Congratulations to the Reggae Boyz for claiming their sixth Caribbean Cup title in Montego Bay on Tuesday night. Considering what happened the last time the team contested the competition last year when it didn’t even get out of its group, this performance was a significant turnaround given what lies before them in terms of international competition.
Over the next couple of years the Boyz will battle the best in CONCACAF and CONMEBOL in the Gold Cup and the Centenario in 2015 and 2016 respectively, and of course, the 2018 World Cup campaign that begins in about in less than two years’ time.
Prior to the start of this competition there was mounting public pressure on the team and it’s head coach Winfried Schafer. It had lost five of its last six international games coming into the 2014 Caribbean Cup and that pressure, I believe, was undeserved. I won’t go into detail but let’s just say, did we really expect a Jamaican team that failed so miserably to qualify from CONCACAF for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, to defeat a strong French team, Serbia, or Switzerland? There is also the fact that four of those tough games were played between May 26 and June 8. I find we always conveniently ignore those extenuating factors and tend to look at results only in isolation.
Jamaica’s football loving public harbours very lofty expectations of their team. Even before the Boyz qualified for the 1998 World Cup in France, Jamaica’s football fan base somehow believed and still believes that the national team is among the best in the world. But while in principle, there is nothing wrong in having that kind of faith in the national squad, the reality is starkly different. Jamaica simply does not have the resources to be consistently competitive on the world stage. That is just fact. And while the local federation can and could be doing a much better job with the national programme, the one thing that must not be overlooked is that to implement a proper system of player development, the Jamaica Football Federation needs a lot more cash than it currently has access to.
So going in to the Caribbean Cup, everyone and everything was under scrutiny. It was not helped by what sources tell me was a potentially disastrous situation that cropped up just before the start of the competition where the national players had reportedly threatened to boycott the competition to force the JFF to ante up compensation for the players before a single ball was kicked. The matter was eventually settled thus averting the potential embarrassment of not having a team in a tournament we were hosting.
Under all the pressure and the potential boycott, the team did very well. After a slow start against Martinique, Jamaica rebounded with good wins against Antigua and a strong Haitian team. Jamaicans might not want to accept it but both teams are better than they are given credit for. And while it required penalties to defeat Trinidad in the final, anyone who watched the game could see clearly that Jamaica was the better of the teams and should have won by two clear goals. The team was better in possession, was cohesive in its play and fairly clinical in its finishing. Defensively, the team demonstrated maturity conceding only one goal in four matches.
Kudos must go out to Kemar Lawrence and Hughan Gray, two players who I thought were outstanding during the tournament and who now, under Coach Schafer, must build on this experience if they are to become staples in the Jamaican set up and form the foundation for strong defensive performances starting with next year’s Gold Cup. They will be tested against teams like the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica, but it will be a good learning experience for both. Gray, who suits up for Waterhouse, was especially sharp despite playing with a bad back. His foraging runs down the right flank were incisive and proved problematic for opposing teams. And while his crosses need work, he would have made the coaching staff at Waterhouse FC proud.
In midfield, Jamaica needs to bolster its ranks with a more creative midfielder or two, but the play of Jobi McAnuff must come in for special mention. After looking unsettled while playing under Theodore Whitmore, he was, for me, Jamaica’s MVP. His work-rate and link-up play with Simon Dawkins and Darren Mattocks were good, even if the final passes were still in need of improvement, but it was something to build on.
Mattocks seems to be coming into his own, finally. Three goals in four games suggest that he is now ready to assume the mantle of lead striker. He has the potential and given proper support in terms of defense-splitting passes from his midfielders, he could blossom into something special in the coming years. He just needs to get out of his own way. Of course, Rudolph Austin was his usual solid self. Joel Grant continues to be a revelation, even though I still believe he spends too much time preening and not enough moving the play forward but that is something that can be remedied quickly.
Overall, the team played well, well enough to win and release the pressure. Jamaica is an unforgiving public however, and going forward they will expect more wins to follow in every game played. They must bear in mind however, that the building process is still in progress and as new players are blooded, there will be hiccups. John Public needs to learn that it is often necessary to lose so that they team can learn how to win. Winning the Caribbean Cup is evidence of that but now it is is up to the JFF to provide the coaches and team with the kind of support that will see the team build on this success as it prepares for the major competitions ahead.