'Junglists' excited over rising star Wanka

BY HOWARD WALKER Observer senior reporter walkerh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 30, 2012

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HE has been the shining light for Jungle Top. He is the renaissance of Arnett Gardens. He has dazzled many fans with his tricky, creative passes, vision, free-kicks and goals. He is Lamar 'Wanka' Nelson — the new face of the Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL).

Nelson, 21, is no stranger to the RSPL, prompting questions as to why this precocious talent is not in Theodore Whitmore's plan at the moment, especially with the lack of creativity in the midfield.

The fans think he is ready; his coach thinks he is ready, and he himself knows he is ready to fill a void haunting the Reggae Boyz for some time.

"I think so," a modest Nelson told the Jamaica Observer after scoring a magnificent free-kick with the outside of his right foot that drew comparisons with the Brazilian greats.

But Nelson the joint top-scorer in the RSPL with three goals from midfield, admits he has to impress Whitmore and his Brazilian coaching staff.

"At one point I'm telling myself that I need to work harder. I'm still not satisfied with my game... I know my ability and I need to work harder," Nelson confessed.

His coach Lijyasu Simms, also the assistant coach of Arnett, also thinks he is ready to step up to the next level.

"At this moment he is ready. I think 'Tappa' and the Brazilians should look at him. I think he has a lot to offer to the national programme," said Simms.

"We must nurture talent like this. Talent like this doesn't come very often. They come rare so they need to have him in the programme for the future if not the present. Keep him there so when his time calls up he is ready.." said Simms, who coached Nelson during their successful run in the Under-21 competition last season.

And despite the accolades, Simms cites weaknesses that must be addressed.

"He tends to lapse at times but he is always trying to do his best... He's not 100 per cent fit. Sometimes he gets frustrated, but if he listens and follows the instructions he will reach the top.

"He doesn't play when he doesn't have the ball. He needs to play some more when he doesn't have the ball. He does it once in a blue moon. Once he takes that part of his game seriously, he's going to be a complete player," said Simms.

Meanwhile, Roy Simpson, manager of Jamaica's senior and junior teams since 2008, said Nelson is one of the most talented players of his generation.

"Since my involvement at the national level he is one of the brightest youth talents I have ever seen," said Simpson, who managed Jamaica's Under-17 team to the 2011 World Cup Finals in Mexico.

Many fans around the RSPL think Nelson is the complete player. He has good vision. He packs a wicked free-kick, a good shot and is very skilful. It's no surprise his idol is Jermaine Hue, a man fans have also been clamouring for in Jamaica's World Cup campaign.

"He inspires the team to go forward a lot and he has a leadership about him like what I'm trying to build for myself as a youngster," said Nelson on Hue.

Although his height and play more resembles the great Lionel Messi, Nelson is motivated by Christiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Portugal fame.

"A lot of people would say because he is a star, but I read an article about him and he is the first to reach training and the last to leave and that's what I do," explained Nelson.

Nelson, who turned 21 on August 19, started playing football as an eight-year-old before attending Mona High and later his community school, Charlie Smith.

He played one season in the Manning Cup in 2008 but broke his leg the following year and had to sit out the entire season.

In 2010 he was invited to the National Under-20 squad, but was mysteriously dropped following a friendly match against Harbour View. But he is undeterred.

"Yes, but all I have to do I keep my focus, everybody can be behind me and call my name, but I have to stay focused, work hard every day and push on," said Nelson, who arrived an hour before training at Anthony Spaulding Sports Complex last Tuesday.

His exploits have propelled Arnett Gardens to the top of the premiership and Nelson has his eyes set on bringing the title to Trench Town for the first time since 2001.

But can Nelson cope with the pressure and expectations of the football-mad communities of Top Jungle where he resides, Brooklyn, Texas, Havana, and the adjoining Arnett Gardens communities?

"I think so; it will take a lot of hard work and determination to achieve that. It's also team work because as much as people talk about 'Wanka, Wanka', we have to work hard," explained Nelson.

On match days at the Complex, a huge banner bearing his picture with the words 'Jungle Top Shining Star. Wanka the biggest baller in the world', can be seen in the eastern stands.

"I don't know if he puts pressure on himself, but for great players, people put pressure on you and he has delivered so far," said Simms.

There is a new buzz at Arnett Gardens, evidenced by the huge turnout for their Monday Night match in the Trench Town derby against Boys' Town.

But the much-loved football fiesta wasn't the real reason. The 'Junglists' have identified a true star and have embraced him as the Messiah. So far he is delivering.

However, how long they can keep him is another thing as the aspiring youngster wants to first get into Jamaica's team for the Digicel Caribbean Cup on his way to an overseas contract.

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