Orville Higgins | Youth football at crossroads
The post-mortem of the failed attempt by the Under-17 team to qualify for the World Cup is still being done. The Jamaicans finished up losing 5-0 to the USA and 5-1 to Mexico in-between a 3-1 win over El Salvador.
The minute I learnt that we were drawn in a group with the USA and Mexico, I was genuinely worried. Mexico is the best country in CONCACAF at the Under-17 competition. They have won this competition twice and are clearly operating at a level above us.
The USA is also formidable. In the last tournament, it took a last-ditch penalty shootout effort to send the USA ahead of us, but this time it was clear that the Americans were fielding a superior team. They played Jamaica in two practice games a few weeks before the tournament and defeated us heavily in both games.
Coach Andrew Edwards would have had to work some kind of magic to overcome those two losses to beat the USA in the real thing a few months after. So, no, I am not surprised: Beating either the USA or Mexico would have taken a small miracle.
I watched enough of the first game against the USA to know we would struggle badly against the two big teams. In that first game against the USA, the scoreline was 0-0 after the first half, but that was only because our keeper was outstanding. The USA created and missed several chances, including a penalty, in those first 45 minutes, and it would be only a matter of time before the floodgates were opened.
The victory over El Salvador was flattering. They were the weak team in the group and merely gave us false hopes. The hammering by Mexico after that was almost inevitable.
Where do we go from here? First item on the agenda is the coach. Andrew Edwards is one of the brightest young coaching minds in Jamaica, but clearly, his place must now come up for discussion. Football is a results business, and the reality is that he has failed to take Jamaica to the World Cup after two attempts.
NOT MANY SURVIVE
Very few coaches survive one failed such campaign, never mind two. Winfried Sch‰fer, for example, never took us to the promised land after one bad run and we were almost prepared to take off his head. If Andrew was a coach that we had brought in from the outside, we would have had no mercy. He would be have been gone.
I would be surprised if Andrew is given another shot. Andrew is young and intelligent and should not feel this is the end of his stint with the national team, if indeed it comes to that. Carl Brown was at the helm of the national senior programme at five different times (could have been six) and Whitmore at the national level has more lives than a cat. Andrew, therefore, can wheel and come again if they decide to part company with him.
The question is, who should replace him? I believe the Under-17 coach should be a proven performer at the high-school level. Andrew does have one daCosta Cup title under his belt, but he is by no means our most decorated school coach.
Our top schoolboy coach over the last five years is, without question, Miguel Coley of Jamaica College. He has also earned valuable experience being Sch‰fer's deputy, and maybe it is time the Jamaica Football Federation hand him the reins of the Under-17 team.
Some will argue that Coley's success with JC is because he got some ready-made teams because of JC's recruiting system. I disagree. I have seen enough of Coley in action to rate him highly. He is tactically sound and is a hard taskmaster who somehow seems to always get the best out of his teams.
One thing that our rather embarrassing displays should teach us is that we are not as good as we think we are. A few months ago, there was a big argument that the best of our schoolboys should be fast-tracked into our senior programme, even without playing Premier League. I hope that stupid argument is now put to rest. Our best Under-17 and Under-20 talents routinely struggle to compete with their own age group in the region. What chance do they have against the best senior players in CONCACAF?
Something must be done to get our best young players constantly playing with our best senior players. That is the best way for them to develop. The start of the Under-18 Elite Parish League is a good start, but that is not enough. We need to make it mandatory that our Premier League teams have at least one youth player on the field every match.
Over to you JFF.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.