Hubert Lawrence | Bailey and the future of football
It's funny how the prevailing winds of thought on any subject can change. Not long ago, the football doxology required that the national team be composed solely of locally based and bred players. Now, scarcely months later comes the growing interest in the football prospect that is Leon Bailey. With skills honed by a Jamaican, and a football mind groomed in Belgium and now Germany, Bailey is perhaps an exception to the rule.
He, of course, was born here and started to play football here, but he is a far cry away from the local-based players who have come through the Manning Cup or daCosta Cup and with club football to follow in leagues run by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF). Yet, selecting him makes perfect sense with qualification for the 2022 World Cup not terribly far away.
'98 WORLD CUP TRIO
Lest we forget, when Jamaica qualified for and played in the 1998 World Cup, the England-based trio of Paul Hall, Fitzroy Simpson and Deon Burton made a huge contribution. Another England-based player, Robbie Earle, scored our first World Cup goal. They blended well with local talents like Ricardo Gardner and Theodore Whitmore, who scored twice in our 2-1 win over Japan.
When the native-bred population is as small as ours, it's risky to ignore skills that might reside in the diaspora.
The clamour for Bailey has escalated in large part because local football doesn't produce high-quality players in droves. Whatever happens with him, work has to be redoubled to develop at home, more and more players with sound technique, a team ethic, and the ability to make shrewd decisions in the heat of battle.
A key step has already been taken with the requirement that those who coach high-school and preparatory-school football must seek certification. Simply put, better-equipped coaches will produce better players. While it will take time for the influence of this requirement to take over, the long-term benefits are unquestionable.
Another important step is to come. A Jamaican playing system has to be found and taught to our national teams from the lowest age groups. As the players matriculate upwards, the system will become second nature. This, too, will take time, but the benefits will be there for everyone to see.
Once that is established, selecting non-local players will have to consider two questions: is he good and will he fit the system? With the limited training time that is available to national team coaches, answers to the second question loom large.
Germany reconfigured its football after the 1994 World Cup and the results are testimony to the move. The Germans lost the 2016 Olympic men's team gold medal on penalties to Brazil, but have won just about everything else. Ominously, retirements of the old brigade, led by World Cup winning captain Philip Lamm, hasn't slowed the German juggernaut down at all.
England seems to have taken a similarly hard look at its football and made changes. So far, the returns are first-place finishes in the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cup. Victories over the likes of Brazil in the Under 17 semi-final and Spain in the final are proof that some good work has been done. Everyone knows that youthful success doesn't always pave the way for winning big on the senior level, but it can't hurt. If England can blend the best of those two squads with players like the 20 year-old Marcus Rashford, bright days lie ahead.
Jamaica must take the German example, too, and format its youth football for the better. Good coaches must be involved in teaching local boys and girls sound techniques and tactics at an early stage. If a national playing system is instituted, then the selectors will know whether a Jamaica team candidate will fit readily. Add that to an improvement in the playing fields and Jamaica could be on its way up again in football.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at track side since 1980.