-Western Grandstand- Don’t force ripe our young footballers


November 28, 2015

Though it is quite true that the local schoolboy football circuit occasionally churns out a young player with the capacity to walk straight into Jamaica's senior football team, we need to recognise that it is an odd occurrence, reserved for the exceptionally gifted.

While it is easy to get carried away when one sees a talented youngster outmanoeuvring his considerably less-gifted peers in the Manning Cup and daCosta Cup competitions, conventional wisdom dictates that one should not expect this young player to readily match up with older, more experienced and technically better players.

Although it might be true that players like former top-flight Kingston College defender Douglas Bell and the Clarendon College pair of Lenworth 'Teacher' Hyde and Dennis 'Den Den' Hutchinson were good enough to walk into the national team and hold their own as schoolboys back in the late 1970s, there were many others who were offered similar opportunities but failed to measure up and simply faded away, never to return.

Personally, I don't believe our football system is structured to encourage the early transition of players from the junior to the senior ranks as while the standard of the Red Stripe NPL is really nothing to write home about, it is still a step or two higher than what is taking place at the schoolboy level, even in the teams dominated by players over 18 years old.

Unlike the persons who would be quite happy to see the better schoolboy players rushed into the national team, my preferred option would be to have them first compete and prove themselves against the top defenders, midfielders and forwards in the Red Stripe NPL level before considering them for national senior selection.

I know that there are persons who will argue that if a country with such rich football pedigree as Brazil was willing to give the legendary Pele a chance to play at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden at the tender age of 17, Jamaica has nothing to lose by exposing our youngsters.

I have seen many local schoolboy footballers basically falling to pieces after being exposed at the highest level of the game in former years. In fact, in the period I am speaking of, the daCosta Cup and Manning Cup players were far more talented than the players of today.

Just recently, while watching the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, it quickly became evident to me that our youth footballers in Jamaica are several notches below countries like Nigeria and Ghana in technical skill, decision making and pace. It therefore goes without saying that our youngsters need much more work to become world class.

So, instead of trying to rush our youngsters into the national senior football, we would be better served to try and get them ready at the highest level nationally.

I believe it should be mandatory that every Red Stripe NPL team field at least two under-18 players in every game. That would mean that we will have at least 24 youngsters playing in the best league in the island every week.

It should be noted that after the recent 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, the professional agents, coaches and scouts, who came to the tournament on a recruitment drive, said they were 'shocked and disappointed' with the less-than-desirable quality of the Jamaican players.

We should also remember that even our own national head coach, Winfried Sch%0fer, declared after the same tournament that "none of the young Reggae Boyz on show at the CONCACAF Championship are ready to step up to the next level." It therefore means our youth football is not at the high level some persons are claiming it is.

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