Western Grandstand - Schoolboy football good, but not enough
While I have not been to many schoolboy football games this season, thanks to the power of television, I believe I have seen enough games in the daCosta Cup, Manning Cup and the FLOW Super Cup to have a proper appreciation of the state of youth football in Jamaica.
While parochial loyalty continues to drive interest in terms of spectator support, the quality of the football is nothing to write home about. Unlike some of my media colleagues, I am not overly impressed with what I have been seeing, especially from a tactical standpoint.
When one looks at the exceptional skills of some of the youngsters playing professionally in the English, Brazilian and Spanish leagues, while they are basically the same age as our schoolboy footballers, they are miles ahead in overall ability and understanding of the game.
While one would readily admit that, before the post 1998 invasion of the England born and bred imported Reggae Boyz, schoolboy football was the nation's premier nursery for national football, based on the absence of genuine football stars in this era that is no longer the situation.
It should be noted that, in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, we regularly produced players of the class of Allan Cole, Corcel Blair, Noel 'Sweetie' Smith, Noel Rhudd, Lenworth Hyde and Errol Blake - players who were able to walk straight out of high school into the national senior teams. Our current crop of schoolboys can hardly get into a Red Stripe Premier League team, despite the substandard nature of that competition
While I would not hesitate to commend the Inter-Secondary School Sports Association (ISSA) for the very important role it is playing in youth football development, especially since the Jamaica Football Federation has been like a missing member of parliament when it comes to doing justice to the game at this level, what ISSA is doing is just not enough if we are serious about laying a proper foundation.
Unlike their counterparts in other parts of the world, our schoolboy footballers only play serious football for three months out of the year, while their counterparts in Europe and South America, especially the youngsters aligned to youth academies, play all year round, which significantly boosts their overall development.
In the case of our young footballers, the few who are able to get into RSPL outfit are usually so ordinary that they are rarely able to command a place on the team. To me, this is an indictment on the quality of schoolboy football since the quality of play in the RSPL is probably no higher than the average business house football league, which is primarily for recreation.
Considering the limited value that comes out of schoolboy football in terms of producing young players capable of attracting international attention, I believe the time has come for us to divert some of the vast sums being pumped into schoolboy football into the creation of specialized academies, which I believe we create greater scope for the development of our young footballers.
When I see what Jamaican born players like Raheem Sterling and Leon Bailey have managed to achieve in Europe because of high quality developmental programmes they have been exposed to, I believe if we had similar facilities to transform raw talent into sparkling gems here in Jamaica, the result would be the same.
So, unlike those fans of schoolboy football who are satisfied with just seeing their schools winning titles, I would like to see Jamaica producing world class footballers on par with our track and field athletes, who continue to conquer the world with mind-blowing achievements.