Sat | Sep 26, 2020

Oral Tracey | Managing enigmatic players

Published:Monday | November 18, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Jamaican football icon Walter ‘Blacka Pearl’ Boyd carries the ball away from two Brazilian players during an exhibition match between Jamaica All Stars and Brazil All Stars at the National Stadium on Friday, March 3, 2017.

Friday’s interview and interaction with Jamaican football icon Walter ‘Blacka Pearl’ Boyd on Hitz 92FM’s ‘Sports Explosion’ provided several poignant reminders as to how challenging it is to manage individuals with eccentric and enigmatic personality traits such as his.

Having had the privilege of speaking to Boyd at length before and after the programme, it emerged as clear as crystal that over two decades after Jamaica’s historic qualification for the 1998 FIFA World Cup finals, in which he played a pivotal role, the scars of hurt, discontent, and regret are still present on the psyche of this super talented Jamaican.

The most revealing segment of the interview was his reaction to being asked about his relationship with then Brazilian technical Director René Simoes. Boyd had a lot on his mind, and while admitting that he was not the easiest player or individual to manage, he remained adamant that in his mind, Simoes, the central authority figure in that 1998 journey, did very little to steer the wayward ship in the right direction.

That infamous quote “Simoes wanting to play God in his life,” seemed to be the theme of Boyd’s recollection of the relationship. He spoke passionately and emotionally about Simoes having a problem with some of the cultural norms that were integral to his being as a player, and as a person. He recounted how he and others tried desperately to heal the festering wounds with the Brazilian, but he was invariably treated as the naughty child who needed to fall in line, or else.

That narrative culminated in the now infamous initial exclusion of Boyd from the squad for the France ‘98 Finals. Jamaican football fans had to take to the streets in protest before he was granted a spot on the trip.

Boyd’s consistent message was that as good as people thought he was, he would have been far better for Jamaica, and at the international club level, if the situations had been better handled by Simoes. But it was never a battle he could win. At the time, Simoes enjoyed messianic status in Jamaica. As popular and as loved as he was, Boyd was no match for the Brazilian wizard, who was embraced as the God-sent messiah who had come to lead Jamaica to the football Promise Land.

Polarising figure

At the time, there were several fans who supported Boyd and encouraged more tolerance and acceptance of the enigma he was, and there were those who stood firmly with Simoes in his hard-line enforcement of his style and his several attempts to force changes to the player’s attitude. But as Boyd recounted, that method simply never worked.

One is forced to ponder how different things might have been, if that long-running battle of egos between the coach and the star player had been managed differently by the calming influence of an effective mediator. Jamaica and the world might well have benefited from the full explosion and exhibition of Walter Boyd’s exquisite talent.

There was then a common idea among local football fans that Walter Boyd never knew or realised how good he could have been, how rare his skill levels were, and the commensurate potential those elements represented. If only he did, his entire life would have been different then and different today.

For sure, Walter Boyd must take a substantial part of the blame for not achieving anything close to his full potential as a player. He admitted as much, but upon hearing first - hand his perspective on that key period in his career and his life, it is hard not to conclude that those charted with a higher mission of leading and guiding the process failed to effectively manage the eccentricity and enigma that characterised arguably Jamaica’s most talented and skilful footballer ever.