Fri | Jul 20, 2018

Stop relying on high schools - Damani Ralph

Published:Saturday | July 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMRachid Parchment
Raewin Senior (left), a member of Jamaica's Under 17 men's football team, is one of the products of Jamaica's high school football system.

Former national footballer now turned agent, Damani Ralph, has criticised the quality of players being turned out by the national youth programme.

Ralph said that the local players are no longer transitioning to the top clubs in the United States because now that there is more money being spent in Major League Soccer, clubs are able to look at better players from across the rest of the world.

"I think for the first 10 years or so in the league, they used the CONCACAF region and the Caribbean to really grow the sport," Ralph said. "Now that there's more money, they're able now to go into outside markets to shop for players who have a bit more experience and a better rÈsumÈ compared to Jamaican players."

"Personally, I am a bit disappointed with the level coming out and what's in the pipeline to come. Are we producing Andy Williamses? Are we producing Theodore Whitmores? Are we producing Walter Boyds? Are we producing Onandi Lowes? I don't see those calibre players, even in our youth system, in the Under-17s, the 20s. That's what the market had been used to seeing coming out of Jamaica and we haven't seen a lot of that anymore, so I do think we need to get back to the grassroots and start to improve the product because the product is what demands, whether it's a higher salary or the opportunity. The product has to be good enough for you to sell it.

"I've spoken with a few scouts who were at the 20s and at the 17s (World Cup Qualifiers) and the questions they are asking me is 'What is going on in Jamaica?' They were not pleased with the talent pool they saw on the field."

Ralph went on to say that one of the biggest problems with the local system is that the programme is too reliant on the high-school system to produce talent to compete against players who are already in professional club systems across the rest of the world.

"Personally, Jamaica has the best high-school standard, probably across the world," Ralph said. "That said, we cannot expect the high schools to develop players who are going to compete against the top clubs around Europe or even here in the US, where they are getting five to 10 days per week in an academy set up in a professional environment where it's only football.

"We can't expect the school systems back home to go and compete in the 17s and the 20s when some of those countries that we're playing against, some of those players are full professionals already. They're playing for reserve teams, they're on junior contracts. So you see the contrast and the difference in terms of the level that we are asking our youth from the high schools to go and compete against. It's unfair to them."

"We need to start all over again now in terms of the grass-roots programmes, in terms of getting to the younger kids earlier, and seeing football in terms of a business and not as a varsity sport," Ralph said.