Midfielder Edwards, the Boyz's 119
Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor - Sport
IN terms of his position in the Jamaica senior team starting eleven and placement on the pitch, Richard Edwards is there, practically, all the time.
Lining up himself to make easy linkages to his teammates is nothing new to Edwards, as he carries out functions intrinsic to his role in the middle of the ballpark, as a central midfielder.
The ongoing Digicel Caribbean Cup (DCC) is providing a stage for his latest exploits, where he seeks to help the Reggae Boyz defend their Caribbean title, as well as create a pathway for himself to the international market.
Unlike the attacking players who generally roam ahead of him on the pitch, his work is not flashy or easily seen. Instead, he focuses heavily on efficiency, to be that outlet and balancing platform for the team.
"From ever since I got called, Coach Whitmore (Theodore) has sat down with me and let me know that he wants me to be the Peter Cargill of the team, the so-called 119, but in such a way that he wants me to do the job in a mature way that can also settle the team, instruct the players and also guide the players in front of me and behind me, to keep the shape and I've been trying my best to do what is asked of me," noted Edwards.
Whitmore, the team's head coach, also played alongside central midfielder Cargill on Jamaica's team that made history qualifying for the World Cup Finals in France in 1998.
Edwards, at the time, would have been in high school, just about to transfer from Greater Portmore (Comprehensive then) to Dunoon Technical, where he helped them advance to the Manning Cup semi-finals in 2000.
Though he has not started in every game, Edwards has quietly been part of Jamaica's smooth progress through the group stages, with three victories in as many matches in the DCC.
Keen to start
He accepts his role as a sub, but Edwards, who throughout his international career has shared the central midfield role alongside Rodolph Austin and Jason Morrison - who play, respectively, in Norway's and Belgium's top divisions - is also keen to win a starting spot.
"I'm not going to question the coach's decision for not starting me, but at the same time I really accept the fact that you have Jason Morrison and Rodolph Austin ahead of me," he conceded. "Also, I'm not going to just relax and let them have their way, I'm always going to push for a starting position. If I don't get it I'm ready to replace anybody the coach takes off the field."
Bradley Stewart, the team's assistant coach, noted Edwards' all-round capabilities.
Stewart said: "Edwards is a cool, cool player, cool in the sense that he sticks to his instructions, as to what his role is and I think that he adds more to control of the middle of the park."
The coach also noted the latitude given the team by Edwards, who is also very capable of handling the central midfield position on his own.
Referring to their decision to start both in yesterday's semi-final against Grenada, Stewart said: "With both of them (Edwards and Austin) operating side by side, it gives one the opportunity to always go forward, which is Austin, and allowing Edwards to play in that holding position in front of the defenders.
"Austin has power, he also has the capacity to win possession of the ball, and with both players in the middle of the park, it puts us on a different plane because now it's two players with the ability to win possession in central midfield," added Stewart
"We complement each other well," observed Austin. "If I make a mistake he can make up for me, and if he makes a mistake I make up for him, that's how it goes and he's a good player and he's growing, and I think he can play overseas anytime, anywhere also.
"I think he has a very, very good work rate and I think that's the strongest part of his game, and he plays very simple in the midfield and keeps it together. I think he's a very good player," noted Austin.
As it relates to height, Edwards is not among the tallest - thus his nickname, 'Shortman'. But he does not believe it should be a deterrent to him earning a contract overseas.
"Don't question the height, it's all about going out there to do the job that is required of you," remarked Edwards, a natural ball-winner whose biting challenges are strong enough to put him on level ground with his bigger opponents. "Height doesn't play football for me. Just take a good look at the Barcelonas and the Arsenals and you can see.
" ... In the middle of the park they don't have much height," he observed. "You have the Iniestas, the Xavis, Xabi Alonso, and recently Arsenal has been starting Jack Wilshire, and if you really look, those players are good quality midfielders and basically, I'm just about the same height as them."
He is the captain of Harbour View Football Club, champions of the local Digicel Premier League. Interestingly, at the beginning of the season Edwards had moved to rivals Portmore United, but returned after the first round.
"Playing time or playing wasn't the problem, but I just didn't feel accepted within the group and I missed home, so I went back home and they accepted me with open arms," explained Edwards, who values a homely feeling.
"Apart from Harbour View, I played basically all my life at Santos and Mr Dennis (Carlton - also known as 'Spanner') has helped to nurture my talent and my mental capacity in terms of when the going gets tough you need to just stick with your teammates. So I try to build a bond among each and every player," he reasoned.
"Right now, apart from Harbour View I wouldn't play for any other local club because just like before, I was at Santos and apart from my home, Santos was my home; now Harbour View is my home away from home and I like the atmosphere out there, they nurture talent, they like to get the youths in the big leagues, and I like that."
Desperate for transition
At 27, Edwards is past his youthful stages but, nonetheless, he is desperate to make the transition to that stage.
"Right now I'm very hungry, very, very hungry," he stressed. "I see this as my last chance to gain a contract, that's my view. I'm not going to be like other people to say that you still have three or four more years when you can gain a contract.
"If you look worldwide most people are looking for people like 17, 18 because although age doesn't play football anymore, and as I said earlier about the height thing, age is a main factor and I'm 27. They're not going to say that I'm young, but in footballing terms 27 is old," he assessed. "But I'm ready to give the best that I have if anybody comes knocking."
With scouts here and the matches being beamed live, there's no telling how close he might be to that call. But for now, the stocky central midfielder is working hard to enhance that chance.