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Kickin' it with 'Winnie'

Saturday, October 17, 2020

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When German Winfried “Winnie” Schaefer selected Miguel Coley to be his wingman back in 2014, it raised more than a few eyebrows and even more questions.

Schaefer, only a short spell into the job as Reggae Boyz head coach, got his tenure off in controversial style when he chose the fresh-footed Coley to be his assistant over more experienced talent available at the time.

But the German courageously pulled the successful schoolboy coach from the comfort of Hope Road and threw him in at the proverbial deep end.

Beyond Coley's success at Jamaica College, the cunning Schaefer tapped into the young coach mind and found what he was looking for.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Six years on, both men are still together, with the veteran Schaefer creating a world of opportunities for Coley as they take their technical skills to lucrative and growing markets in the Middle East.

But what binds these two men of different backgrounds, to the point that they have become inseparable as they pursue their passion?

“The key to our relationship has been the mutual respect, our passion for the game, similar game model and philosophy and our football chemistry,” that's how Coley answered the question.

The Jamaican, who hails from Mile Gully in Manchester, says he owes Schaefer a world of gratitude for believing in him and helping him to change his life in a significant way.

“Definitely he is my mentor; we are speaking about someone who has changed my life in a great and positive way, and that is something I would love to do for someone one day. So he has been integral in guiding my growth, finding answers to my questions, improving my tolerance, discipline and vigilance,” Coley told the Jamaica Observer from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where he lives and works.

Coley has served as assistant head coach to Schaefer at Iranian club Esteghlal before moving to the UAE where they delivered yet again their double act at Pro League outfit Baniyas FC.

Going back to where the relationship between the two first took roots in Jamaica, Coley remembers that getting the assistant Boyz coach “was a big surprise for me”.

“I understood the reactions of many persons at the time towards the appointment. But I always say I never chose myself,” Coley noted.

The 38-year said Schaefer's decision to take a chance on him had little to do with exploits at JC.

“Many persons thought it was the winning of the Manning Cup in 2013 why I was appointed, but that's not the case. It was in fact more club football when I was at Barbican FC.

“I remember Coach Schaefer coming to most of the games; I honestly thought he was watching our players as after the matches he would call me and ask about a few players and why I did certain things in the game.

“I remember Barbican knocking out Waterhouse in 2014 in the Jackie Bell knockout and he was very impressed how we played [in terms of] our speed of play, our overloads and counter pressing were few of the things he spoke highly about,” recalls Coley of his early interactions with the German.

Then one day not long after, Schaefer arranged to meet the “young coach” in New Kingston, and Coley agreed to the rendezvous. But what came out of the meeting was nothing short of a bombshell.

“I had no idea he was going to ask me to be his assistant coach. I know that there were more experienced coaches, but he saw someone who was revolutionising the sport at schoolboy and club levels, someone who is very detailed, structured, tactical and was open to learn,” Coley shared.

With a new world suddenly opened up for him and with his limited experience coaching the game at the senior international level, Coley had to prove himself if he was to gain the respect of the players. In retrospect, he thought he eventually won them over.

“I believe I was respected as I learned fast, adapted, corrected my mistakes and transitioned seamlessly.

“I must say thanks to the likes of a Roy Simpson (team manager), Andre Waugh (fitness trainer), Warren Barrett (goalkeeper coach) and Norman Stone (equipment manager).

“[I must admit] the late great Captain [Horace] Burrell and I didn't have the best relationship, but I got on well with the past general secretary, Raymond Grant, and Mrs (Janice) Rose-Brown, who was very encouraging. She does a great job in our football,” Coley noted.

During his time with the national team, Coley has cited his high and low points.

“The low point is definitely not qualifying for the World Cup; that was a big setback for the country as I believe we had a good chance of qualifying, but we underperformed.

“The high points were winning the Caribbean Cup, being the first Caribbean team to go to a Gold Cup final. It was a great time, but one is always judged by one's World Cup campaign and it's understandable,” Coley said.

The Holmwood High School alumnus says he aims to continue his coaching education by going after European certification, the most prestigious in the sport. Being certified at the highest level could lay the path for him moving up the coaching ranks. “I would love to get an opportunity to do my European A licence, but it's so difficult. So that's my focus.

“Also, I would love to be a head coach of a club or country in the near future, but I am just being positive, optimistic, improving my self-worth and my network,” Coley.

The former Mile Gully High coach — who is married to Olivia Hamnott-Coley, a union which has produced daughter Michaela — says he was approached back in 2017 to take up a technical director's job, but declined the offer.

“I was asked to become a technical director of a country back in 2017, but I opted to do club coaching as I believe I needed more experience and I always prefer being on the pitch.

“But it would be nice to return to Jamaica one day [to work], but I am in no rush,” Coley said.

The former player, who did his tertiary education at Mico Teacher's College where he “ majored in English and physical education”, thinks Jamaica has been producing quality coaches over the years, but believe some of them were stymied by a lack of opportunity to grow.

“My advice to [Jamaican) coaches is to continue being professional, put players first, develop their education constantly, develop a coaching methodology unique to them, be innovative and develop their self-belief.

“As coaches we all make mistakes, but being a better man or woman will always make us a better coach,” Coley asserted.

“Jamaica has produced many great coaches. However, before the likes of an Andrew Edwards and myself, there were not enough young coaches given opportunities in good football programmes.

“I believe if young coaches are given the opportunity they will do well once they are open and respectful of the process. I believe there are many young coaches who are inspired and aspiring to make their mark on the game,” he added.