Starting afresh in WC Final Six phase
From the Sports Desk
HERE'S a Reggae Boyz trivia. Should the team qualify for the 2014 World Cup Finals and go to Brazil with the current squad, or with negligible changes in personnel, they would parade an outfit with an average age of 30 years.
The mean age of the 23-man squad which played against Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda (A&B) in the last two WCQ qualifiers was 28. In this milieu, this is considered much too old and would be a discredit to the young talent, as well as a flagrant disregard for the development of the nation's football.
But we are moving ahead of ourselves as firstly, coach Theodore Whitmore and the Jamaican team should be lauded for progressing to the CONCACAF Final Six phase after a hard-fought semi-final campaign.
This is the first time since the 2002 crusade that the country has advanced this far in qualifying. No praise is therefore too high for the players and technical staff for an efficient display when it mattered most, albeit 'at the death' and on a nerve-wracking final night pregnant with dread and anxiety.
As we look ahead to the crucial final stage, the lessons to be learnt from the preceding series are many and are an excellent theme for discussion. Atop the list is the role and treatment of the 12th man — a concept made popular by former technical director Rene Simoesm, which refers to overwhelming spectator support whenever the team plays at home.
However, years after the departure of the little Brazilian, it appears we have yet to unravel the psyche of the Jamaican fan that is fickle at best and must thus be treated with sensitivity if a jam-packed National Stadium is to be achieved.
This translates into selection transparency by the powers that be and honest performances by the players — though winning every match is not a precondition.
Rather, it means the Jamaican fan will support the team with his presence if there is a guarantee that the best 11, or close to it, will take the field. Dissatisfaction in this regard, coupled with the silence for which the technical staff is renowned, is a 'diss' and fans will find other means of spending their money in this harsh economic climate.
As obtained in the build-up to the 1998 World Cup when the Boyz played to a virtually empty stadium against El Salvador, this attitude was poignantly on display on Tuesday night. On this occasion, fans were upset with the manner of the defeat against Guatemala days earlier and moreso, with the plethora of missed opportunities.
Hopefully, those empty stands spoke loudly to the authorities; one hopes they listened.
The role of the 12th man has always been simple: turn out in numbers and colours and make a racket to stimulate that important psychological edge. Simultaneously, you'll succeed in intimidating the opponents. For, by now, Whitmore and company would have learnt that a simple way of booking a ticket to Rio is by winning all five home matches and fighting for the odd point or two on the road.
This brings one to the matter of team selection, of which the technical staff made a muddle in the recent series. The obvious question is why was midfield ace Jermaine Hue not given a look-in much earlier in the campaign?
This is most mystifying, especially since Whitmore conceded the team was lacking a genuine playmaker for some time. Based on his expert exhibition in the final two games, had Hue been introduced earlier, he may have spared us all this worry.
Again, it is hoped Whitmore recognises that the solution to the goal-scoring crisis does not reside within this squad. With the exception of Dane Richards and Omar Cummings, who, curiously, have both been used as substitutes, there is a glaring lack of quality up front. This is where a certain Marlon King and Darren Mattocks come into play.
Clearly, the technical staff saw things differently, but from my viewpoint, King's clinical finishing, along with Mattocks' flair and passion, are needed henceforth. Bearing in mind that goal difference was the team's bane until the last game, Jamaica has to concentrate on scoring plenty of goals and not leave their destiny suspended.
Further, with the inefficacy of midfielders Jermaine Taylor, Je-Vaughn Watson and Jason Morrison palpably emerging, Jermaine Johnson, Keammar Daley, Omar Daley and others of similar ilk must be summoned. Indeed, a perusal of Tuesday's shallow substitutes' bench was cause for alarm.
Finally, the coach has done an admirable job in bringing the Boyz to the brink of qualification. The final hurdle, however, will be the most daunting and comes in the form of the higher-ranked United States, Mexico, Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica.
For this imminent phase, and as local boss Captain Horace Burrell insists, the best 11 must be on the park at all times. This means petty issues and clash of personalities must be immediately dispensed with to facilitate a fresh, healthy start.
It's no shame to admit wrong; in fact, it takes a real man so to do. According to the Spanish proverb, 'A wise man changes his mind; a fool never will.' The national football programme needs such changes.