance to win games by tightening up the defense - something within the former Premier League enforcer’s skillset.
The 33-year-old Taylor has been representing Montserrat since 2015, scoring a dozen goals in 15 appearances to become the team’s all-time leading scorer.
“I know what he brings. He brings goals, and you need to score goals to win games,” Bowyer said. “It’s good to see him in this environment because he really cares about Montserrat.
“He’s the captain, but he leads by example and all the players look at him and respect him. He was in a Premiership club last season - you can’t take that away from him - and that’s why the other players look up to him, especially the younger ones. He’s a good person to have around.”
Currently a free agent, Taylor’s standout international showings help put him in the shop window and remind managers and technical directors he still has plenty to offer.
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Bowyer, too, hopes to work in the English game again, but first is locking in on the goals he’s setting with Montserrat.
“I’m interested in trying to improve these players as quickly as possible in the short time we have together,” he said. “If people are confused, maybe it’s because it’s completely different from what I’ve done before.
“But, for me, it’s a good challenge, something different for me, being a national manager. If I do well here, you don’t know what opens up in the future because there’s no reason why we couldn’t maybe qualify for the World Cup.
“Can you imagine if that happens? What a story that would be!”
It’s the type of story Bowyer wants to be a part of. Now it’s up to him to make it happen and turn the hopes, the goals and the dreams into reality.