A voice from the Diaspora: Who whispers?
Dujuan "Whisper" Richards

While the Greatest Show on Earth dribbles into the knockout stages in Qatar, Jamaican high school footballers are playing out their own tournament on home soil.

Rising like a phoenix above his peers is 17-year-old Kingston College student, Dujuan ‘Whisper’ Richards. He is the talk of Jamaica’s footballing town and country.

Blessed with strength, speed and a lethal left foot, Richards has been scoring at will as a schoolboy and has gone viral on social media. He has Jamaicans at home and abroad left with mouths agape. Whisper appears to be Jamaica’s next golden boy of football.

However, that all depends on Richards and the rest of us.

For the last four decades there have been Whispers of one kind or the other. Every season, the Inter Secondary School Association’s (ISSA) urban area Manning Cup, rural area dacosta Cup and the all-island Champions Cup competitions display what Jamaicans believe to be world beating talent.

We get all worked up but, as soon as the season is over, most of us will forget that Richards ever whispered. He is not the first and, if we don’t break the trend, he won’t be the last.

What Richards possesses is raw talent. Talent that needs to be honed and directed into the right channels. He is showing great promise but who is his competition? How will he fare when he goes up against his overseas peers who are disciplined and have been taught the game from an early age?

We should all applaud him loudly for what he is doing in the Manning Cup but the stark reality is that Whisper is far from what he needs to be. One would hope that those adults close to the young man will make every effort to ensure he does not fall through the cracks if and when he is presented with an offer to play football, and that he is mentally prepared to open his mind and begin the true learning process required to become a respected professional footballer.

Many have shown promise at the youth level in Jamaica and failed to fulfill. We cannot afford to let Richards follow that sordid path. At age 17 he should have already been prepared to matriculate to a professional football club or to play on the college circuit abroad while pursuing his studies.

Sadly, Jamaica has no youth development programme. Football players the same age as Richards in other countries are well versed in the fundamentals of the sport as they have been drilled since they were toddlers. What have we done to build upon the talent of our young footballers who can be found in every nook and cranny of the island?

Football is big business and Jamaicans can earn a decent living playing in the US Major League Soccer or the more vaunted leagues of Europe. If we can produce world beaters in athletics through our Boys’ and Girls’ Championships, which is fed by the school system, why can’t we repeat it in football?

It can and must be done. Football has saved many poor youngsters in many African, South and Central American countries and Jamaica, with a little will from those who administrate and control the purse strings, can do something for our footballers also.

Our players may not all make it to the big spending teams in Europe but football is an avenue for many of Jamaica’s youth to make a decent living.

America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) and the lower divisions are prime examples. Some players who now ply their trade and earn big bucks on the European circuit were poached from MLS. Jamaican football players are currently contracted to MLS clubs.

Police statistics clearly indicate that, during the World Cup in Qatar, murder figures have dipped. Communities that were previously at war with each other have united around the triumph of a foreign team whose style of play tickles their fancy.

Chief among those areas are the Federal Gardens, Trench Town and Wilton Gardens (Rema) communities nestled on the fringes of Collie Smith Drive in West Kingston. Guns bellowed loudly a few months ago as rival gangs locked horns. But surprisingly residents of those communities were seen on social media mingling freely and reveling in Brazil’s win over Switzerland. No guns were fired and it was bliss in the volatile region for those moments.

We are all watching this most exciting and unpredictable World Cup. Superb ball skills, mental chess games between coaches, megastars and reggae has been on hand. Jamaicans and those of Jamaican heritage have been featured in the opening rounds. It has been an exciting tournament so far.

The downside of this World Cup from a Jamaican perspective would be the absence of our own Reggae Boyz.

We were debutants in 1998. So too were Japan and Croatia. Now 24 years later we sit on our couches watching Japan (a country which lost to us by a 2-1 deficit in 1998) defeat powerhouse Germany in their opening matchup and Croatia emerging into a world power.

Japan and Croatia have managed to grow their football in the last two decades but at home we have only managed to slide down a bumpy footballing hillside on our backsides wondering where did we go wrong? ‘

Jamaica went wrong by not taking the advice of the Brazilian coach who managed to give us pride by qualifying the Jamaican national team to the 1998 World Cup in France, Rene Simoes.

Before leaving, Simoes urged us to invest in our youth.

Has Jamaica heeded his call?

Let’s invest in Whisper and all the other youngsters who show promise. It can only bode well.

Karyl Walker is a veteran journalist who served as the Jamaica Observer's Crime/Court and Online News Editor. He now resides in Florida, USA.

KARYL WALKER

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