Sport

Former Reggae Boy now tracks Jamaican talent

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS Assistant Sport Editor

Friday, September 14, 2012    

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Though he no longer commands the headlines, Damani Ralph remains very much in the game.

The former Jamaica football striker, who last donned the national colours in 2006, is a players' agent these days representing, among others, many Jamaican players.

"Now that I have hung up my boots I am now working for the agency (Santio Sports + Entertainment) that represented me while I played...

"I am FIFA licenced agent now, so I am in a field where I am still in football, but at a different spectrum," said Ralph, who created waves in the US Major League Soccer when he strutted his stuff for the Chicago Fire.

In his debut year there in 2003, Ralph was named Rookie of the Year with 11 goals and six assists in 25 games. In scoring 11 goals, Ralph broke the record of goals scored by a rookie. He was on fire during his spell there.

Apart from getting his fellow Jamaicans into comfortable positions to make a living from the game, Ralph says his job working with young players by developing them "from scratch" for the professional markets is most fulfilling for him.

"What I do is try to help and place players, especially younger players whose careers are just blooming and to help them achieve the most they can in football and also to guide them to limit the number of mistakes they make as young players coming up," said the former Harbour View FC man.

Ralph, who holds a degree in economics from the University of Connecticut, says while it's a relatively new challenge being a player's representative, his solid groundation as a professional and international player has prepared him well.

"It's been good but obviously it's a new career, so it's like starting all over again from the ground up, but it is fun so far... the players appreciate what I have to offer and I hope to continue to grow my young career," Ralph told the Jamaica Observer here on Tuesday for Jamaica's World Cup qualifying game against the USA, where the Reggae Boyz were edged 1-0 by the hosts.

On that squad, Ralph's agency represents Je-Vaughn Watson, Jermaine Taylor, Jason Morrison, Darren Mattocks, Dane Richards and Shavar Thomas. All, except Morrison, play in the MLS.

Ralph, who crafted a lucrative US$2 million move to Russian Premier League club Rubin Kazan in 2005, which was said would earn him US$650,000 (about J$60 million) a year, said he is currently keeping track of a number of young players, including Jamaicans operating on the collegiate circuit.

"There are few players who are doing well in the colleges here and who I am keeping track of, and hopefully when the time comes, we will have an opportunity to work with them," he said.

Ralph, now 31 years old, was forced to call time on his career due to a bad left knee injury, which ended a promising career at Rubin Kazan.

In his first season at the Russian giant, the Jamaican scored only two goals in 25 matches as he his team gained a fourth-place finish.

After three years out of the professional game, Ralph attempted a return to the MLS for the New York Red Bulls in 2010, but a pre-season trial ended without a contract.

In February 2006 and before the start of the new Russian season, Ralph had surgery in Germany to repair the damage to his left knee. Later that year he was treated for a second time and he was sidelined for over two-and-half years after undergoing a third consecutive knee operation at the start of 2008.

The writing was on the wall for the talented footballer.

In his Reggae Boyz career, which started with a debut in 2002, Ralph managed only 18 caps for one goal. Ralph's final game in a Jamaican shirt was an international friendly against Australia in England in 2005, according to wikipaedia.com.

He played in eight CONCACAF World Cup qualifying matches, including one at Columbus Crew Stadium here in 2004.

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