Those old enough to remember can still readily recall the national jubilation after Jamaica secured that 0-0 draw with Mexico – we had qualified for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. A national holiday was declared, promises of land were made (a story for another day), and as a country we were inspired to “rise up”. If only the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and the country by extension had fully embraced that mantra, maybe we wouldn’t be looking on some 22 years later with that still being our only appearance at the big dance.
876Stream recently conducted a live interview with Europe-based talisman Leon Bailey where he expressed how badly he wanted to experience a World Cup while representing Jamaica. While those sentiments were good in and of themselves, they prompted the thought of what that process actually entails. The most obvious answer is to put together a competitive squad and garner enough points during the qualification rounds, but a deeper dive will reveal something more. It’s all about development.
At France ’98, Japan and Croatia also made their debut. Since then, the two teams have only missed the WC once between them, with Croatia even making the finals in the most recent staging. Jamaica can and should be experiencing similar levels of success, but for that to happen serious investments have to be made to infrastructure, the development of coaches, and obviously the development of the players.
There must be more to the disparity in achievements of the three countries since ’98 other than just talent, because it can easily be argued that we are not lacking in that area. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that mandates put forward by the respective federations were instrumental to the feats achieved.
Creating a national football academy, for instance, is something that has been touted for years. The initiative was even given life (or so we thought) in 2010 when then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter graced our shores for the opening of the Goal I project. This in essence was intended to be the genesis of said academy.
The premises consisted of a one-storey building with player’s dressing rooms, an equipment storage room etc., as well as a football field. The now-deceased JFF president Captain Horace Burrell expressed, “The creation of these world-class facilities will help our young players to nurture their technical skills”, but years on his words are yet to be realized.
There is still no cohort of young student-athletes being housed and educated in football and other subject areas, and for those already at the senior level there is no inclination that they’re consistently utilizing the facilities either. It has been reported that since the inception of the project, over US$ 2 million has been invested, but what exactly has that money been used for? Maybe an audit into the project is required.
Furthermore, what about investing in the certification of local coaches across all age groups? And if it is being done, how much and how often? It was reported last September that 19 coaches attained the highest certification offered regionally – CONCACAF B Licence, but how many of these coaches are actually involved with players at the grassroots level to ensure that they have the right foundation to build on? And are 19 coaches enough to brag about?
Now this is not to discredit the efforts currently being put forward by local coaches and institutions. Our beloved schoolboy football, for instance, churns out talented players year after year that show hope of making the transition to senior level football. Then there’s the likes of Phoenix Academy which was instrumental to the emergence of the aforementioned Bailey. And to look beyond the true “academy” mold, the St Ann-based Mount Pleasant Academy has successfully managed to develop the model that the JFF tried to implement over a decade ago.
Another point worth mentioning is that our local leagues are filled with players who can only turn up for training after they’ve punched the clock at their “9-5”. Until we are able to transition more of those players to full-time football professionals (and not just rely on foreign-born invitees), it is safe to say we will never be consistent World Cup participants.
Understandably, development isn’t achieved overnight. That being said, for us to avoid another 20 years in the World Cup wilderness, the organization that governs it all will have to take greater steps to achieve it, and implement changes sooner rather than later.