Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Hubert Lawrence | Saving football, a programme of work

Published:Thursday | September 15, 2016 | 9:00 AM
Jamaica’s Alvas Powell (right) runs with the ball towards Haiti defender Handy Delice (centre), while Haiti’s, Delva Junior (left), looks on, during the CONCACAF semi-final round Group B World Cup Qualifying football match at the National Stadium on Tuesday, September 6. Haiti won 2-0.

Picking a national squad solely of local players isn't going to save Jamaican football. The issues facing us on that field of play are too wide-ranging for that.

The football fraternity will have to look itself in the eye and build a structure that produces quality play. That will take time.

Pegging success to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup may be a mistake, too, as it may force the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) to rush or overlook key elements in the development process.

To be fair, some work has started with the certification of many more coaches in recent years. The requirement that coaches must have FIFA certification to train high-school teams is a plus. The pay-off is better-equipped players in the future.

Those who organise preparatory and primary- school football might be well advised to adopt similar regulations. Such a move would ensure that aspiring players adopt good technical habits early in their acquaintance with the game. As we all know, bad habits can be really hard to break.

 

Talent reigns supreme

 

In a culture that believes that talent reigns supreme, the value of good playing surfaces is sometimes underestimated. Recently, government embarked on a programme to improve the quality of high-school playing fields. Something similar is needed for football and cricket fields if players are to properly learn the skills they need.

Bumpy fields make it impossible for them to control the ball and pass it at the required level of proficiency.

Perhaps, in exchange for a tax concession, companies involved in landscaping could be invited to help in this area. The target would be to renovate at least one football field per parish each year and provide the expertise and staff to do the maintenance.

The next critical element is the establishment of a national playing philosophy. Our biggest asset is sprint speed, and a style that embraces that asset may well suit Jamaica best. This may run at odds with our love of Brazilian and Barcelona football, but beauty can have many faces.

Whatever style we choose, it should become the template for all of Jamaica's national teams. That would allow newcomers to the senior team to fit in seamlessly.

Once this choice is made, choosing players from the diaspora will be much easier because the selector will be looking not just for good players, but for those who will fit.

The wholesale elimination of players from the diaspora could also eliminate the exposure they have received elsewhere. Lest we forget, Paul Hall, Fitzroy Simpson and Deon Burton, all based in England, boosted Jamaica's drive to qualify for the 1998 World Cup with their competitiveness, professionalism and skills. The door should never close on such an input.

The same logic applies to home-grown players who ply their trade abroad.

Instead, an overall programme of work should be undertaken to improve Jamaica's football. Better- coached players on better fields working together within a playing philosophy that suits Jamaica, will work much better. It will take time, but it needs to start now.

- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.