'It's not enough'
A lack of preparation and international exposure were the all-too-familiar reasons posited by Head Coach Hopeton Gilchrist following his Jamaica Under-17 team's exit from the Concacaf Championship in Bradenton, Florida, last week — and thus the end of another World Cup cycle.
But he also revealed a more worrying factor that most coaches maybe afraid to admit — the failure of the players to learn, understand, and think the game of football.
“Yes we have talent, but we have what we call little brain in terms, of using our brain. When you look at other teams they do the simple things and everybody just know what to do,” Gilchrist told the Jamaica Observer.
“That's one of the things that let us down also. We had players on the pitch not using their brain as smartly as they could have. Some people just don't follow instructions to a T,” he added.
Jamaica have qualified only twice for the Under-17 World Cup in 1999 and 2011, and crashed out at the second-round stage during the Under-17 Concacaf Championship losing 1-2 to El Salvador.
Prior to that, the young Reggae Boyz lost their opening game 0-1 to Mexico, lost 2-3 to Caribbean neighbours Trinidad and Tobago before beating Bermuda 4-2 to advance to the next round, and coach Gilchrist explained what went wrong.
“Various factors. We lacked international experience and majority would have gained international exposure in that tournament. Some would have been travelling for the first time and, in the end, you would find that the youngsters were trying their best at some point, but it wasn't enough.
“We got a number of chances but our execution let us down, especially in the El Salvador game in which we should have won handsomely. If you realise, all the games that we lost it was with the odd goal,” he noted.
“In terms of preparation we had to work with what we had — not having international games like the other teams who were more prepared in that respect,” said Gilchrist.
He continued: “The next factor is we would have lost possibly about seven boys who would have been at the tournament due to CXC [examinations]. So that was one big factor.”
But according to the coach it was not all gloom and doom, as during the four games and he had high praises for his defensive unit, despite conceding eight goals in that time.
“It was good in some respects in terms of seeing some of the players really play their hearts out and really performed on a consistent basis, especially our defensive unit. They showed a lot of potential to really matriculate to the next level. That's a plus,” he pointed out.
Gilchrist, who is a football D Licence instructor, was coaching a national team for the first time and he has some recommendations.
“Nothing beats proper preparation, and you have to prepare in all processes, you have to have longer periods to prepare our youth teams. We need international games for better preparation, but all in all, we need longer periods to prepare so you can put in quality work.
“When you talk about just weekends in three months, it doesn't match up. When you count the hours you prepare for those weekends, it's not enough. We don't have enough resources in terms of funding, but we have to try to make it better, and all stakeholders need to put resources together.
“You don't have to have big sponsorships; we can have small sponsorships to take care of our camps. If we keep thinking we don't have the money then we going to get nowhere then, at the end, the coach gets all the blame.”
North America swept three of the four World Cup qualifying spots with Mexico, the United States of America and Canada. The Caribbean, courtesy of Haiti, grabbed the fourth spot and Gilchrist was not surprised.
“The Haitian team is one of the better Caribbean teams in terms of preparation. Haiti has been together for quite some time and as a matter of fact, they came in the tournament from Europe in a pre-tournament competition,” he noted.
“They are a much better prepared team than most Caribbean countries. It's not a surprise. I knew that they would have made it,” he emphasised.
“Jamaica thinks that it's a given for us to go and qualify for any competition that we play in, and they are not looking on what you have to work with — and that is the sad thing about our football,” reasoned Gilchrist.