Schäfer strikes back at critics
Gordon Williams, Guest Columnist
MONTEGO BAY, St James:Rarely has Winfried Schäfer exposed himself like last Sunday night.
Jamaica senior men's national football coach had just come off a vital win against Haiti here to qualify the Reggae Boyz for the 2014 CFU Caribbean Cup final and the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, but Schäfer bristled. He spliced the post-match press conference with a biting rant that swerved way off match message.
Schäfer slammed critics he facetiously called 'experts', who wrote him and Jamaica off based on the Boyz's lengthy pre-tournament winless streak.
As proof of Jamaica's progress, despite his shaky win-loss record, Schäfer offered the Boyz's 1-0 defeat in Japan last month. The margin against Asia's powerhouse, he argued, underlined Jamaica's quality when the Boyz's brutal travel schedule was factored alongside Japan's 6-0 whipping of 2014 World Cup team Honduras on November 14.
Sunday's outburst showed another side of Schäfer. His defiant growl and posture resembled a lion fiercely protecting the pride of his pride.
Last Tuesday, Jamaica won the Caribbean Cup, converting many doubters who worried whether the Boyz could rebound from their world ranking slump to 113th. At the end of a demanding tournament, which included four games in seven days on an unforgiving Montego Bay Sports Complex field, Schäfer delivered a championship.
So all is right with Jamaica's football? Critical observers should stop demanding better? No and no.
'Pressure buss pipe'. It also turns gas into diamonds. Jamaicans' pressing demand for excellence from their representatives can descend into negativity. It's also a sign that people care. Nothing is more dangerous than people without passion for a product. Football isn't different. The national team is the nation's product.
Schäfer proved his team could battle, play well and win if given proper time to prepare. That doesn't mean all's perfect. Trinidad and Tobago threatened to boycott the Caribbean Cup final over compensation. Months ago, Jamaica faced a similar stand-off. A lengthy May meeting wasn't the first Boyz clash with the Jamaica Football Federation over money. Some players vowed to boycott the Boyz if it wasn't resolved satisfactorily. A possibly embarrassing situation as tournament host was averted.
Supporting his team
During that ordeal, players saw a side of Schäfer they respect. He openly backed them in a crisis.
Schäfer railed against other perceived unfair treatment of his Boyz, including lack of respect shown by overseas clubs that refuse timely release of players for internationals. Some turned up tired, unable to perform. He's also chastised players who fail to stay in shape and coaches who stifle national representatives.
The pro-turned-coach has backed the Boyz even as some grumble over his style, lack of playing time or wish him gone. Not all who held the post before Schafer did. Some, so worried about keeping a job, even conceded authority over team selection.
During the Caribbean Cup, a key player shelved ego and reputation to admit willingness to accept any role Schäfer assigned, including the bench. Yet another yearned for the German's departure. It's typical team dynamic. Nothing is perfect.
Still, Schäfer found a way to bind players and ensure commitment to country. The Jamaica team that won the CFU Caribbean Cup is not the best available. Schafer is driving the recruiting trail, talking to players he believes can help - and their families. Some will be added, others subtracted, by Gold Cup 2015.
But it was a tough, committed group that earned the regional crown. National players hold each other accountable - on and off the field. Schäfer helped mould that.
After some hesitation, players are buying in - some slower than others. Assistant coach Miguel Coley, for example, explained Schäfer's belief in Darren Mattocks, a brash young striker who ignites polarising views. Mattocks scored in all but one tournament game.
Success breeds belief, and vice versa. Schäfer, off to a rocky start with Jamaica, recharged the Boyz by injecting both during the Caribbean Cup.
It could all unravel in the coming months. But it's a side of Schäfer that sometimes gets lost when translating wins and losses.