Bora takes up Jamaican challenge
In the world of international coaching, Velibor Milutinovic is a veritable globetrotter. Known in footballing circles simply as 'Bora', he has coached no fewer than five national teams at separate FIFA World Cups™.
Now the much-travelled Serbian is ready for his latest challenge: managing the Jamaican national team. Milutinovic was unveiled last week as the new coach of the Reggae Boyz, whom he hopes to lead to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ , 12 years on from their only finals appearance at France 98.
The veteran coach talked exclusively to FIFA.com from the country's capital Kingston about his new assignment, and his dream of seeing the Caribbean side back at world football's premier event.
FIFA.com: Mr Milutinovic, how does it feel to be coach of Jamaica?
Bora Milutinovic: It's another challenge for me, perhaps the most difficult one of my career, though not, I hasten to add, an impossible one. Jamaica have already been to the World Cup, and they have a squad of fast players with excellent physique. As such, they're capable of fighting for the fourth CONCACAF qualifying slot. The motto of this team is 'Returning to Africa', as all the players have African roots.
How did you come to be offered the Jamaica job?
The president of their federation, Crenston Boxhill, knows me well and offered me the job. He felt that I could do something different here and get the country to another World Cup, after their memorable participation at France 98.
Do you believe it is possible to emulate what that side achieved?
It will be difficult as that team set the bar very high. First they qualified for the finals, then they beat Japan, a very competitive side, when they got there. Hopefully we can match that feat. For a small country, qualifying for the World Cup and winning a game there is a very tough thing to do. Trinidad and Tobago did something similar at Germany 2006. They played a very good brand of football, taking a point off Sweden, which was remarkable, and left people with a very good impression of Caribbean football.
Having coached teams from all across the world, how would you rate this Jamaican squad?
Physically speaking, the players are similar to those of Nigeria, a country I coached at France 98. Obviously the experience and quality of the players is different, but there's enough there to dream of making it to South Africa. Right now, all we can do is start working to this end.
Who do you feel will be your main rivals in your qualifying zone?
In the CONCACAF, Mexico and the USA are clearly ahead of the rest, and so are almost guaranteed their places at the finals. After them you have countries like Honduras, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, Cuba and Panama, all of whom have quality in their ranks. Between them, those sides will have to battle it out for region's other one-and-a-half berths (one automatic, one play-off). It's sure to be a fierce struggle, as Panama now have Alexandre Guimaraes [at the helm], Costa Rica have Hernan Medford, Mexico Hugo Sanchez and El Salvador Carlos de los Cobos. I coached all of them in my time, and now they are highly regarded coaches.
That is very intriguing. Do you think it will give you any advantage?
If I were playing against them, then I might stand of chance of winning (laughs), but seeing as I'm not a player, there's no advantage in having once coached them. It will all depend on what my players can do. If they perform well, then, no question about it, the results will come.
You saw Jamaica draw 1-1 in a recent friendly against Peru. What impressions did you get of the current squad?
The impression I got was that the team had talent. We have players plying their trade in England, Sweden, the USA and so on, and I believe that with the time that is available, I will be able to prepare a competitive side. The quality is there; now it's a question of serious dedication and work. Unfortunately, Jamaica failed to qualify for the Gold Cup [after losing out in the Caribbean qualifiers to Haiti and St Vincent and the Grenadines], which means we'll be short of competitive action. Because of that, I'll be trying to arrange as many friendlies as possible.
Will your previous experience help you to arrange those friendlies?
Hopefully I'll be able to make use of my contacts, as playing is the best way to improve. When I was in charge of Mexico, we played 64 times, with the USA it was 94 - a record in itself - and with China it was 51.
What is the first thing Jamaica need to work on?
Tactical discipline and their attitude on the pitch. Without the right mentality and tactical preparations, you won't achieve anything. We already have qualities like speed and strength, so we only have to adjust a few minor things.
Will you base yourself in Jamaica?
For the most part I'll be based there. My family live in Mexico, which is close by, so I'll be able to visit them too. I'll also have to spend time in England and other European countries, because we have several players over there who I'll need to check up on.
Before France 98, the country's then coach Rene Simoes went looking for English players of Jamaican origin. Do you plan to do the same?
Were I to find another John Barnes (the ex-England and Liverpool winger of Jamaican origin), it would be like winning the lottery. But we have to be realistic, we've found everyone there is to find in that respect, and now it is time to work with what we have.
How have the people taken to you since your appointment?
They have been really great. The people here are very upbeat and have treated me in the best possible manner. Jamaica is Jamaica and its people enjoy life - or at least they will when results start going our way.