A look into the qualification of Jamaica's U17 football team to the World Cup in Mexico by Reggae Boyz columnist and sports reporter Simon Preston
So what now? Does the work stop? Does the squad to Mexico need any tinkering? Do we get a foreign coach to go with/without WD40?
Yes, I know! It's a a bit too early to start the bickering, the tinkering and the changing of the guards. But let's take a retrospective view at our youths at previous World Cups.
We were there in 1999 at the U17 World Cup with the following players: GK Keith Wilson, DF Sheldon Battiste, DF Alex Thomas, DF Keveral Stewart, DF Shane Stevens, DF Loren Sailsman, MF Sean Fraser, MF Keith Kelly, FW Reinaldo Stewart, FW Anthony Bennett, MF Eshaya Bryan, FW Craig Gordon, GK Allien Whitthaker, DF Kingsley Brown, FW Dwayne Richards, DF Kevin King, MF Dane Chambers, MF Deshaun Woolery.
Then in 2001 we made it to the U20 World Cup. Sheldon Battiste, Alex Thomas, Shane Stevens, Sean Fraser, Keith Kelly, Craig Gordon and Allien Whittaker made the upward jump from the 1999 U17 squad into that 2001 U20 squad.
Despite the euphoria in1999 and 2001 on reaching those youth World Cups, that was essentially all we achieved at those two events and basically not much more. We won nothing save for a stellar performance from Keith Kelly and a wonderful goal from Fabian Dawkins.
As we move now to learn from that history, we have to cut short the celebration and let the work begin. The Captain must now solicit the corporate dollars to help continue the aggressive training stints in suitable locations overseas.
Realistically, not everyone who made the qualifying squad will likely make the squad to the land of the Aztecs. Adjustments will be needed to give us the best squad possible. Raheem Sterling! I don't care who comes in as long he is an upgrade at the position. Yet, somehow I believe that if we look more closely islandwide we will find one, two or even three very good players who we happened to have passed over for the present squad. The JFF must now send scouts looking to find those youngsters who can compete and beat out those presently occupying spots on the squad.
So what do we do with coach Wendell “WD40” Downswell? In a cyber conversation last with Paul Banta (a soccer coach and president of GSM international) he opined that there is no coach in Jamaica with "..international background and coach education at any great level." Paul was refering to an assistant for coach Tappa but we can use the same parralels in regards to WD40. To make a success at these events (World Cups etc.), Paul suggested that "the JFF need to consider an older adviser and not a Jamaican to come along..." and help the local coach.
Congratulations are in order for Wendell Downswell. He has done a creditable job getting the young ReggaeBoyz into Azteca Land but are we to assume that this coach has what it takes to prepare the team to go further into the tournament? The JFF will have to make a decision on whether or not to put the hopes of the nation upon the shoulders of the Reno legend, to give him outside help, or to replace him completely with "a wise mature educated tatictian" from outside the shores of Jamaica.
The success of the team will play a big part in the upward mobility of some of the players. So, let's not take the coaching dilemma lightly. From those two youth squads back in 1999 and 2001, not many of the players have been able to get any pro contracts. The ultra gifted Keith Kelly found his way in the PSG camp but was unable to maintain a squad spot after a year or two. Shavar Thomas (following college years) has made a life for himself in the MLS. So too has Khari Stephenson who has gone from the MLS to Scandinavia and now back in the MLS. Kevon Harris, Sean Fraser and Fabian Dawkins made some earnings for a few years in the lower U.S. Leagues. The unsinkable Omar Daley has gone from the lower leagues in the USA to life in the English second-division at Bradford City.
Alex Thomas, Sheldon Battiste, Shane Stevens, Craig Gordon, Allien Whittaker, Fabian Blake, Kevin King and Deshaun Woolery found complacency in the Jamaican Digicel Premier League. Dwayne Richards (with all the skill in the world), has disappeared into obscurity.
For Jamaica to make a positive impact at the Mexico youth World Cup, and for there to be a positive spinoff for the players, it is imperative that those people preparing the team for Mexico have the requisite skill and educational level. It's a feel-good situation to be at the World Cup but that's not all we should strive for. We need to go there to make a serious run, learn from our mistakes, observe how the winners do it and make ourselves into a real football nation.
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