JFF should LEARN from But­ler

Jamaica Gleaner - - TUESDAY SPORTS -

THE EMER­GENCE of young Ja­maican foot­baller Leon Bai­ley on the world stage and the en­su­ing con­tro­versy it has sparked in lo­cal foot­ball cir­cles is a clear in­dex of ex­actly what is wrong with Ja­maica’s foot­ball.

Bai­ley’s hap­haz­ard jour­ney was plot­ted and pi­loted by his ec­cen­tric guardian, men­tor and man­ager, Craig But­ler, who is cur­rently spar­ing no punches for the Ja­maica Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion (JFF), es­pe­cially as young Bai­ley con­tin­ues to grab the at­ten­tion of some of the big clubs in Europe.

But­ler’s ec­cen­tric­ity aside, his in­tent, his com­mit­ment, his be­lief and his con­vic­tion to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for his young play­ers have be­gun to bear fruit, with Bai­ley’s com­ing to age as a gen­uine star of the mod­ern game.

The tim­ing of the 19-year-old’s emer­gence is a slap in the face of the failed phi­los­o­phy by the JFF, for its peren­nial scouting of Eng­land-born play­ers to rep­re­sent the na­tional team, in­stead of a struc­tured plan of de­vel­op­ment of our young lo­cal-based player core.

Na­tional coaches and scouts never had Bai­ley. The seem­ingly in­her­ent prej­u­dice against lo­cal-born and bred play­ers prob­a­bly de­nied them the qual­i­ties that the top clubs in Europe are now go­ing af­ter.

The wide­spread my­opia in­fect­ing lo­cal foot­ball au­thor­i­ties may have con­trib­uted to block­ing the recog­ni­tion of Bai­ley’s sub­lime skills, his fright­en­ing pace, his pas­sion, de­sire and com­pet­i­tive­ness, qual­i­ties at­trib­uted to him by sev­eral scouts and man­agers across Europe, in­clud­ing for­mer Dutch in­ter­na­tional and one-time coach of Ajax Am­s­ter­dam, Frank De Boer.

Such scant re­gard is symp­to­matic of a wider short-sight­ed­ness, rooted in an in­her­ent lack of be­lief and lack of faith in the qual­ity of young Ja­maican play­ers. That same nar­row­ness of thought has evolved into a se­vere my­opia that has seen many tal­ented, young, Ja­maican play­ers dis­patched into ob­scu­rity over the years. The mis­guided and now dis­cred­ited ex­trem­ity of chas­ing count­less medi­ocre Eng­land-born and based play­ers with ques­tion­able com­mit­ment to Ja­maica has sti­fled the de­vel­op­ment and emer­gence of an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of Ja­maica-born play­ers. For­tu­nately, Bai­ley was res­cued from this cy­cle by the vi­sion of But­ler via his Phoenix Academy. Say what you want about But­ler, the fact of the mat­ter is that he dared to have a vi­sion and he dared to ven­ture out­side the box in pur­suit of that vi­sion. What he did was not rocket science or a rein­ven­tion of the wheel, it was a sim­ple and ba­sic fun­da­men­tal of sport; he in­vested his en­tire life in the un­earthing and de­vel­op­ment of young play­ers, pro­ceed­ing to de­velop strate­gic net­works and work­ing re­la­tion­ships with some Euro­pean clubs

If Bai­ley achieves any­thing near his highly touted po­ten­tial as a player, then But­ler would be bet­ter able to up­grade and in­ten­sify his op­er­a­tion. We should all wish him more suc­cess.

As dif­fi­cult as it must be, the lead­er­ship of the JFF should at least look at what But­ler is do­ing and hope­fully they will learn at least the most ba­sic of lessons: that foot­ball de­vel­op­ment is all about in­vest­ment in young play­ers.

A word to the wise is suf­fi­cient.

GLADSTONE TAY­LOR/ PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Pheonix Foot­ball Academy’s Craig But­ler

AP

Ja­maica’s Leon Bai­ley of Genk cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing dur­ing the Europa League group stage be­tween Genk and Sas­suolo at the Cristal Arena in Genk, Bel­gium, on Septem­ber 29.

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