Second-year Vancouver Whitecaps forward Darren Mattocks has certainly proved in the past that he has no problem speaking his mind and that was again evident on Wednesday, when appearing on the TV programme ‘Football GPS’ in his native Jamaica.
Wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Impact Player” and referring to himself in the third person, the 23-year-old criticised former head coach Martin Rennie and the Whitecaps organisation as a whole, while making several wildly outlandish remarks during the lengthy interview.
Amongst Mattocks’ claims was that he was primarily responsible for the club’s success in 2012 and that his lack of playing time this year was the reason for their failure to make the playoffs.
The Jamaican international also wrongly asserted that he had won MLS Rookie of the Year last season, while further tearing into the Whitecaps by declaring that the club had prevented him from making a move to a team in England, stating: “If I said I want to go back to Vancouver I’d be lying.”
Mattocks’ talent on the football pitch has arguably never been in question but his character has continually come under scrutiny during his short career. A skilled and flamboyant player at Akron University, the forward’s perceived overconfidence however turned some off during the draft process, supposedly including then-Montreal Impact head coach Jesse Marsch.
When the Impact thus selected Andrew Wenger first overall in the 2012 SuperDraft, Mattocks fell to the number two spot and the Whitecaps, promptly declaring in the aftermath that he would show Montreal what a mistake they had made not picking him.
To begin with too, it appeared as though Mattocks was holding true to his word. During his rookie campaign, the forward flashed several moments of brilliance on his way to scoring nine goals in all competitions, topping mlssoccer.com’s ‘24 Under 24’ list for the season.
His self-assured attitude however continued to be a source of contention, both with the Whitecaps and the national team, leading to the president of the Jamaican Football Federation, Captain Horace Burrell, asserting that the youngster was perhaps bit of a “problem child”.
Mattocks’ brash and flamboyant style seemingly hadn’t affected his play on the field in 2012 but this past season things did visibly come to a head. Heightened by high expectations, after a somewhat poor start to the year the conversation quickly turned to his lacklustre work rate and defending, as Rennie soon began to favour other attacking options available to him.
With national team duty and later meniscus surgery further disrupting his season, Mattocks eventually found himself on the fringes of the squad, struggling to gain playing time and facing questions about his lack of progress in year-two. By the end of the 2013 season, the forward had played in just 20 games, made eight starts and scored three goals – all lower totals than his debut campaign. There was clearly some animosity brewing between the club and the player but, until now, it wasn’t quite clear just how intense those feelings were.
The question facing Mattocks now is where does he go from here? Despite Rennie’s sacking, the Jamaican’s comments still make it hard to envisage him returning to the team in 2014 unless some serious damage limitation is carried out before then or the next man in charge demands to take up the challenge of reining him in. Add in too the emergence of forwards Kekuta Manneh and Camilo and there are several reasons to believe that the disgruntled Jamaican will be playing his soccer elsewhere next season.
For all his faults though, some team, whether in MLS or even overseas, will likely covet Mattocks’ considerable talent and potential, hoping they can curb his behaviour and shape him into the player many saw bursts of in 2012.
One potential destination could in fact be just south of the border, with the Portland Timbers, where Mattocks’ former college head coach, Caleb Porter, has worked wonders in his first year in charge. Porter would seem like the ideal mentor to the player he helped mould before his MLS days but, for now, such connections are merely wild speculation.
Mattocks is an enigma, no doubt, though it remains to seen whether he is one which can be controlled. MLS would certainly be better off with players of his skill and creativity plying their trade in the league but organisations also won’t tolerate individuals who so vocally put themselves before the needs of the team.
In a conference call to address the 23-year-old’s comments, a clearly frustrated Whitecaps president, Bob Lenarduzzi, noted that this type of behaviour had come to be expected of Mattocks but that the player also undeniably had a ‘special ability’: “Until we decide differently, we’re going to work to bring out the best in him,” Lenarduzzi said.
One has to wonder though whether in fact that decision has already been made.