By Orville Higgins
I watched the Under-20 game between Jamaica and Mexico on Wednesday night, and as the match progressed, I realised I was experiencing a growing sense of frustration.
That we were outclassed 4-0 was bad enough, but while watching the Mexicans turning it on against a hapless-looking Jamaican bunch, it occurred to me that we needed a radical overhaul of how we go about playing and coaching football in this country.
Jamaica's football has several fundamental problems, and they are evident at every level. One of our biggest drawbacks is speed. This might sound highly ironic, coming from a country that is producing the world's fastest people, but I am not talking about our ability to outrun our opponents in a foot race. There we have no issue, but one of our glaring weaknesses is speed of thought. The wheels of thinking apparently turn very slowly in the average footballer in Jamaica.
This ultimately leads to hesitance in decision making, which most times leads to indecisiveness and non-productive football. If we start quickening up our thought process, and be more precise and assertive in what we want to do on the field, we would have improved our football by, maybe, 25 per cent for that alone.
Unless we get all our footballers to understand that speed of movement is among a team's biggest weapons, with and without the ball, we are going nowhere. We telegraph everything we do, which is why it's so easy to defend against us, and which is why we don't score many goals.
Very rarely do you watch any team in Jamaica, from schoolboy football to the premier league, that constantly breaks down defences by making five or six snappy defence-splitting passes. Because we don't do that, our goals, when they do come, are usually the result of a good individual effort or some major technical error in the opponents' defence.
Another problem that ails Jamaica's football is our reluctance, sometimes even our inability, to work without the ball. Football is a simple sport, really, and should be, essentially, about one basic tenet. When your side has the ball, your teammates, certainly at least three or four of them, must find space to make themselves available for a pass. This must happen every single time.
bunch of slow coaches
The person who passes the ball must also put himself in a position where he can get it back, which is usually by running into space as well. When your side loses the ball, you must find a man, so that he doesn't receive the ball, and even if he does, you are there to win it back.
Watch any football game in Jamaica and see how often this basic principle is observed. You would be surprised. The man who passes the ball often remains static; for him, his work is done, and quite often he doesn't have too many options to pass to anyway, because his teammates in attack want the ball at their feet and quite often he is being close-marked.
We pass the ball around well at the back, because there is little or no pressure, but once we are in the attacking third, we resort to direct balls into the box, or to a forward, because no Jamaican team that I have watched has even half-mastered the ability of setting up goalscoring opportunities by moving the ball around at pace. Sure, they may do it occasionally, but it's never the norm.
As an aside, that's exactly how our national netball teams play as well. To get the ball to our usually tall shooters, we invariably lob the ball in the circle. It's hardly about brisk passing in and around the arc to confuse defensive players and get them out of position, then, say, a bounce pass or a chest pass to the shooter. Unless we improve on that, the Sunshine Girls will be perennial bridesmaids.
Our other problem is that we have not yet learnt that the 'shot' to goal is really a final 'pass', hit with a little more pace. We blast high and wide, because we want to kill the keeper, rather than trying to place the ball inside the post. Spectators in the back row become target practice. Despite the strides that we have made recently, our football has a long, long way to go.
Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host on KLAS FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.