Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Tony Becca | It’s better late than never

Published:Sunday | September 18, 2016 | 9:00 AM
Schaefer
Jamaica's football team at the National Stadium on March 25, 2016. Front (from left) Kemar Lawrence, Joel McAnuff, Adrian Mariappa, Demar Phillips and Lee Williamson. Back row: (from left) Michael Hector, Je-Vaughn Watson, Andre Blake (GK), Clayton Donaldson, Wes Morgan and Alvas Powell.
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It has been some 14 years or thereabout since the call, and then the warning that Jamaica is standing still, was first made, and finally, it seems, after so many pleas by so many people, they have now been heard and will be probably addressed.

Unfortunately, it came after Jamaica failed to qualify for four World Cup Finals, and especially after the latest disaster when Jamaica did not reach the final qualifying stage, when Jamaica finished last, well behind Costa Rica's winning 16 points, in their semi-final group matches on four points, after winning one match, and when they scored a meagre two goals in six matches.

Mark you, those who have answered the call and those who have listened to the warning include head coach Winfried Schaefer and assistant coach Miguel Coley, and to an extent, the Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, who has called for a review of the football programme.

 

Stubborn president

 

The one who has not yet listened to either the call or the warning, or has not acted on them, is Captain Horace Burrell, the stubborn president of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and the one who started the ball rolling in 1994 and led the country to its only participation in the World Cup showpiece.

To be fair to Schaefer, from the moment he came to Jamaica, in a bid to attempt the World Cup mission, he spoke about the missing local players in the scheme of things but his assessment fell on deaf ears, just like that of us from home.

Unlike the situation in 1994, Jamaica spent its money going in search of the 'talented' footballers who were born outside of Jamaica, lived outside Jamaica all their lives, learn their football in a foreign country, and tried to convince them to play for Jamaica.

Some were convinced, mostly those who, quite rightly so, figured they could not get into their national side to represent where they ate, where they lived, where they learnt their football, where they played their football, and they grasped the opportunity to jump on an airplane every now and again and fly to Jamaica for two or three days, play some football, play a 'home' match away from home, and win or lose, jump on a plane the next day on the way back home.

Many, many things were bad about this situation. The team never looked like Jamaican footballers, the team never spoke like Jamaican footballers, the team never ate what Jamaican footballers ate, and the team never behaved like Jamaican footballers.

Most important of all, the team was never 'home' to hear from the disappointing crowd.

The team also hardly knew the coach, or the assistant coach, some of them felt they were superior to the one or two token local footballers who were in the squad only to satisfy the local football fraternity, and on top of everything else, they were not always available.

 

Quite frustrating

 

For almost every match, after the first round when it did not matter who played, the so-called 'Reggae Boyz' were joined by one, two, or three more new faces from abroad.

It must have been quite frustrating, and embarrassing, to get into the team for the so-called first round of 'easy matches' and to be outside looking in - looking at the overseas professionals fumbling their way on the bigger occasions later on.

Although money is important, these footballers also threatened a strike, and they did so hours before a big 'home' match.

I have asked this question many times: what good does it serve Jamaica and Jamaicans if Jamaica get to the World Cup Finals riding on the backs of foreigners, even if they were good enough to qualify?

Although Jamaicans like to win, the answer is nothing at all. And this has nothing to with the fact that the 'Jamaican' team would be beaten out of sight.

Foreigners, if they follow what is going on, would not want to come to Jamaica to see Jamaicans play football. They would be better off going to America and to Europe to find out where 'Jamaican' footballers live and what they eat and drink.

The 'Jamaican' footballers would be no Usain Bolt, no Asafa Powell, no Yohan Blake, no Omar McLeod, no Veronica Campbell-Brown, no Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and no Elaine Thompson.

The 2018 World Cup campaign was a disappointment to many, but if those who occupy the corridors of power learn from their mistakes this time around, as they appear to have done, it may have been a blessing in disguise.

Jamaica can now save money from the expensive trips to a foreign country to find substandard players to represent the country, they can now save money to pay these players to represent Jamaica, and they can save money from hiring a coach to deal with absent players, or to deal with strange players for a day or two.

The local players, many of them may not be as good as the 'foreigners' are today, but in time they will become better.

This money, and the rest which I am sure will flow into the JFF's coffers, will go a far way in paying local players a little more, in providing a few good playing fields and proper infrastructure for local football, and in developing a good image for football in Jamaica.

 

The development

 

Nothing is built in a day, nothing good, that is, but I am sure that that once effort, time, and money is put into the development of Jamaica's football and Jamaica's footballers, football will shine like cricket did up to a few years ago and just as track and field is doing these days.

It will also shine for a long time, probably a long, long time at that.

Footballers, like other sportsmen and sportswomen, love to see what their own is doing, and right now they see nothing, not while, at best, only a few are sitting on the bench in favour of others.

On top of that, they feel dejected. They feel like outsiders, like Jamaicans born abroad.

There is a place for those Jamaicans, but only for a few of them, maybe two, three or four. And they must be good, they must earn their places, and they must make the team better.

Apart from Jamaicans who learn their football at home and then go overseas to ply their trade and further develop their game, they, like everyone else, must also want to play, really want to play for Jamaica, and they must express a desire, a burning desire, to play for Jamaica.