Andrew Edwards, the Jamaica Under-17 football coach, believes the recent two-game friendly series against Cuba has had a positive impact on players and other stakeholders alike.In the same breath, the coach has warned against complacency and has urged his charges to maintain a high-intensity work ethic and spirit of competition among themselves.
In the first meeting of the Cuba games at St George’s College on Sunday, both teams drew 1-1, but the Young Reggae Boyz, in a largely assertive performance, clipped their neighbours 1-0 two days later at the JFF Technical Centre in Mona.
With the results aside, the coach was happy with signs of improvements which came in various departments on the field, but more importantly, he underlined the sense of commitment and purpose that was on display.
“Even the spectators, sponsors and everybody else want to know that they are putting their support — financially and otherwise — behind a group that is commited to the cause of winning.“I think it would be foolish for anyone to think that you are going to win every time, but if people see that you are committed to the cause of winning and that you have a winning mentality, it changes everything and I think that is what the boys have proven over these two games,” Edwards told the Jamaica Observer after Tuesday’s match.
Having struggled in blanket losses to the USA and Canada in four games at home towards the end of last year, the Cuba series has given the World Cup-chasing Jamaicans a well-needed lift.
“I think the people who have watched these games can feel a sense of relief, for want of a better term, that these youngsters are not just a bunch of jokers who just want to kick around, but that they are committed,” noted Edwards.
Like the USA, Canada and Cuba, Jamaica are preparing for the CONCACAF Under-17 Championship slated for April 21-May 7 in Panama.
Edwards, a teacher by trade, said part of the reason for the players’ growth — as individuals and as a team — is due to their attention to what is being taught in the classroom and on the field of play.
“These boys are attentive for the most part, although they are wayward at times… they are really keen at receiving information and they will try to carry it out, and that is one of the reasons why they are here, because we want people who are willing to learn, to change habits and learn new things,” he said.
While the FIFA Under-17 World Cup scheduled for India in the summer is the immediate goal, the Jamaica coach says the current crop of players represent the future of the nation’s football, therefore they have to be nurtured along those lines.
“At the end of the day, we are not just here to qualify for the World Cup, but we want to also recognise that these youngsters represent the future of Jamaica’s football and we want to give them a foundation that will serve them well in the future, so it’s important from that perspective that the work that we do with them matters in a very significant way,” Edwards stated.
The coach who had expressed public dissatisfaction with the efforts of some players in the first Cuban match sought to warn players that their places in the team are not guaranteed.
Edwards has also been demanding more from players he expects to be leading the team, but who have come up short in some areas.
“I know that in the next couple of weeks our training sessions will become more intense as people recognise that the competition for places in the team is not over, and therefore if they slip, they are going to be out.
“But we have been talking with the players, Kaheem (Parris) included, but sometimes it doesn’t work the way you intended.
“I thought it was important that the public recognises that the coaching staff is not happy with this and they themselves (the public) to bring their own pressure to bear on the players so we can get them to perform better,” Edwards noted.
Parris, a skilful wide player, gave a marked improved showing in the second Cuba game, scoring the winner in the 80th minute after coming in as an early second-half substitute.
“This is a player (Parris) with immense potential and everywhere we have gone to play he has attracted the eyes of scouts and coaches from other jurisdictions and we expect in such a situation he is going to come out and perform like a star player,” said the Jamaican coach.
Edwards said with every opportunity, he uses the game’s biggest stars as examples, pointing out that their success is entrenched in their work ethics, and not just ability.
“One of the things I continue to say to my players is that if you look at a Lionel Messi and a Cristiano Ronaldo, who don’t behave like star players in the context of how we do it in Jamaica.
“They (Messi and Ronaldo), train the hardest, they arrive at the training pitch first and they are the last to leave, and if you want to make it as a pro, you have to start thinking in that manner,” was the coach’s advice to all young, aspiring Jamaican players.
Edwards, who coaches Manchester High School in the daCosta Cup, shared that the broad residential programme that the Young Boyz have been committed to, will intensify in the coming weeks as they make the turn for home in their preparations.
“Certainly for the next two weeks we will intensify the strength work programme and we will continue the technical and tactical aspects as well, and then we will gradually get into some position-specific functional work with individual players targeted to play in those positions.
“In week six or so we will look to start some practice games against our Premier League teams in the first instance as we are not sure if we are going to have other international games just yet, or when we will have those.
“We have been doing a lot of work with our defensive unit and I thought they did very well over these two games (against Cuba), and now we will be focusing on the midfield and then we will be moving to the strikers and those players in the wide areas,” Edwards concluded.
Jamaica, drawn in Group C of the CONCACAF Championship, will open against the USA on April 23, then take on El Salvador on April 26. They will then close out the preliminaries with a game against Mexico three days later.
Group A will be contested by Panama, Haiti, Honduras and Curacao, while Group B is made up of Costa Rica, Cuba, Suriname and Canada.
Jamaica are attempting to qualify for their third Under-17 World Cup, having done so in 1999 and 2011.
— Sean Williams