Orville Higgins | Schäfer has lost the plot
Up to a few days ago, I was among those Jamaicans who were prepared to give national coach Winfried Schäfer a pass. Truthfully, his tenure in Jamaica hasn't been all bad. Under his watch, we won the Caribbean Cup a couple of years ago.
It may seem like no big deal, but there are years when we have performed dismally in this tournament. We also beat the USA in the USA for the first time during the last Gold Cup, where we also created history in reaching the final. While in South America for the last Copa AmÈrica, we went down 'only' 1-0 to some big teams like Uruguay and World Cup finalists Argentina, with Messi and all.
At times during the second half of that game, we were genuinely 'taking' it to Argentina, too. Only a few days before the Centenario tournament, we did beat Chile, who are ranked fifth in the world at present, and who were the last winners of the Copa América. Beating a team ranked number five in the world may well be among the greatest single achievement by any national coach. Schäfer, then, can point to things under his watch that he can be proud of.
We have struggled badly in the World Cup Qualifiers. Our results at home have been poor, but even so, I'm not putting all the blame on Schäfer. In at least one of those home games, there was discontent in the ranks about player contracts right on the eve of the match. The players came out listless, and Schäfer must have been hard-pressed to motivate the players. So, yes, Schäfer can't be totally blamed for our precarious World Cup position, and while we flog him, we need to give him his due.
My problems with Winfred Schäfer have, however, mushroomed since the Centenario tournament. We didn't score a single goal in the tournament, losing by a bigger margin every game, which is bad enough. A coach who is in charge of his team and who is getting his tactics and selection right should be getting better as a tournament wears on, not worse. On that basis alone, his job should be called into question, but I'm prepared to look even beyond that.
I have problems with Schäfer's strange selections, none more so than his refusal to play the Cavaliers playmaker Chevone Marsh. Marsh was invited to go on trial for a Premier League side in Finland just about the same time the squad was selected for the Centenario tournament. The youngster was forced into a position to choose, and his club boss, Rudolph Speid, was keen on the Jamaican 'Messi' taking up the trial because he wasn't convinced that he would see any game time at Copa.
Lo and behold, it became a war of words between Schäfer and Speid, with the coach insisting that the talented midfielder should come to the tournament and almost promising him a game. To then not give Marsh a second of playing time is mind-boggling, especially in the final game against Uruguay when Jamaica had no chance of advancing.
Indeed, it was completely ridiculous for the coach not to give playing time to other fringe players. He knows what people like Wes Morgan and Adrian Mariappa and Jermaine Taylor can do. Why not use a meaningless game to give meaningful time to the local players? Why couldn't Andrew Vanzie, or Rosario Harriott, or Allan Ottey get a run? This would be the perfect opportunity for him to see exactly what they can do at that level.
Schäfer's insistence on playing his regular starters in that last game is one of the strangest decisions ever. Even more bizarre is the use of Jevaughn Watson at left back after 'Taxi' Lawrence got injured. Jevaughn is no defender, plus he isn't a left-footed player. It was almost embarrassing seeing him dribble down the left flank and then have to stop, switch the ball over to his right boot, before he could get a cross.
The head coach clearly has no faith in the local-based players. He is basically saying they are not good enough for these big games. But nobody gets better by sitting on the bench. Not playing them in these meaningless games adds to the problem.
I won't say fire Schäfer now. I'd give him the two World Cup Qualifiers left to get our campaign back on track, but I think Captain Burrell should be having a quiet word in his ear.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.