Yet again, Jamaica’s footballers have been unceremoniously cast out of another World Cup qualifying tournament. This time it was the turn of our U-20 Boyz to face the guillotine. It was horrendous and hard to watch (not that many turned out to watch anyway). As they were lead quietly away by their leader, World Cup hero, Theodore “the tactical nightmare” Whitmore, it begged the question; What is really wrong with Jamaican Football?
I came up with a few things that are too difficult to place one post. So, this will be the first of a trilogy on what seems to be causing us to fail so spectacularly after the heights achieved in 1998. For me, there are a few big reasons; lack of infrastructure, Poor coaching and discipline then finally poor and corrupt administration. I will look at the first reason now.
Let’s look at some facts. As at January 2015, Jamaica is currently ranked 75th in the FIFA table. That’s a far way from the dizzying heights of 27th in August 1998, but much better than our lowest ever ranking, 116th in October 2008. In the CONCACAF region, Jamaica is ranked 9th, behind the likes of Trinidad, Honduras, Guatemala and Haiti. The worrying part about the CONCACAF region is that Teams like Costa Rica and Panama (who are ranked 1st and 4th respectively) are getting better and are creating a gap that even Cliff Twang “canna cross”. The outlook seems dim at this point and no amount of imports – coaching or otherwise seems able to solve the problem.
JAMAICA MO’ PROBLEMS
Jamaica lacks the footballing infrastructure needed to compete at the highest levels. The fields are atrocious, the stadia (if you can call some of the weed stricken patches of dirt that) are abysmal and there are no academies for players, coaches or referees to learn the fundamentals of the game or where the game is trending. In Jamaica there is just raw talent and hope. We know that Jamaicans are talented athletes and I think we are superior to most in the world from an early age. However, a raw sugar cane plant does not sweeten your tea my friends…it is a well honed, refined product that does it. In order to be the best, we must be exposed to the best.
Where pitches are concerned, Jamaica is well behind. Our schoolboys and local pros play on fields that aren’t even fit to host a sports day. Pitches vary from dust bowl, to rock city, to grassy-in-spots to just plain okay. Even Haiti, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, boasts two, 1-star rated FIFA certified artificial pitches. Our National Stadium field needs work. The pitch is hard and dry, the grass is not low enough and some spots don’t seem to have enough grass at times. The ball bounces unusually high or doesn’t roll true and as such the quality of play suffers. The local players, who are used to worst fields cannot adjust their reflexes to play on what is considered to be a decent pitch. Bringing in imports who know only the billiard table style pitches of Europe does us no good either because they must do the reverse; adjust themselves to play on a poor pitch.
After a poor Euro 2000 showing, the German DFB went on a massive overhaul of their youth system. The aim was to develop the technical prowess of home-grown youth. The strategy included forming academies in the two top-divisions of Germany. A little over a decade on, Germany has reaped rewards winning the World Cup with the very same players who started in the system.
Now, lets get real, the JFF doesn’t have the financial power of the DFB. But it is my belief that even one decent academy, charged with the mandate of selecting talented youngsters and grooming them to become elite players would improve our football significantly. The academy should be equipped with world class training pitches and the best possible facilities to foster growth. It doesn’t stop there; the academy should also groom coaches to operate at world class levels. Not only will coaches be trained on the fundamentals of the game and earn various coaching badges but they will also focus on softer areas such as nutrition, man-management, and how to deal with media. Dear readers, leaders are made not born. Our national academy should also focus on producing international quality referees. Again, it is not just about the technical areas of the game but also managing softer areas such as the importance of referee fitness and how referees should prepare proper match reports after each game.
In May 2014, local football stalwart, Winston Chung-Fah made one small step towards this vision by being granted a lease for land to build a 30 acre academy with the assistance of an unidentified European club. While this is a great move, the question is, how much will this benefit national football as a whole vs the profile of Mr. Chung-Fah. Will the JFF have any power to oversee what this academy does? Will Chung-Fah then become the de facto godfather of Jamaican football? Hopefully the venture will become fruitful and well supported in a transparent way that benefits the nation.
Once you have had a taste of flying first class, you will never want to fly any other way. I’m sure the noble “Captain” is well versed in this area. In part two, we will take a look at the issue of poor coaching and discipline.