Fri | Nov 17, 2017

Hubert Lawrence | Is hockey the beautiful game?

Published:Thursday | November 9, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Jamaica's Nicholas Beach (right) shoots to score while Panama's Jefferson Cerrud takes evasive action in their 2017 CAC Games qualifier, at the JN Hockey Field on Sunday.

Even now, even with tikka-takka in our faces courtesy of FC Barcelona and television, the epitome of beautiful football may well be Brazil in the 1970 World Cup. Pele, Gerson, Tostao, Rivelino, Jairzinho and company captivated fans with a delightful balance between individual skill and imaginative team play. In the 1970s, Holland, with Cruyff, Neeskins and Rep put a European spin of the same concept with each man in orange being a field marshal in both attack and in defence.

Understandably, Jamaica has always idolised Brazilian football. Now decades after Cruyff and his Dutch mates reformatted football at FC Barcelona, that team is the model Jamaicans aspire to. Yet there are other ways to play football. Where the talent pool is smaller as in Jamaica's case, where pitch conditions mitigate against slick play, and where the player's assets are different, other pathways to success beg to be chosen.

The prime asset of the Jamaican athlete was on display on the first two days of the CAC Hockey qualifying tournament in Kingston. Both of Jamaica's teams played from a solid defensive backbone with yellow shirts speeding forward once the ball was recovered. This lightning transition from defence gave Jamaica two wins from two starts and the early advantage in the race to qualify for the 2018 CAC Games hockey tournament.

That quest continues until Sunday. That will give football coaches a chance to see what Nicholas Brown, the national men's team coach, and his women's team counterpart, Christine Bartley, are doing. The yellow shirts rush back to help in defence and burst forward to attack. Speedy legs are everywhere.

That gives Jamaica's passers of the ball multiple targets at which to aim.

Perhaps in an attempt to model Brazil and Barca, our football lacks pace in an apparent swap for displays of artful skill. The goal should be a balance between entertaining creativity and the Jamaica asset of blazing sprint speed. In these early days of the new Jamaica Football Federation administration, finding a workable blend, a playing philosophy tailor-made for Jamaica, is mission critical.

Hockey and football are similar and different at the same time. The former allows unlimited substitution of five players and shrewd coaches use this to keep fresh legs on the pitch. Football permits three substitutes a one-time entry into play. Hockey is played in quarters and not halves like football. Still, it is still eleven versus eleven with goals winning games. That last element makes the CAC Games hockey qualifying tournament a worthwhile watch for football's think-tank.

An injection of speed may not be highlight reel football. The outcome might very well not be Barca clothed in black, green and gold. What appears more likely, after a two-day glimpse at the CAC Hockey qualifying event, is a decisive counter-attacking style cut to fit Jamaica. In the middle of it might well be the next Allan 'Skill' Cole feeding the ball to the next Lindy Delaphena with the next Ian 'Pepe' Goodison leading the defence in front of current Jamaican stopper Andre Blake. As with the methodical world champions Germans, that type of winning football has a beauty all of its own.

- Hubert Lawrence has been making notes at track side since 1980.