Football: Soothing rhythm of a man among Boyz

Stephen Brenkley finds Jamaica's midfield controller blessed with a winning philosophy
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The Independent Online
IF Rene Simoes has become the professor of Jamaican football then Peter Cargill is probably its philosopher. The enlistment of players from English clubs may have been judged as the professor's shrewdest strategical manoeuvre in ensuring qualification for the World Cup finals but the Reggae Boyz still move to Cargill's measured and stoic beat, a mood which remains unchanged under heavy artillery.

From his adjustable place somewhere between the defence and the midfield the slight, placid man from Kingston controls the speed, direction and movement of their game. If he is not making the passes he is calmly signalling to others how and when they should make them. It was not only Cargill's luminous green boots which made him easy to pick out at Ninian Park last Wednesday night.

The conditions were wet and dreary and they were reflected in much of the play throughout the friendly with Wales, flaws not concealed in the joyous atmosphere created by the legions of Reggae Boyz followers. If they are to provide something more substantial than novelty value at France 98 the presence of Cargill might be more important than that of what you might be forgiven for assuming was half the Premiership.

"I like to make myself available for the boys. They know I'm always there to receive a pass," he said after the game in calm, measured tones which matched his playing style. "I will get it and pass, usually as easily as possible, and then be ready to have the ball back again if necessary. They know I'm there for them.'

So he is, too, and if some of his distribution in Cardiff was not as exact as he and his colleagues have come to expect he was never anything other than unflappable. "It was a night on the pitch like I have never experienced before," he said. "It was cold and damp all the way through, something most of us have simply never had to play in. I was really cold at the start and then at the end. I could hardly feel my feet." He spoke beneath a long, bobbleless hat. Cargill suspects the climate might have dissuaded him from playing in the English professional game.

At the age of 34 any chance of doing so has passed him by, whatever mark he makes in helping Jamaica to complete their remarkable World Cup odyssey in France. But he has had a happy life, one that he barely imagined as a boy who grew up in poverty. It has made him a philosopher off the pitch as well as on it.

"I see the World Cup as my last great playing challenge," he said. "But football is only one aspect of it and life is all about challenges, about taking on one and moving on to another. My energies are devoted to football and the World Cup at present but there will be something else after it. Maybe I will play on for one or two seasons, maybe not."

When Simoes, always referred to as Professor, took over the Reggae Boyz he must have offered a prayer of thanks at the mature, skilful sight of Cargill. In analysing his team's scoreless draw against Wales, during which they might have conceded three or four goals, lacked adventure but rode their luck admirably, Simoes did not try to conceal their naivety in giving away possession. But of Cargill the wise and wise-cracking Brazilian coach said he loved him in football terms as he loved his wife.

Cargill, who has almost 60 caps, learned the game on the Kingston streets. Although the island is more famous around the globe for producing cricketers he insisted that football is the true game of all the people. "Don't think I don't like cricket. I love watching it, but football has always been played in Jamaica, always. I've never played anything else."

His style was fluid from the first and he honed it during eight years with Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel, a move prompted when he struck up a friendship with the club's owner. There were occasional attempts to persuade him to move to Europe and the interest of Portugal seemed briefly to meet his requirements of standard and climate. But he liked Israel, still does and may yet return, although he is at present ("more absent than present") player-coach at the Kingston club Harbour View.

"I went back home one close season and found that Jamaica had hired Rene Simoes. I liked what I saw immediately and realised that this man could make something of us. The harmony in the team is quite as important as the tactics.

"Certainly, we have got the English-based players but it wouldn't matter how good they were if they didn't fit into the chemistry of the squad. They all do. I know that our qualification has caught the public mood but we're not simply the Reggae Boyz. We won't be at the World Cup simply for participation but to compete."

He was characteristically lucid in delivering this ambitious statement, but considering the playing shortcomings which had preceded it he must have realised the gap between desire and achievement. As one of Jamaica's happy but realistic fans adjudged: "I daren't think what Batistuta might do when he runs at our defence for Argentina." Or come to that, Davor Suker when they meet Croatia in the opener.

Jamaica have played 16 matches since qualification and have another 11 left. Despite the weaknesses exposed by a less than intimidating Wales, the Professor declared himself to be content with the team's philosophy. But to conduct it he needs the philosopher as well.

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