Jamaica coach Winfried Schaefer talks about football with a capital F. He presses all the romantic buttons – heart and technique and spirit. Raised in the rigours of the German game, he’s made a career trekking to the far corners of the world and smoothing fine football from raw, sometimes crude, clay.
“No! We’re not a hard team,” he told FIFA.com, discussing his Jamaica side, enjoying a splendid renaissance. “With us, in Jamaica, it’s not about strength. We have a technique that many in the region don’t understand. We’re more than speed and muscle.”
Schaefer’s eyes burn with intensity when he’s angry, and he’s often angry on the touchline. The 65-year-old is cut by any slight to his team. You get a sense this man, with a wizard-white shock of long hair, is on a mission. When talk turns to his Reggae Boyz, he uses pronouns like We and Us. He feels a part of what’s happening, and the people of the colourful Caribbean island have taken him to their hearts.
More than meets the eye
Schaefer, who won a UEFA Cup and a Bundesliga title with Borussia Monchengladbach in a 20-year playing career, dismisses the notion that there’s little more to his men than brawn and pace. “You don’t beat the United States on their home soil with brute force,” he said, harking back to the CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-final last summer where his side were the better team in a 2-1 win against the Stars and Stripes in Atlanta. “Football doesn’t work this way. I know because I’ve been in the game a long time and I’ve seen it all over the world.”
His celebrations were wild after the historic win over the Americans booked Jamaica’s first-ever spot in the final of CONCACAF’s cup of nations. His procession of hashtags and exclamations on Twitter were evidence of a youthful zeal, undiminished after all these years. “We shone a light on Jamaica with that win,” he said, still proud, still inspired. He’s full of belief in his side, who meet Costa Rica home and away later this month in qualifying for Russia 2018.
Schaefer’s coaching career has taken him to four continents. He led Thailand in a steamy outpost of southeast Asian football. He’s held the reins on the high-pressure stages of Europe, with Karlsruher and Stuttgart. He coached Cameroon to a CAF African Cup of Nations’ title and took the Indomitable Lions to a FIFA World Cup™. Between playing and coaching, Schaefer’s been in the game for nearly 45 years.
“It would be a mistake for any team to look at us and see a simple problem,” he said of the upcoming Russia 2018 qualifiers, and also his opponents in the upcoming Copa America: Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela. “We are not Mexico or USA, we are Jamaica. This is reality. We have a strong spirit. You can’t beat my guys for spirit.”
Schaefer often boasts about building this Jamaica side in one year. It’s a stretch, born of a colourful personality, but not much of one. When he arrived on the island in 2013, the team was stagnating. He gave debut caps to over a dozen players and brought in talent from England and USA’s top leagues.
Jamaica’s new captain epitomizes the team’s confidence and professionalism. “We’re all proud of what Wes Morgan is doing in England,” Schaefer said, talking about the big man who commands Jamaica’s defence with quiet, formidable force. Morgan also captains Leicester City – surprise toppers of England’s Premier League – and he’s added grit and experience to a Jamaica team that lost its way since last qualifying for the World Cup in 1998.
Leicester City inspiration
“He’s an inspiration to the young guys coming up on the island,” Schaefer said of his skipper. “He’s a part of the biggest story in football right now and you can’t overestimate what it means for a player like that to pull on a Jamaica jersey.”
Schaefer is quick to lavish praise, also, on Alvas Powell, who won MLS title last term with Portland Timbers. Former England youth sensation Giles Barnes, Crystal Palace’s Adrian Mariappa, Jobi McAnuff and Darren Mattocks are also leading lights in a side that Schaefer insists are no longer “living in the past.”
The last Jamaica team that went to a World Cup was a blend of foreign-born, foreign-based, and homegrown – with a strong hand at the helm. It’s a balance that’s proved elusive for the last 25 years. Schaefer, a true believer in the redemptive powers of the game, is sewing together a team. He’s making an Us and a We. “I’ve been around a long time,” he said, poking a finger. “It’s not the best player that wins anything. No, no.” He turns his palm up and smiles warmly. “It’s the best team that does big things. We have a balance now. We are building each other up.”