Adrian Frater | Why waste time with Under-20 competitions?
Unlike Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) boss Michael Ricketts, I am not at all saddened by the fact that the 2018 Kingston and St Andrew Football Association (KSAFA) Under 20 football competition has been cancelled. In fact, I would be even happier if all such competitions were scrapped in all parishes.
In my opinion, given the relatively tame state of our elite club football competition, the Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL), any 20 year old player, who is not able to break into football at this level, is probably not worth investing in. In the countries with excellent football programmes, their Under-20 players are playing and excelling in top-flight club football.
Personally, I believe that once a youngster has graduated from schoolboy football at the Manning and daCosta Cup level, if he is really serious about pursuing a career in football, he should be heading straight for the RSPL, which is only slightly higher in standard than schoolboy football, instead of hanging back to play a competition that probably holds no more challenge that playing with his schoolboy peers.
In outlining the reason for his disappointment with the non-playing of the KSAFA Under-20 competition this year, Ricketts is contending that it will affect the JFF's ability to scout players for the Under-23 programme, which is expected to produce the players whom he hopes will help Jamaica qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games in two years.
Personally, I believe we should be looking to the RSPL competition to churn out players for the National Under-23 programme because that is the level where our best young players should be playing. If we should look at football at the global level, the vast majority of the superstars are players, who were playing top-flight club football in their teens.
Argentine legend Diego Maradona started playing professional football before he was sixteen. The Brazilian Pele represented his country at the 1958 World Cup, in Sweden, as a 17 year old; while other players like Samuel Eto'o, who won numerous African player of the year awards; and former Northern Ireland and Manchester United star, Norman Whiteside, were both campaigning at the World Cup just months after their 17th birthdays.
I strongly believe that having a talented teenage player playing in an Under-20 competition instead of the RSPL amounts to holding him back in terms of creating opportunities for his development. The way to get better as a player is to be consistently playing against better players, who will challenge and force you to improve. One just needs to look at how early exposure has done wonders for the youngsters campaigning at Cavalier SC.
Personally, I believe that one of the major factors hurting the development of our football here in Jamaica is our failure to recognise that competitions such as the various Under-20 parish competitions and other competitions like the Western Confederation Super Football League in western Jamaica, makes very little sense and basically amounts to just wasting money.
In my opinion, the monies being wasted at the Under-20 level could be better spent at the prep/primary school level. There, we should be creating the platform to identify the youngsters with good potential, which could be fine tuned so that when they reach the daCosta Cup and Manning Cup levels, they would have mastered the basics.
A young player, who is exposed to well-structured Under 13, Under 15, Under 17 and then Manning or daCosta cup football should not need an Under 20 competition as by that time he should be ready for senior football. While there might be an argument for late bloomers, a player who is not ready for RSPL football at 20 probably should settle for being a spectator.
So, instead of bemoaning the cancellation of an Under-20 competition, the JFF boss should be looking at mandating the RSPL teams to have a minimum of three Under-20 players on their starting team for every game. Instead of stifling the growth of our players with meaningless football, we should instead be pushing them to perform and excel at the highest level.