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A THORNY ISSUE: A question of structure

Andi Thornhill

A THORNY ISSUE: A question of structure

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When I heard that Colin “Potato” Forde had resigned as national football coach, Queen’s monster hit, Another One Bites The Dust, came to mind.

I wasn’t gloating. That wouldn’t have been fair because others with much better stock to choose from, reached that point or were pushed when results fell way short of expectations.

The truth is, from my perspective, it has never been much about the ability and quality of the players we have produced. We have always had players to match our stronger Caribbean counterparts but structural organisation has kept them ahead.

If we restrict our discussion from the era when we became members of the FIFA family (1972) to now, players like Jerry Goddard, Elson Seale, Seymour Alleyne, Keith Griffith, Ricardo “Cracker” Goddard, Anthony “Daisley” Clarke, Adrian Hall, Philip Blaggrove, Charles Williams, Norman Forde, and of course the late incomparable Victor “Gas” Clarke, would all be starters or strong challengers for places in other regional teams for sure.

Given the opportunity, they may have excelled way beyond our expectations because my sample and others all had the potential to be world class. Don’t forget, Gregory “Lalu” Goodridge became the first homegrown baller to play in the English Premier League, representing Queens Park Rangers in the mid-90s.

Seale booted up for the Portland Timbers in the North American Soccer League in the mid-70s, an era that lured ageing greats like Pele, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer to help build the sport’s profile like David Beckham did for Major League Soccer.

Why then have we never been more than pretenders and not true contenders for bigger prizes and why have we only remained on the periphery, just to gaze at the promised land but never to enter?

It’s never been about talent, it’s been about structure and a common vision that could take us to the level we think we should be at.

Local football still has a heartbeat, a pulse and a passion that keeps it alive and kicking but is that all you want to achieve after being an organised sport for more than 100 years?

The answer to my rhetorical question is obviously “no”, so what should we do to capitalise on the wealth of natural talent we see on the island everyday?

The point I want to make is that all of the coaches and technical directors all had great intentions but never truly had the solid base to turn dreams into reality. They all lacked a strong, support system.

Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago didn’t reach the World Cup by chance and neither will we if we have similar ambitions.

It’s true that money talks but I have always felt that a philosophy and a vision to help chart your road map must be at the core of your deliberations.

Access to finance will then become an integral partner in what you set out to build. What good is money if you don’t identify which areas of the model you need to prioritise?

This brings us to what the current administration is trying to do. I think they are on the right course so far. Hiring staff  in extremely important areas to effectively manage the daily operations of the association was paramount in keeping with FIFA mandates and we are seeing better performance from the secretariat, public relations and marketing.

Lack of proper management can undermine all aspects of any organisation’s goals to prosper because it impacts from top to bottom. The absence of such stability won’t even spare the aspect of coaching national teams because everything falls under one umbrella.

The initiative to have coaches certified is another plus because they are the ones who have the greatest contact with players especially from the grassroots and school levels which can influence an entire career.

These are the players who will at some stage find themselves in national programmes and what good would it be if coaches have to spend more time then redeeming rather than reinforcing basic principles and focusing on strategy?

This then is where the structural reform has to begin. The Graham Adams model was along these lines and the results were phenomenal. The level of success spilled over several years after but it had its limits through no fault of Adams or any other coach. Nothing has ever been in place to engineer that leap forward.

Alas, some outstanding individuals emerged but Team Barbados never went beyond promise while others we were comparable to galloped away and left us in their wake. The 2000 team under the guidance of Horace “Tobacco” Beckles broke tradition because that World Cup effort was driven more by passion than a  strategic plan and we haven’t come close to those heady heights since no matter who was in charge.

There was no blueprint and success can’t be replicated by guess apart from the odd moment of inspiration.

It won’t get any better, either, if we go lengthy periods without playing a minimum of five internationals a year outside of competition. All of our teams go into tournaments without adequate preparation and the results might be a direct result of this. Nonetheless, coaches become scapegoats and fall guys.

Forde was heard lamenting that fitness was an issue for the team in the Caribbean Football Union qualifiers in Haiti.

The die was cast and he turned out to be the latest victim of circumstance.

The question will continue to be “who’s next” unless we get to the heart of fixing football’s structural problems.

Andi Thornhill is an experienced,award-winning sports journalist. Email: [email protected]