Western Grandstand - Batting for MBUFC to drive youth development
While on a recent visit to Chile, I had the chance of seeing the under-12 boys and girls at the Colo-Colo Youth Football Academy in a practice session, and in less than 15 minutes, I realised why the South American country was so highly rated in a region that includes established football powers such as Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.
The first thing that caught my eyes was the playing surface on which the youngsters were being taken through the various drills - it was lush, green, and extremely smooth. The second thing that impressed me was the organised manner in which the youngsters were being taken through their paces - silky smooth drills, no shouting, and very little gesticulation.
Right off the bat, one got the impression that the players and the coaches were insync. In addition to being uniform in terms of identically coloured bibs, jerseys, shorts, and socks, it was like watching a session in synchronised swimming. It was easy to understand why football is referred to as the beautiful game.
HORRIBLE PLAYING FIELDS
As I watched the youngsters working on unlocking their hidden potential in conditions that were clearly ideal for their long-term development, I could not help but reflect on the situation back home in Jamaica: horrible playing fields, chaotic training sessions, unprepared coaches, little or no equipment, and most troubling, no clear direction.
While I will always have full respect for coach RenÈ Simoes, who guided Jamaica's Reggae Boyz to the 1998 World Cup, based on our situation in Jamaica in comparison to what is being done in countries where football is treated seriously, I believe our success in qualifying for the big show in France with a homegrown team involved a great deal of luck.
Now, in looking forward and again entertaining thoughts of making it to another World Cup tournament, it is quite clear to me that based on its lacklustre approach to putting in place the requisite plans and programme to drive development at the youth level, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) is not the vehicle to take us there.
It is against that background that I would like to see a club like Montego Bay United Football Club (MBUFC), with its high-quality infrastructure and vision for development, take on a Colo-Colo style in Jamaica to drive youth development possibly through the creation of a youth academy at its Wespow facility.
While setting up a proper youth academy would no doubt be a costly venture, as coach Craig Butler has shown with his sons, Leon Bailey and Kyle Butler, MBUFC boss Orville Powell should choose to go a similar route in terms of creating the right environment and put in the requisite network. He, too, could be creating gems out of the raw material that exists in western Jamaica.
It is clear that Butler has invested a great deal of money in the development of Leon and Kyle, but from all indications, he is now poised to recoup on that investment as both youngsters are poised to break into top-flight club football on the global stage, especially Leon, who is now being chased by clubs such as Manchester United and Manchester City.
INTERNATIONAL MARKET READY
When I look at some of the exciting young talent coming out of schools like Cornwall College, with the infrastructure at MBUFC, and one or two good coaches around to guide them to the next level, I believe gifted youngsters like Peter Lee Vassell and Jourdaine Fletcher could well be made ready for the international club market in two to three years.
While I feel happy and proud as a western Jamaica football fan that MBUFC has been the dominant team in the Red Stripe Premier League over the last four seasons, I still believe that based on the level of investment he has thrown into the club, Powell should now be looking beyond just RSPL titles. He needs to start looking at developing good young players that could be sold to top clubs across the world.
With his great love for football and unquestionable desire to see the game in Jamaica going places, a top-class youth academy could be one way in which he could make his mark without getting into a tug-o-war with the visionless JFF. In fact, this is one way he could create a legacy for himself in Jamaica's football. I hope it is a challenge he will consider.