Oral Tracey: Shutting the door on young ballers
I was telling one of my colleagues just this past week that one of the fundamental problems facing Jamaica's football is that when you look at the schoolboy season currently in progress and see the level of talent, passion, enthusiasm, and quality of some of the players, I am willing to bet that in another four or five years, very few, if any, of these individuals on show will make the transition to the national senior level.
I pointed out that this season is quite typical of almost all the other seasons in schoolboy football, with minor variations, in that this year, St George's College is the outstanding team. Last year it was Jamaica College; and in previous years, there were perhaps no stand-out teams. But quality individual players were scattered all over the Manning and daCosta Cup competitions, and the principle remains the same: So very few, if any, of the players we see excelling at the schoolboy level will transition into the senior ranks. Something has got to be terribly wrong with that.
Not only did I speak to losing the talent of these players, but with these schoolboy stars getting lost in the system, the national programme is also losing the loyal support of the fans who have been connected to these young players from their days as Manning Cup and d'Cup stars.
The fans now have a senior Reggae Boyz team comprising players they really don't know.
The just-concluded Flow Cup grand finale, which was played at the National Stadium the Saturday night after Jamaica's opening semi-final round World Cup Qualifier (WCQ) against Panama, filled the stadium to capacity, while the big WCQ saw the stadium 10,000 or 12,000 short of full capacity. That's an index of the bigger problem to which I am alluding.
My colleague listened intently to my tirade then calmly pointed out to me that when Jamaica plays at the regional level against the likes of Mexico, the USA, and Costa Rica at the Under-17 and even at the Under-20 levels, our players are somewhat competitive. However, in those critical years between 18 and 24, the best young players - in Mexico and the USA, especially - become full professionals and develop at a more rapid rate their Jamaican counterparts.
In so doing, they can make the transition to the senior level easier, while our young players benefit from very little in terms of structured development after schoolboy football. Therefore, my colleague explained, he fully understood and empathised with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) for continuing the trek to England in search of England-born professional players to represent Jamaica.
At that point, the conversation ended, but my thoughts on the issue continued deep into the night. I was not swayed. Why should it be a case of either-or, as it now appears to be?
The mistake the JFF continues to make is in directly comparing our young players with the other young players around the world. The fact of the matter is that our best young players are what we have, and we must have more faith in them.
While there might be 50 or 100 Alex Marshalls in Brazil or Argentina, or even in Mexico, it does not change the fact that Alex Marshall is our best young player. We don't have 50 or 100 like they do in Brazil or Argentina or Mexico.
We have one or two. So instead of comparing Marshall - and others like him who have popped up on the schoolboy football production line over the years, with other players across the world - we must also, in principle, do what the other countries of the world are doing: develop and work with the best young talent they produce and get more of them transitioning to the next level, even as we continue to seek the reinforcements we need from England and elsewhere.
The problem, as initially pointed out to my colleague, remains that we continue to slam the door shut on our best young Jamaican players - and that is fundamentally WRONG.