Editorial | Football dreams in a world of reality
The head of Jamaican football, Captain Horace Burrell, seems about to perform his parody of what the pre-eminent football nations - and the big global clubs - do when their teams fail to win tournaments, or perform below expectations: fire the coach.
So, with Jamaica having lost 2-0 to Panama on Friday night, thereby missing an outside chance to advance from the preliminary round of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the 2018 World Cup, Jamaica's German coach, Winfried Schäfer, it is expected, will be asked to go. Or, at least there will be some growling, and huffing ultimatums by Captain Burrell, who, after the Panama match, said that when similar failures happened around the world "there are consequences".
"...We are no different from other countries," he said. Except that the farce of a Schäfer dismissal is likely to be halted by an inability of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) to cobble together the money to buy-out the remaining two years of his contract.
In any event, while Mr Schäfer is the leading figure of this burlesque production, neither Captain Burrell, nor the JFF he has led for the better part of two decades, can deny their important parts in the programme. For the deeper problem is that Captain Burrell and his JFF have for too long been attempting to construct a superstructure without a foundation.
There is little doubt that Captain Burrell is a man of big dreams and substantial energy, who talks persuasively. In the mid 1990s, after his election as the JFF's president, he had an idea of taking Jamaica to the World Cup. He was able to sell the idea to the government and corporate Jamaica. Rene Simoes, with government backing, was recruited from Brazil as the technical director of the Jamaica football programme. Jamaican firms put millions of dollars into the project. The country rallied behind the effort. Captain Burrell was successful. Jamaica went to France in 1998.
An insufficiently analysed part of that success is the environment in which it was achieved, including the fact that in the preparation period to the World Cup, Simoes' squads played perhaps twice as many matches as Schäfer's teams have managed in a similar period. There was preparation and bonding. Further, there is the question of whether corporate Jamaica could sustain the level of investment in football of the pre-1998 period, and whether the JFF adequately managed and directed its resources to this end.
On the latter, this newspaper believes that the JFF has been wanting. Since 1998 it has recruited, including a second stint by Simoes, six foreign coaches, plus a local appointee. But there has been littl e real effort in building a sound structure for domestic football. The JFF has been unable to design and implement a credible and sustainable project for investment in clubs and their facilities and the development of players.
Mostly, the default in team selection is primarily to look to Jamaicans playing abroad, or players of Jamaican descent in foreign leagues. Without the cash and frequency of preparatory games of '98, melding a team has been difficult. Mr Schäfer now talks of building a team of "local national players" plus some from overseas.
That is philosophy for which there must be support. It requires a supporting infrastructure for which there must be foundation. Better late than never.