Sat | Jun 23, 2018

Follow The Trace | Football at a serious crossroads

Published:Tuesday | July 4, 2017 | 12:00 AM

As the mad rush to fill the leadership vacancy left by the late Captain Horace Burrell continues, it is obvious that Jamaica's football itself is at a serious crossroads. Despite the focus being on getting the "right individual" to lead the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), the more poignant message ought to be "Where we do go from here and how do we get there," rather than "Who leads us there."

What Captain Burrell achieved in his time in engineering the qualification for the senior World Cup finals in 1998, then for the under 17 finals in 1999, the under 20's in 2001, and the under 17's again in 2011, has, over time, built a genuine and viable Reggae Boyz football brand that has given us relevance, credibility and visibility in the wider football world.

The clear and present danger facing the soon to be elected leader, and indeed the entire football fraternity, is that the nation's football is on a trajectory of ending up in that pre-Captain Burrell space of irrelevance and obscurity. If the process going forward is not managed effectively, our football could once again slip to the scary low of us again being just another "kick and run" Caribbean team, no longer worthy of gracing some of the lofty stages we have graced over the last two decades.

Of the myriad of fundamental challenges facing Jamaica's football, I have selected my most critical and urgent three, the first is the horrific and disgraceful state of our football surfaces. It is exponentially more difficult to teach and to learn the basics of the game on the bumpy uneven pitchy patchy surfaces that we play football on in Jamaica. There is an immeasurable negative effect to be applied to the degree of difficulty in achieving our football goals when the surfaces are so hopelessly poor. At least a reasonable effort is needed to try and improve some of our football surfaces to near world class standards as we push forward, beginning with the one at the "academy," now the UWI-JFF Captain Horace Burrell Center of Excellence.

Another less conspicuous, but equally crippling fundamental is the unbelievable inability of our technical leadership to effectively identify, develop and allocate football talent. Ever since the Brazilian Rene Simoes completed his first stint after the 1998 success, football coaches, scouts and technical leaders at all levels have failed miserably to replicate the kind of meticulous balance and allocation of individual players with different, but complimentary qualities to have the Reggae Boyz function consistently and effectively as a team.

The retort that the dynamic of Simoes having a local based group for a sustained period of time, thus his success, should have been cancelled out by the fact that so many Jamaican born players are now plying their trade in overseas leagues. This is in addition to the now substantial number of England born players who are now available. This all points to a significantly more exposed and experienced pool of professional players existing now, compared to what Simoes had to work with.

Yet so woeful, visionless and incompetent, have the selection processes and the tactical decisions been, that we have continued to struggle dreadfully to find the right balance. So much so that in recent times we have achieved nothing more than cyclical failure and embarrassment.

The third fundamental is the severe myopia which has rendered a serious rebuilding and development process near impossible. The misguided and extreme team selection policy of the last decade of condemning and ignoring local talent, has immeasurably damaged the psyche and confidence of an entire generation of local players. These are players who have been fed the rhetoric and suffered from the actions that have told them in no uncertain terms that they are inferior, and are no good as footballers and as persons.

A further index of the wider crisis is the initial and continued resistance to the basic suggestion that our best 16, 17 and 18 year old players should be accelerated to play in our elite league like is taking place in all the progressive football nations of the world.

As we march forward into the post Captain Burrell crisis era in our football, one timely positive to be taken from the current reality is the vivid memories of the Captain leading the charge in showing us and the world that against all the odds, it can be done. This should make it easier for us all to believe that it can be done again.