During the France 1998 World Cup Qualifying campaign, Jamaica was able to keep the Reggae Boyz together. They lived in the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) hostel and trained together regularly. That was then. Most of the team plied their football trade here, with a mere handful being full-time overseas professionals.
Today's Reggae Boyz are far more international and full-strength training camps are harder and harder to come by. Even with the best will in the world, and just like other national teams with a lot of overseas players, Jamaica has to do without extended camps. That's just the way it is.
The football fraternity has a two-part job on its hands. First, its work to develop a Jamaica playing style has to be brought forward. If players grow up playing that style for Jamaica, they'll fit more easily into the Boyz set-up when and if they eventually get selected.
We all grew up idolising Brazilian football as played by Pele, Gerson, Tostao, Jairzinho and Rivelino in 1970, and by Socrates and Zico more than a decade later.
Now we're dazzled by the pinpoint passing of Barcelona with Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and company. The possible Jamaican football philosophy might copy elements of those styles, sprinkled with a dose of 9.58 sprint speed to fuel counter attacks.
To facilitate that, our football infrastructure would have to equip players to cross and head a bit better to make those counters work.
That only covers half the ground. Like it or not, overseas-based players will find a place on Jamaica's international football teams for years and maybe decades to come. For reasons ranging from bumpy fields to the need to upgrade coaches, our infrastructure isn't going to produce all the players we need.
So the question is - if we are stuck with overseas-based players, how can we get them to blend in with the Boyz in the limited time allowed by their clubs on FIFA dates?
The answer lies with a football version of long-distance teaching. Once the football fraternity agrees on the national playing philosophy, the national coach/technical director will have to teach it to those who learn their football elsewhere.
Those selectees who grow up in the system should have less difficulty even if they later play overseas. In any case, every selectee will have to be taught the playing system and how he fits in. Thanks to the Internet, that can be done via email and video-chat mechanisms.
New generation JFF website
For all I know, this might all reside in the new generation JFF website, with national selectees gaining access to playing system and positional roles via password. Waiting for a two-day pre-match isn't an option.
Suppose coach Theodore 'Tappar' Whitmore calls an uncapped overseas-based Jamaican to play for the Boyz during the current qualifying campaign. Instead of waiting for an extended camp, he would teach them the system and his likely role from a distance. This one-on-one distance learning could be aided by video from www.youtube.com and other sources.
Let's suppose Tappa recruits an attacking midfielder. The newcomer would derive tremendous value from this distance learning and Tappa's own vast experience of playing that role during his own days on the field.
By the time the newcomer joined the squad, he'd have a headstart on blending with his new teammates.
There might also be online tutorials on goalkeeping, defending, midfield play and scoring by former national players Warren Barrett, Rudy Dixon, Allan 'Skill' Cole and Paul 'Tegat' Davis, respectively. Given that all are coaches, this too might be helpful.
If students study for advanced degrees online, the Reggae Boyz can do the same.
Nothing will replace playing together. In the meantime, the schedule of club and international games leaves little time for the extended camps of old. Like it or not, Jamaican football is stuck with tight schedules and overseas-based players. They're not going away.
If we face facts, develop a coherent national football philosophy and teach it to national selectees. No matter where they play their football, we just might make some progress. It's one thing to say that professionals should adapt easily. That might be true, but technology can help.
Hubert Lawrence is the author of 'Champs 100: A Century of Jamaican High School Athletics 1910-2010'.