Orville Higgins | Watch the hype
One of the arguments making the rounds in media is whether Theodore Whitmore erred, as his squad to face Honduras and the USA does not include red-hot striker from Cornwall College, Jourdaine Fletcher. If you were to follow some people, Whitmore's decision not to include the youngster is tantamount to treason.
There is a school of thought that says our top schoolboy players should earn an automatic spot on a Jamaica senior squad, if not on a Jamaica senior team. That position is more about emotion than solid reasoning. My counterargument is simple. Nobody should be selected on any Jamaican senior team (in any sport) unless he or she has first demonstrated quality among the best senior players available.
I can't see how any rational person could argue otherwise. Why should performances against schoolboys be seen as automatic qualification to being selected in a senior squad?
Fletcher has been a standout this year, of that there can be no doubt. But there is a huge gap in quality and class between some 17- and 18 year-olds from Rusea's and Clarendon College, and some battle-hardened players from Arnett Gardens or Portmore United. In other words, being a standout schoolboy is no guarantee that one will be a quality player, even in our own premier league. International football is a completely different ball game.
Fletcher is the one who is all the rage this year, but history should have taught us a lesson. A few years ago, Marvin Morgan was a schoolboy superstar, probably just as big a star as Fletcher now. He got a few national runs and was never the same player. He has played in our premier league and is definitely not the same impact player he was. A few seasons ago, Camperdown midfielder Azuma Johnson was my favorite schoolboy midfielder. He was all class when he was playing against his peers. He, too, is playing premier league, and while showing occasional flashes of brilliance, he is taking some time to find his feet. I will give one more example. Very few schoolboys over the last decade and a half could have shown the raw talent that Andre Steele showed while he was a student at Bridgeport. When he went to play for Harbour View he just wasn't the same.
The list could go on. I could probably name a hundred schoolboy football superstars over the last decade and a half who struggled to make the same kind of impact in their first few seasons in our premier league. The morale of the story is that we have to be careful how we push these youngsters. We have to be careful that we don't make them feel they are better than they really are. Performing against teenagers is one thing, doing well against big men is completely different. We shouldn't use performances against other boys to decide how good they are. Any schoolboy aspiring to be in the national set-up must, as a rule, first prove himself in the premier league. His mettle must be tested there. If he is a forward, he should be asked to pit his skills against the best defenders around, not against some young boys, many of whom are still only learning the game.
I have been making the point on radio that my argument is not restricted to football. No schoolboy cricketer, for example, no matter what he does in the Grace Shield, should be picked to play for the West Indies! I don't care what he does in schoolboy competitions. Averaging 200 as a schoolboy, with three triple centuries in one season, doesn't qualify him for a West Indies, or even a Jamaica selection! At best, such a schoolboy should be brought to the senior cricket trials. If he performs there, then the selectors could fast-track him into the senior set-up. Track and field has shown us that schoolboy performances and big-man performances are worlds apart. Chris Taylor was a huge standout at Champs last year, but couldn't get into the national senior team . The seniors, even the ones we say 'nuh good', were still miles ahead. In the same way that track and field insists that no matter how brilliant the schoolboy is, he must match skills with seniors at trials before he can make the senior team, football principles should be the same.
None of this means that Fletcher may not one day be a Jamaican star. He may well be. He is immensely gifted. But he should be asked to put in high-quality performances against seniors before we start overhyping him.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.