Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Orville Higgins | Football's unhappy marriage

Published:Friday | September 9, 2016 | 12:00 AM

In July of 2013 the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and a white-haired German called Winfried Schafer came together in holy matrimony. The JFF went all out to woo Schafer.

During the dating process the JFF did everything to convince Schafer that the two could co exist, and if not live happily ever after, at least they would be in blissful union for a while. Schafer himself was 'involved' at the time. He was the then Thailand coach. He had started that relationship in June 2011. That marriage started well, but within two years, he was not averse to dating other potential suitors.

And so Captain Horace Burrell came calling in 2013. Burrell was desperate to recapture former World Cup glory and was desperate to get the best coach he could find. Schafer resume was impressive. He led Karlsrucher to the semi finals of the UEFA cup in the 1993-94 season. He had won the African Nations Cup in 2002 with Cameroon. By 2006 he won the UAE national championship with Al-Ahli Football Club. Schafer was like a highly attractive woman and Burrell was like a man smitten.

The dating period was not smooth. Schafer was not one of those who is easily wooed. My sources tell me that when the first offer was made, Schafer was not amused. He definitely played hard to get. Burrell was forced to turn on all the charm he could muster before the German would even think about it. It took weeks of persuasion before Schafer was convinced. When Burrell popped the question and Schafer said yes, there was a quiet celebration in the hierarchy of Jamaica's football. From their vantage point they had just landed a prized catch. Schafer, who knew that he held the aces in his hands, wanted a deal that went up to 2018. He wasn't backing off. Reluctantly the JFF agreed. After all, what could possibly go wrong with a marriage like that when the other half came with so many pluses? Schafer then divorced his Thailand job and Captain had finally landed his target.

Burrell didn't bother with a prenuptial arrangement, as he would have done in other relationships. The JFF boss had developed a hard nosed reputation for dumping his partners as soon as they falter. We had thought the Captain to be too wise and too seasoned in the game to allow himself to be swept off his feet like this. The relationship started well. There was the Caribbean Cup win. There was that reasonable performance in the Copa tournament in South America. We didn't win a game, didn't score a goal in fact, but we held our own against high-quality opposition. In those days, Burrell and his new partner were seen smiling all over the place. Then the Gold Cup. We went to the final. We beat the USA in the USA for the first time, and it was appearing that it was a match made in heaven.


After the honeymoon


Like all marriages, after the honeymoon, a few issues started to surface. Money issues started creeping in. We learnt that the coach had missed some payments. Players started bickering over money too, and all of a sudden it was no longer a happy household.

The results on the field started deteriorating. The players started looking listless and uninspired. We suffered crucial losses and in the end suffered the ignominy of finishing last in a group that included Haiti.

This is where the marriage should end. This is where the divorce court would be told that irreconcilable differences had crept in and both parties could no longer happily coexist.

Except that Schafer is having none of it. He is not prepared to ride off into the sunset without his financial compensation. Many women will not walk away from marriage unless they get a favourable settlement. Schafer isn't quitting. The two parties have now fallen out of love. Burrell would love Schafer to just do the 'honourable thing' and go but at this point, honour is not what is uppermost in Schafer's mind. He is digging in his heels. And so the marriage is over but these two have to live in the same house.

Where this will end is anyone's guess. Husband and wives sometimes live in the same dwelling for years and not talk.

They carry on separate lives and see the other as a mortal enemy. This is what is happening here. Jamaica's football will suffer as a result of the potential stand off. Interesting days are ahead.