Football chief Jeffrey Webb was here for his customary few days last week and outlined the busy and exciting developments in the sport for the Cayman Islands, the Caribbean and CONCACAF in the coming months.
The 48-year-old banker is celebrating a momentous anniversary this week, having been appointed president of CONCACAF a year ago as well as a FIFA vice president. Webb remains president of the Cayman Islands Football Association.
“It’s been a great year, but also very challenging,” Webb said. “CONCACAF is a huge organisation, encompassing now 41 member associations from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The diversity is such a huge part and dealing with some of the biggest countries in the world down to some of the smallest.”
Since he took charge, CONCACAF has focused on development because Webb realises that future success depends on building its coaching and youth programmes. The model is a sound one, all recent World Cup winners have revamped their youth policies to ensure that they eventually produce a senior national side capable of winning the most coveted team trophy in sport.
Under Webb’s directive, CONCACAF has also created committees for integrity, audit and compliance as well as finance.
One of his initiatives to boost development is the inaugural CONCACAF Under-15 competition to be held here in August, which will give youngsters a two-year opportunity to bring players along to the next age group.
The women’s Under-20 tournament will also be held in the Cayman Islands from January 2014.
One part of the U-15 championships will be held in Mexico simultaneously. There will be 15 other teams, in addition to the Cayman Islands, from Central America and the Caribbean.
“I think Cayman’s best opportunity lies within the Under-13s, 15s and 17s,” Webb said. “The development work that the coaches and the association have done over the last 10 years bodes well for the new generation coming through.”
The girls, too, are excelling. The bulk of the U-20 squad that performed well in the World Cup qualifiers a couple of years ago are now at US colleges, completing their education and raising their skills and gaining valuable experience.
“The women’s Under-20 team has now been together for five or six years,” Webb said.
“We played a very young U-20 team in the last World Cup qualifiers because we specifically wanted to make sure we had a very mature and developed team for this competition.
“Hosting this competition is something that CONCACAF expressed wanting to do three years ago.
“It’s great for sports tourism and an ideal way that it can showcase Cayman, not just from a footballing standpoint, but also economically.
“We’ve just wrapped up beach football competition in the Bahamas where their sports department projected an injection of $13 million for the year for their local economy.
“That included 20,000 hotel room nights. It is something for CONCACAF and CIFA to look forward to.”
Webb anticipates that these two tournaments will boost the Cayman economy by millions, too.
Between the 28 teams competing in both hotels, restaurants, car hire, water sports, supermarkets, public transport and sports bars will be the main beneficiaries. The fact that all the participants will be teenagers guarantees that close relatives and friends will travel to see their loved ones in possibly their first major tournament.
Webb is pleased that Bodden Town won the Premier League for the first time ever a couple of weeks ago. “It just shows that coach Elbert McLean has done a great job.
“He has stuck with them from the primary school, developed them and cultivated a culture. This is the first time in the history of CIFA that another district besides George Town or West Bay has won the league.
“It speaks well for Elbert as a man and also for Mark Scotland as the club president for the work they’re doing in the district and community.
“Congratulations to them and it looks like they’re going for the double, the FA Cup, this weekend.”
Cayman’s Grassroots programme for small children, heavily backed by Maples, kicks off in the summer. CONCACAF is also launching a grassroots programme region wide.
The London Olympics was a pleasing event for Webb because Mexico won the men’s and the US won the women’s football tournaments.
“Out of six medals at the Olympics, CONCACAF won three. Canada got the women’s bronze. The women’s Under-20 world championships was also won by the US so it’s been a great year.
“Monterrey (from Mexico) also did much better in the World Club championships in Japan, getting to the semis. Any credit goes to the national federations and what they are doing. I see CONCACAF becoming the facilitator for countries that don’t have the resources.”
CONCACAF is coming through a period of turmoil following years of maladministration.
Webb is pleased that he has realigned its direction. “The response, not only from the public and the media, but also from FIFA, has been overwhelming that CONCACAF has now set new standards, not only for federations but also for FIFA as well.”
So demanding has his first 12 months in office been that Webb at one point was taken ill on a plane to London. Improving his diet and increasing his down time since has rectified that.
“Your enthusiasm takes over,” he said. “It is difficult. Every single day I could be somewhere else around the world but creating the right balance between CONCACAF and dealing with FIFA is crucial.”
He is constantly on the go. This week, Webb is in London for the Champions League cup final at Wembley on Saturday between German clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Then it’s Mauritius for the FIFA Congress, where he will give a keynote speech on the anti-racism and discrimination task force which he now chairs.
Washington DC is next for the 100 Years of US Soccer celebrations. A Champions League workshop in Miami follows before he flies to Jamaica to watch the Reggae Boyz play Mexico.
He returns to Cayman on 6 June for a few days then goes to Miami briefly before heading to Honduras and then Brazil for the Confederations Cup.
Fears were that Brazil will not have their stadia ready for next year’s World Cup, but Webb is certain it won’t be a problem and the Confederations Cup will go smoothly.
As the new head of FIFA’s anti-racism committee, he wants to address this problem head on. “There must be harmony amongst the confederations from a sanctions standpoint and national associations,” Webb said. “We have to send a clear message that racism and discrimination is not going to be tolerated and we’re going to have a zero tolerance attitude. Unfortunately, the message sent out so far does not do that.”
Meanwhile, there will be a CONCACAF office opening in Grand Cayman in August, not just for the president but also for the Caribbean region. Offices already exist in New York, Miami and Guatemala. Webb is looking forward to the Gold Cup, with the final in Chicago on 28 July. It starts on 7 June in California. Exhaustion? He just kicks on.