A case of patriotism without optimism
While I have heard many kind words being said about the performance of Jamaica's Reggae Boyz in their opening Copa AmErica Centenario game against Venezuela, based on my observations, I believe the team's showing was woefully out of sorts in terms of preparation and readiness.
While the Venezuelans looked organised, focused, and cohesive, the Reggae Boyz seemed somewhat disjointed, and while it was clear that the players were trying their best, it was also quite obvious that the requisite team chemistry was missing, hence the spate of bad passing and other mistakes.
As I have stated previously in this column, something is drastically wrong with the current situation, where we have the coach and assistant coach living in Jamaica and 99 per cent of the players on the team are based in the United States and the United Kingdom, only to be seen days before each game. For me, the big question is, when do the coaching, mentoring, and tactical preparation take place?
Frankly speaking, I can't blame coach Winfried Schaefer for this badly warped situation since he basically has no choice but to work with the tools provided by his employers, the inept Jamaica Football Federation (JFF). If he is given only one ball to work with, I guess his job is to do the best he can with one ball.
The truth is, the JFF is making a mockery of modern football as while most countries are trying to establish high-quality domestic leagues to produce good home-grown talent, our league is so inadequate that we really have no players of substance, hence the influx of England-born players, who are no more Jamaican than their parents are English.
When I look at the number of home-grown track athletes, cricketers, and netballers who are making impressive marks on the global stage, it tells me that with proper organisation and programmes, we have the capacity to do well. So, our failing in football must be blamed on the JFF's lacklustre approach to development.
While one can see a structured path in netball, athletics and cricket spanning, primary school, high school, and clubs across the island, our football is good at the primary and high school levels but becomes a total disaster at the club level, where our premier competition is centred around Kingston to the detriment of most rural parishes.
Unlike the local fans and parish associations are seemingly in awe of that JFF, especially its boss Captain Horace Burrell, I believe the time has come to revamp national football to include changing the leadership. I believe we have other competent persons who are capable of leading Jamaica's football, but for reasons, possibly to include sponsorship, the affiliates are seemingly afraid to entertain any such ideas.
In 1998 when we had Rene Simoes at the helm as national coach, the dynamics were quite different. We had gifted local-based players, who, in the majority, were employed in the hotel sector, and thanks to the efforts of persons like Burchell Henry, Robert Paul, and Hope Sterling of the Western Hotel Sports Association, they were able to get all the time-off (with full pay) required to train and travel with the national team.
Now, with no support system in terms of employment and a league that seems to be designed to make paupers out of the players, it is unlikely that we will be able to churn out players of the class of Warren Barrett, Durrant Brown, Theodore Whitmore, Linval Dixon, Walter Boyd, Ian Goodison, Stephen Malcolm, and Onandi Lowe, who were all established stars on the 1998 team.
While I still watch and cheer the current edition of the Reggae Boyz when they play, it is definitely not with the same kind of enthusiasm that I did back in the 1998 World Cup campaign. Back then, the players were persons I would see when I went to the supermarket or walked the streets of Montego Bay - not complete strangers. So while I am still patriotic, it is now patriotism without optimism.