Western Grandstand : Our football needs youth academies
I am fully supportive of the drafting of gifted young players into our national senior football programme, however, I strongly believe that they should be called on merit and not merely in an attempt to reinvent the wheel.
While players at the club level have been failing miserably in terms of performing at a level suitable for national representation, we still should not fool ourselves into believing that the problem can be fixed by turning to the schoolboy circuit, where the talent pool might look encouraging but is no better.
Over the years, we have produced a few exceptionally gifted schoolboy players, who were able to walk into the national team and hold their own with a minimum of fuss. Names such as Allan 'Skill' Cole, Douglas 'Dougie' Bell and Lenworth 'Teacher' Hyde readily come to mind.
While a player like Jourdaine Fletcher, of the current era, is probably deserving of his recent call-up to the national team, I honestly don't believe we have more than another two or three schoolboys who could be seriously considered for senior team football.
In fact, when it comes to comparing today's schoolboy footballers to their counterparts of the past, those of the 1960s, '80s and '90s were far superior to what we have today. Any team today would be a complete mismatch to teams like the all-conquering 1965 Vere Technical daCosta Cup team, the 1975 Kingston College Manning Cup aggregation, and the potent 1977 Clarendon College daCosta Cup outfit.
Interestingly, it should be noted that in terms of potential and physical stature, there is very little difference between the players of the past and the current players. The difference comes in the area of ability to perform, which, I believe, was due to the fantastic coaches of former years who could readily transform diamonds in the rough to sparkling gems in three or four months.
A coach like Winston Chung Fah, who conditioned the 1997 Clarendon College team, was not just an astute tactician, but was also a master motivator. He was able to talk his players into believing that once they followed his instructions to the letter, no opponent could match them.
While it might be true that Chung Fah operated in an era when many young players operated like professional players, only showing up at school
during the football season, the truth is, the coaches were able to get the players to perform at an exceptional level when it came to functioning effectively as cohesive units on the field of play.
While I am not advocating a return to the days when many young footballers attended school solely to play football and ended up graduating as academic misfits, I believe that this old blueprint could be tweaked and transferred into an academy style, which could be focused primarily on football development.
If we could create two academies in each of our three counties and have our best coaches working with our best young talents and then have them competing against each other in a structure like the daCosta Cup and Manning Cup, I strongly believe that that would be the perfect platform to create a new generation of real stars.
While I am thankful for what schoolboy football has done for Jamaica's football, as a mere three-month season, it is definitely limited in scope in we want to see our youngsters stepping up to the next level in terms of quickly becoming better players. I believe if we go the
academy route, it would readily fix that problem.