Author Topic: Sweeping thoughts on Jamaica's national football programme  (Read 741 times)

Offline David

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Sweeping thoughts on Jamaica's national football programme
« on: June 16, 2007, 10:30:46 AM »
November 2004. Jamaica's Senior Men's Reggae Boyz team needed to win the last match against the USA to qualify for the final round of CONCACAF FIFA World Cup Qualification. January 2006... Jamaica's National Under-20 Women's team placed fourth, missing qualification to the World Cup by one place (three teams qualify).

November 2006. Jamaica's Senior Women's team came fourth in World Cup Qualifiers, missing qualification again by one (one half) place. The team nevertheless qualified as the first Jamaican female team for the Pan Am Games.
(February 2007... Jamaica's National Under-20 team although reaching the last stage of qualifiers were not really in contention).
May 2007. Jamaica's National Under-17 team needed to win their last game against Trinidad & Tobago to qualify for the Under-17 World Cup.

Disappointing results in World Cup qualification bids by the national teams have created much discussion and focus on the national football programme.
Listening to the extensive and engaging discussions, some fundamental issues relating to the development of the sport have come into focus.

1 The depth and quality of local coaching skills.
2 The best way to maximise the benefits from available foreign technical, highly experienced expertise, through a transfer of knowledge to local coaching staff. Should the technical director take over the direction of all national teams (even at crucial points) or should he coach and teach?
3 Lack of organisation in our style of play on the field.
4 Issues of infrastructure.

5 The extent of continuity in our programmes that can allow for the progressive movement of players to different national units.
6 And the best way to build a competitive national senior team from Jamaican local talent and Jamaican overseas based talent.
I know I run the risk of unpopularity when I raise the question as to whether all is lost as a result of disappointments in qualification. This question does nothing to belie the fact that World Cup qualification at all levels is the ultimate dream and objective of football fans and football administrations in their respective countries. Nothing should compromise this objective. It is definitely a major objective of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF).

This dream and goal, as well as the love of the game, is what drives the interest and support.
In any endeavour, we must always aim for the highest level and we should inculcate this at all levels of society. It is also precisely because qualification brings so much to a country why we have a duty to always strive for it. It is equally important to understand why we may not have achieved it when this happens.

So as we strive for this ultimate goal, it remains important to assess whether all is lost when we do not achieve that goal and is there satisfaction still to be gained? We can use the experiences of current and recent national units to review this and the related issues identified above.

As the country gears up with high expectations for 2010, discussions regarding the senior team's preparation for World Cup Qualifiers due to start next year has taken centre stage.
Current technical director, Bora Milutinovic, has opted at this stage of his assignment of preparing our senior team for qualification for 2010, to view and expose as much of the available local talent as possible. He has also been pretty consistent in his stated aim of seeing if the players learn and improve under his direction, especially if they are exposed to playing more experienced teams. The local players, he insists, must be given a fair chance.

He is not only looking at players, he is looking at our conditions of play, he is working with and observing the quality of our coaches, and he is also looking at the quality of life of our players. In the end he will not only compose the best team as he sees fit, but he will also be able to fulfill the second mandate given to him by the Federation, that is, to recommend a structured system for the development of a "Jamaican style of football".

A recent overseas based player in a meeting with the technical director regarding his 'exclusion' from a squad preparing for the recent friendly international, was quickly convinced when the technical director pointed out that he wanted to use the early months to see and expose local talent. Why was the player so easily convinced? He recalled humbly that when he was a local based player, he also wanted to be noticed and to be given the opportunity. The end result? He got the opportunity and as of 2005 he practises his craft in the UK.

In commenting on the current debate regarding the composition of the team, a respected journalist expressed it well recently. Our overseas based players represent money in the bank already, investment. What is being done by the technical director is to create more funds for the account. When it is time to withdraw funds, there will be a number of options. Any sensible investor would prefer this. Excellently put Mr Palmer.

The technical director has been even clearer. "Nobody is eliminated. All players of Jamaica have a chance," he further said. "The overseas players must play well at their clubs and the local based players must play how we are training."
On the other hand, some say, "no disrespect to the local ballers", but the technical director must comprise his team immediately from the overseas based players who are the most experienced and will likely make up the brunt of our 2010 qualifying team.

But I ask, if in fact a strategy can be devised that offers opportunities to our local based players, including the opportunity to be part of the qualifying squad, whilst including the most internationally experienced, then surely the main question must be the timing of the transition and not whether we should do all to expose and develop our local talent. But this development must be genuine and must be a fair chance. It must not patronise our local talent.

It does raise the question as to why we invest so much in any sport? Maybe we should add that to the discussion. In the interim, I submit, it's about opportunity, opportunity and more opportunity. Our best must be allowed to use their talent to grow just like any other professionals.
It is about development, it is about entertainment and it is about achievement.

The technical director's comments after the game against Chile are further food for thought. "I hope we understand the difference between winning a game and being winners. We must prepare the team to be winners," he said, suggesting we need to approach our preparation in a way that it is sustainable and long-lasting.
He further said there were weaknesses, but the team executed well what he had been teaching and emphasising at this stage.

As someone who has to interchange with sponsors who invest in the programme, I know that their interest is product and company exposure, but more and more it is also about giving opportunities to our talented sport individuals. How can we underestimate what must be rich experience that these players are getting when they have extensive periods in camp with such a successful coach. This must be good. This must be encouraged.

The results of the administration's conscious policy to develop women's football is yet another example. Here we have two national female teams, who came within a whisper of World Cup qualification. I am confident that their time will soon come. But much has been gained. The gaining of scholarships by eight players has been well applauded. Even more, we have also heard of the impact they have been having on their college football programmes, even to the extent that Jamaica had problems having some of them released for national duties.

They are no doubt learning a lot, developing the requisite discipline, which must rebound to the national programme. What are the positive repercussions to these players individually, collectively and to their families, etc?
The respect for local female footballers has also been raised significantly. What this does to other talented female footballers who must now be encouraged to work hard with a hope that their talent can take them to the World Cup.

The disappointing end to the National Under-17s' bid for World Cup qualification has probably been the most disappointing and the most discussed. But alas, youth football at the national level has certainly gotten focus and attention. The Federation has been on record as saying that millions were spent in the preparation of this particular team as the preparation process started as far back as 2005.

Is this money well spent despite our lack of qualification? Relevant question. One would have to think that if the Federation ensures that its programmes allow for the retention of the best of this squad into the Under-20, the Under-23s and the senior programme, money would have been well spent. The extensive and costly methods of preparation must have instilled certain disciplines critical to success at any level, given other important elements are present.

All the above indicates a conscious direction of developing local, young talent going back to the start of 2005. It has not been smooth, and the ultimate dream has not been achieved. However, there have been important developments. Maybe we, as a society, should be more committed to a total programme and not only the end result. just maybe.

Let the discussions continue and may the best of the ideas and the strategies suggested be absorbed. But let's not be too narrowly focused. Our resources cannot allow for that and the vast amount of undeveloped but rich, hungry deserving talent may not forgive us.