Cayman Islands senior football team has been in a state of flux since Hurricane Ivan hit three years ago.
But in recent months things have improved significantly since Carl Brown took over as technical director of the programme.
Brown has brought a wealth of experience to this shores having coached Jamaica five times in a 23 year period. How many islands of Cayman’s size can boast a coach who took their national side to the World Cup finals?
Cayman is like a second home to the 56-year-old Jamaican who last month oversaw their reentry into international competitive football at the Olympic qualifiers in Cuba. Two losses and a goalless draw is not a reflection of the improvement Cayman saw in Havana. Brown’s extensive experience and coaching skills convinced the youngsters that if they can continue to improve as a unit, anything is possible in the future.
Brown has a strong affinity with Cayman. ‘I first came here in 1989 with the Boys Town team and I’ve been coming here since 1991 to do some camps in the summer,’ he says at his rented house in Spotts, Newlands. ‘I’ve been here to work with FC International. Kennedy Ebanks used to bring me up for pre-season training and I’ve seen a lot of the young players grow into big men.’
He feels Cayman has enormous potential to grow. ‘I believe what the Cayman Islands really needs to do is identify in what direction they really want to go and achieve in the game. In Jamaica in 1994, Horace Burrell arrived as president and his stated aim was to get to the next World Cup finals. In the three years it took to get there, a lot of things were put into place. It wasn’t by accident. Some hard work and a lot of input.
‘That’s what Cayman Islands needs. The truth is we may never qualify for the World Cup but Cayman should set goals. The Digicel Cup, for instance, should be the mini World Cup for us. That is a prestigious Caribbean tournament and in 2009 the Cayman Islands will host a tournament here. I believe a lot of work needs to be put in and we really need to start from now.’
There is enough raw talent here to climb up the Caribbean rankings, Brown believes. ‘The talent I’ve seen here is really no different from what I’ve seen in Jamaica and other Caribbean nations. The big difference is what is being done to develop the growth of the game in Cayman Islands compared to other Caribbean islands?’
He dislikes singling out players for praise and does so reluctantly. ‘It’s very difficult to talk about individual players. I’ve seen a lot of talent in the younger age groups, from Under-15 upwards. Dion Brandon is a very intelligent player. There is enough talent. I’m now taking a look at some of the senior players to try and establish a senior team for the 2009 Digicel Cup.
We’ve also got two tough central defenders in Tex Whitelock and Donald Solomon, two teenagers who could be the backbone of Cayman going forward.’
The Cayman side is totally amateur. Brown feels they deserve at least nominal payment for their efforts. ‘We look at players going off island and taking time off work and not getting paid. We have to move away from a situation where it’s seen just an honour for someone to represent their country and make them feel that it’s an honour.’
He believes Cayman should use the ‘Jamaica blueprint’ where all the resources were given to make them a winning team. ‘I’ve always emphasized the importance of the players. They’re the ones who make a lot of sacrifice to get to training yet they’re not compensated in any way whatsoever. Now if we look at world football, that’s happening across the entire globe. You dare not ask the Ronaldinhos to come and play for Brazil for free. This is their jobs, their livelihoods. Now we need to look at how we can compensate our players representing this country.
‘Presently the team is working out at King’s gym and I want to give thanks to them for that. It’s really just what the team needs now, for the players to be at their best. My goal is to restablish the support of the government, private sector, the public and the football federation, for the players to be at the forefront of it.’
Jeffrey Webb, president of Cayman Islands Football Association, is pleased to have such an accomplished coach on board. He says of Brown: ‘Carl has bought big focus on discipline and preparation and that is reflected in the improvement in technique and tactics.
‘I also expect to see our players’ development and improvement in our Caribbean ranking and for him to create opportunities for Caymanians at a professional level and to introduce education programmes for coaches.
‘It was very fortunate to convince him to accept the Cayman offer, as we were competing with the US professional league for his services. Carl is the top Caribbean technical director in the last 25 years and most successful Caribbean coach on an international level, so we have got the best man in the region.’
