Seasoned supremo Winfried Schaefer has spent time as a coach on almost every continent, with the national teams of Cameroon, Thailand and now Jamaica, and with a host of clubs including Stuttgart and Al-Ahli. And in four-and-a-half decades in the game, the widely-respected German has enjoyed plenty of success, too.
The former Bundesliga stalwart, who scored 46 goals in 403 German top-flight appearances, led the Indomitable Lions to the trophy at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 2002 and to the FIFA Confederations Cup final a year later.
In almost 30 years in the dugout, Schaefer has seen pretty much all there is to see. However, the 63-year-old now faces one of the greatest challenges of his colourful career, as he seeks to lead the Reggae Boyz to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ despite a near-hopeless situation in CONCACAF qualifying.
FIFA.com: You took over as Jamaica head coach four weeks ago. What have you been doing in that time?
Winfried Schaefer: I was in America at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which featured our opponents in World Cup qualifying. I’ve also visited around three-quarters of my players at their clubs. They’ve noticed I mean business, and that’s been a boost to their motivation.
Jamaica are bottom of the FIFA World Cup qualifying group on two points – 11 behind leaders USA. Do you hold out much hope of securing a ticket to Brazil?
I wouldn’t have taken the job if I thought it was hopeless. I was certainly shocked when I looked at the World Cup qualifying table. Only two points? But after a video analysis, I became convinced there was much more to the team than they’d managed to show up to this point. The first match in Mexico was good, but then complacency set in and they thought it would all look after itself.
The match against Panama on 6 September is the make-or-break fixture. We daren’t lose that one. At the moment, we have maybe a 30 per cent chance of making it to Brazil. If we beat Panama, that might become a 60 per cent chance. Costa Rica come to us after that, and then we’ll see.
The most important thing is contact with the players. We don’t have much time, so it’s more important to rebuild their belief and convince them it’s actually possible than to start showing them how to take a corner. But we’ll also need a lot of luck.
Jamaica have scored only two goals in six games. How are your intending to address this problem?
The lads are all 1.80 to 1.90 metres tall. We should be practising dead ball situations because they’re strong in the air. The two goals so far came from a corner and a free-kick. That’s not good enough for a team with this quality
We might also have to change our formation. They’ve been playing with a lone striker up to now, but you won’t score many goals with only one forward. I can’t just come in and say, OK, from now on we play 3-5-2 or 4-4-2. First of all, I have to see what they’re capable of. I have to orientate myself on the team and the individual quality of the players. Tactical discipline is always important too.
Are you based in Jamaica, or are you just coming over for matches?
No, that’s not my style. If it was, I shouldn’t be taking the job. I’m based there and I’ll be observing the game in Jamaica. If the local coaches want it, I’ll run development courses, so we bring our talented youngsters up to higher levels. I don’t intend to sit around and wait for something to happen. I want to help develop the game in Jamaica.
What happens if you don’t make it to the finals in Brazil?
We’ll sit down after qualifying, talk it all through calmly, and then take our decision. I’ve seen so many really talented 19 and 20-year-olds in the last few weeks, so we could start working towards the 2018 World Cup. But first of all, we’ll try and reach the play-offs. If we get that far, I’m convinced we’ll go on and qualify for the World Cup. But it’ll take a lot of work, desire, conviction, discipline and concentration.
Can Jamaica return to being one of the top CONCACAF nations?
I believe so. But we have to take it one step at a time, and I can’t say how long it might take.
How important is football to ordinary Jamaicans?
Obviously, Usain Bolt towers over everything else, because he has the greatest success. But football is valued very highly indeed. We want football in Jamaica to come to the forefront and recover the role it played in the Caribbean at the 1998 World Cup, for example. In the English Championship [second tier], five teams are captained by Jamaicans. That’s a great honour and it's good for us too. The more successful the lads are, the more it flows back to Jamaica. As soon as the fans realise there’s something good going on, a wake-up call if you like, they flock to the games and turn the stadiums into noisy cauldrons. We can release a type of euphoria, and that's exactly what I'm here to do.
Let's talk a little about you. You've worked almost everywhere in the world, in Europe, Asia and Africa, with clubs and as a national coach. What makes you stay in the job?
I love my job as a coach, and when you see what can be achieved if everyone works together, it's just magnificent. Take Thailand as an example, where we initially built up something really fantastic. But at some point support for the national team wasn't there any more. After that there was no point going on. I need people who pull their weight, and are just as crazy about football as I am. Obviously it's hard work, but I enjoy it. When I started in Cameroon I went on my travels just as I'm doing now and spoke to my players. And the lads told me what they needed. Since I left, Cameroon have had no success. On the one hand that makes me proud, but on the other hand I'm sad, because I know I showed them what needed doing.
Would you still be interested in the Bundesliga?
Naturally I'd be delighted to work in the Bundesliga again, but I wouldn't say it's something I want to do at all costs. The Bundesliga is the best league in the world at the present time. You don't have only two or three teams at the top like in England or Spain. Take for example Bayern versus Monchengladbach on the first day [Bayern won 3-1]. The Bundesliga is so strong that Bayern could even have lost to the team in eighth. You just don't get that in Spain or England. It's very attractive for a footballer to play in Germany at the moment. But I'd be just as keen to give it a go in England. That's my dream. The atmosphere there is sensational.