Aaron Lawrence paints gloomy picture of Brazil 2014 campaign

BY PAUL A REID Observer Writer

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Former Reggae Boyz goalkeeper and coach Aaron 'Wildboy' Lawrence thinks Jamaica's chances of making it to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil are over and it's time to put down solid foundation for the 2018 campaign before it's too late.

Lawrence, who was the goalkeeper when Jamaica won its only World Cup game, 2-1, over Japan in the 1998 campaign in France, says that with only two points and five games to go, three of them on the road, it will be difficult to claim one of the three automatic places or the half place for the play-offs against the Oceana winners, likely to be New Zealand.

"We gave away too many points in our home games and it does not look like we can score during the run of play," Lawrence told the Jamaica Observer this week.

"It is going to be tough in Honduras, it is always tough there and we have to go to the USA," he said, "this team can't turn up the intensity and the defence is not good."

Lawrence, who played for Jamaican teams for almost 20 years from the Under-16 level between 1987 when he was a schoolboy at Rusea's High through to 2006 when he retired, said the team lacked depth and experience on the defensive flanks.

"We can't keep allowing other teams to get so many crosses into our defensive middle and not pay for it and we don't mark inside the box, just look at the goals that we conceded (in the last two games against Mexico and the USA)."

Lawrence singled out for criticism his fellow Westmoreland native O'Brian Woodbine, who started at left back in the last two games. He said while he has "always liked Woodbine", he thinks the left back "faltered in the last two games". "He played well overall, but erred at crucial moments," noted Lawrence, who was Warren Barrett's number two in France.

Of the difference between this team and those he played on especially in the late 1990s, Lawrence said: "We were hungry, we wanted to make a mark, but it looks like these players are all playing professional and their bellies are full."

He said back then, the team was "more of a family", adding that the youngsters nowadays are not demonstrating that they possess what it takes to dig deep and fight.

While he said it would be unfair to give his former teammate and present head coach Theodore Whitmore a grade on his tenure so far, Lawrence chose the diplomatic route saying, it was unfair to try and judge a coach by what happens at game time.

"I have seen very few of his coaching sessions and that is where the work is done," said Lawrence. He added that the job of a coach entails more than just the technical aspects, but also importantly how he relates to the players.

Lawrence suggested that he does not think Whitmore "had that kind of temperament" to properly and effectively relate to the players.

Lawrence, who is fully involved in coaching at several levels now from youth through seniors, said eventually coaches must be judged by their results, but added that it would not make sense to fire Whitmore with five games to go.

"Let him finish what he started, it would make no sense bringing in someone now and trying to change things," said the former Reno man.

"We need to build a team through the youth system," he said, and stressed that the Jamaica Football Federation has a duty to ensure the players who played in the recent Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups must be the ones that are groomed for the future.

Lawrence said he had no issues in bringing in overseas-based professionals, even ones who were not born Jamaica, but warned against the "big head" syndrome that he said appeared to affect so many young players.

"Some players get a call up or sign a contract at the (US) MLS level and all of a sudden they get a hype, they become stars when they have not achieved anything yet," he noted.

Lawrence, who missed signing a professional contract in England after breaking his leg, said qualifying for the World Cup in 1998 is still one of his proudest moments as a player.

"It was just a tremendous feeling for all of us who were involved," he said on reflecting on Jamaica's biggest football achievement to date.

On the professional front, Lawrence went on several trials with teams in the US and in England but his lack of playing time and national caps worked against him in securing a work permit in England. As fate would have it, when he did accumulate the required number of caps, he suffered the broken leg that prevented him from joining Birmingham City.

He now operates the Real Madrid Academy based in Rose Hall, St James, coaches Mannings School in the daCosta Cup, guiding the dark horses to the semi-finals last year and also coaches the Sandals Whitehouse team in the Westmoreland FA Major League.

Lawrence says the country needs more academies like the one he is involved in if there is to be a proper "system in place".

"We need to build a solid foundation and get qualified coaches all around the island involved... we can't wait for the players to get to the senior or Under-20 team to learn a certain system," he said.

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