Stop 'dissing' the local players
As the momentum begins to gather ahead of the semi-final round of the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying, the perennial and ever-revolving debate about the disdain for local-based players and the converse obsession with foreign-born players for the senior Reggae Boyz team continues.
Jamaica Football Federation President Captain Horace Burrell was at it again last week travelling to England to try and convince more players to join the squad heading into the semi-final group of death fixtures involving Costa Rica, Panama, and Haiti.
The thinking remains for the captain and all the recent coaches of the national senior team: the more foreigners, the better the team. The obvious inference is that players in the second or third tier of English football or players in the abstract leagues of Scandinavia, or even in the American Major League Soccer and its supporting leagues are automatically and significantly of superior quality to all players playing locally. This, to my mind, represents a disrespect of local football generally, and commensurate dissing of the local players.
Chairman of the Harbour View Football Club Carvel Stewart, who has held firm to his conviction on this issue, stated again last week that Jamaica would not make it back to the World Cup Finals until a local-based core of players is established as part of the senior squad. While agreeing with the general sentiments of Mr Stewart, my wording would be different.
My sentiments are, until the delicate balance between the number of foreign-born players and the number of local-based players is struck, Jamaica will struggle to get back to the World Cup Finals. At the moment, instead of a delicate balance being struck, there is a distinct bias at work.
It might turn out to be a "curse in disguise" for the long-term development of the national football programme that Jamaica performed so well in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. What that string of performances has provided is a "false vindication" for "more foreigners policy".
What is fast becoming my "pipe dream" is for that elusive right balance to be found - not a sharp swing from one extreme to the other extreme, where it's either what we have now or the practice of playing a group of local-based players exclusively to look at them and ask them to prove themselves. That strikes me as a ploy to ensure that the local- based players fail, ensuring it's business as usual and another scamper or two or three up to England to try and convince some more unwilling players to "try Jamaica".
Mr Stewart and others have proposed the formation of a local-based squad to be kept in training. I think that suggestion has actually outlived its practicality since the majority of the best players are based overseas. It is highly unlikely that Jamaica will be able to afford the luxury of playing a full local team on a consistent basis. Therefore, middle ground should be found.
There are local-based players who can make at least the Jamaican squad on merit if they are given a fair chance. Kemar 'Taxi' Lawrence and Hughan Grey are testament to that. They got a chance, grabbed it. It would be great to see players like Dino Williams or Allen Ottey from Montego Bay United get some significant playing time with a full-strength team around them. Same for players like Ricardo Morris from Portmore United, or Vishunal Harris from Arnett Gardens, or Chevonne Marsh from Cavalier, or any other promising young local-based player as identified by the coaching staff. Keep them in and around the team and manage their development.
My theory, however, hinges on the technical leadership of the football, having faith in the talent and potential of these local-based players. Sadly, that faith is non-existent at the moment.