No excuse for failure
Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
Dreadful win-loss record. FIFA ranking free fall. Sceptical sponsors. Disconnect from mainstream Jamaican fans.
That's the Reggae Boyz 2014. It's not new. Yet while Bora Milutinovic lost his job as senior men's national coach 2007, Winfried Schäfer recently received public backing from Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) President Captain Horace Burrell.
A freshly re-elected captain made it plain seven years ago that Milutinovic had violated his contract and bid the Serb an abrupt farewell. However, the performance of "Mr Bora", which plunged Jamaica to 103rd in FIFA's ranking, was clearly unsatisfactory.
Jamaica's slump, the nation understood, heavily scarred its football brand and dented the JFF's pocketbook. The Boyz struggled to secure international games that would earn revenue.
Now, on the eve of the Jamaica's CFU Caribbean Cup campaign in Montego Bay, Jamaica is in an eerily identical place to November 2007. Schäfer, another European, is coach. The Boyz are on a lengthy non-winning streak and rank 113th.
But Burrell backs Schäfer.
"The coach is safe," he told The Gleaner after the Boyz' September loss to Canada.
Excuses follow Jamaica's dismal form. Difficulty assembling the best squad and brutal travel are among them. However, Schäfer's record of eight losses, four draws and two wins, spanning Jamaica's final round of World Cup qualifiers last year and including a 8-0 hammering from France and more recent defeats to Canada and Japan can't be airbrushed.
In 2007, Burrell couldn't mute whispers that Milutinovic's dismissal was also linked to the Serb's hiring by then JFF President Crenston Boxhill, who beat Burrell in a bitter election. Just days after being "re-hired", Burrell axed Milutinovic.
The captain then applied a master stroke, recalling 1998 World Cup hero Rene Simoes, but when he, too, failed in the 2010 qualifying campaign, Simoes was booted.
"It is results which count," the captain declared, the same criteria applied in Theodore Whitmore's departure.
Which fixes Schäfer firmly under the microscope for the November 11-18 tournament in Montego Bay. He's already received generous passes since taking over from Whitmore during Jamaica's failed 2014 World Cup campaign. The Boyz lost three and drew one on a four-match "friendly" tour late May/early June against Serbia, Switzerland, France and Egypt.
"It was clear during this period, our team was on holiday (out of season)," Schäfer claimed.
When Jamaica lost to Canada, Schafer wasn't pleased, some players arrived late, unhappy clubs used them up to two days before the friendly. Then Jamaica was beaten in Japan last month. The coach pointed to the arduous travel.
Now Schäfer takes Jamaica into the Caribbean championship. He's had time to select Jamaica's best available squad. FIFA set aside tournament dates so clubs cannot prevent players from participating. The tournament was pushed back a day to accommodate late arriving players from Europe.
Most of Jamaica's squad, meanwhile, was assembled for training over a week ago. Schäfer always wanted it that way. He believes if Jamaica is allowed time to prepare its best the Caribbean championship could be won on home soil. He got his wish.
Jamaica enters the tournament ranked behind Pool B rivals Antigua & Barbuda (70th) and Haiti (93rd). Martinique is ineligible for FIFA ranking. In Pool A awaits Trinidad & Tobago (49th) and Cuba (112th).
Yet opponents know Jamaica starts favourite - armed with home field advantage and a host of overseas-based professionals for a tournament loaded with future incentives and not-too-distant past disappointment. The right to be crowned regional king, a place in next year's Gold Cup, ranking boost and chance to ignite a nation's passion are among prizes on the line.
There are, however, no more excuses to fail. Schäfer and Burrell must be held accountable for Jamaica's performance - win or lose.
Seven years ago, Milutinovic, with less opportunities but a better ranking, found out the hard way.