Brown has also been complimented for uniting Cayman’s coaches and administration. He modestly says that he saw how damaging disharmony can be when in charge of the Reggae Boyz.
‘My past history allowed me to solve that. There are only two things I expect when working with anyone: respect and honesty. Once we get that going, people tend to gravitate to each other more. People start to trust each other, you grow confident with people. Dion Brandon said on the trip to Cuba that it was the first time everybody was working as a unit. It felt like a family.’
Brown has plenty of English Premiership experience on his resume too. He spent a year at Bolton Wanderers and felt Sam Allardyce was one of the best managers he’s encountered. Coach Brown was thrilled when given an opportunity at an away game at Middlesbrough to be allowed to warm the team up. ‘I was excited. It was something that all my life I wanted, the chance to be in charge of a bunch of professional players. Bolton at the time was referred to as the United Nations, there were so many different nations. There were two Jamaicans there, Ricardo Gardner and Jermaine Johnson. It made it a lot easier. I got them to the end of the line and got them to lead off.’
Allardyce’s management skills impressed him and Brown expects him to be successful at Newcastle. So far Big Sam has started well.
Earliest football influences for Brown in poverty-ravaged district of Trench Town where he grew up were his older brother Les and coach Winston Chung. He also knew Bob Marley who was from First Street. Brown was a Fourth Street resident. Six years older, Marley played for the Boys Town team while Carl was captain.
Boys Town dominated Jamaican football throughout the Seventies and Eighties where Brown started off as right back and ended up as a central defender. From1970-80 he was an international playing over 60 times and was captain for the last four years. His coaching education started very young as he was Boys Town’s player-coach at 21.
Even his first stint as Jamaica’s coach in 1983 was still during his playing career. Boots were finally put away at 34.
Jamaican football was in the doldrums in the late Eighties and hit rock bottom in 1989 when they didn’t win a game at the Shell Cup. In 1990 he was recalled to be national coach, took them to the finals of the Shell Cup in Trinidad and by the following year they were Caribbean champions. They lost in the Shell Cup finals the following two years and in 1993 finished third in the Gold Cup, their highest placing ever.
In 1993 he took an All Caribbean team to England and they won both games. This was the time Jamaica became a football powerhouse, inspired by Trinidad and Tobago almost getting to the World Cup finals in 1989.
The pinnacle of his coaching career was, of course, taking Jamaica (population 2.7 million) as head coach to the World Cup finals in France in 1998, the smallest nation up to that time to get that far. Only Trinidad and Tobago (1.4m) in last year’s World Cup were smaller.
There are two significant things that stick out for him from that tournament. ‘We beat Japan 2-1. Look at the size of Japan (127m) to us. More important than that was to hear our national anthem in that first game against Croatia.
‘I promised myself that I would never go to watch a World Cup game unless Jamaica was actually there. So to be there and see that dream fulfilled was thrilling. Just to watch that atmosphere. We probably only had three or four hundred in the stands but they actually sounded like five or six thousand. The celebration in the streets we saw after the Japan game was unbelievable.’
Brown is saving the secrets of Jamaica’s 5-0 drubbing to Argentina for the book he is compiling. He admits Argentina were a better team but there were many other reasons why they lost so heavily.
His favourite team is Manchester United. ‘And Cristiano Ronaldo is my favourite player there. I might be a bit biased but feel he is the best player in the world today.’
Confident of his ability, Brown believes given the chance he could coach the Brazil team to win the next World Cup. ‘That is the sort of belief I have in myself.’
His wife and mother of his two youngest children lives in the United States. He also has four adult sons from a previous marriage but none became pro footballers. He also has two grandchildren. ‘One grandchild, Antoinette Lavanderia, is seven and she is just totally in charge of my life,’ he smiles. ‘She dictates where I go and how long I stay away from home. She’s the master right now. She controls everything I do. My family is very important to me which is why I like football families. And like all families we get quarrels but you know what because of the friendship and the relationship it goes quickly.’