Judging by the scores of the two games played so far by the Dominica team in its World Cup 2022 campaign, the players and coaching staff deserve some credit. The Dominican Republic and Panama are significantly higher ranked teams on FIFA’s list than Dominica. Both teams rely on professional players from top European and South American leagues. Dominica’s concession of only three goals in 180 minutes of play is a positive that can be derived from these fixtures.
However, we must be careful not to judge the team’s performance by the raw scores only, without considering the quality of play in both games. Dominica lacked the cohesion and coordination to indicate that the players have mastered the fundamentals of football. Over the two games we could count on one hand the times Dominica put together a sequence of at least five to six passes that could unsettle or cause any real concern to the opponents. Sadly, this pattern of ‘scrappy’ football has been displayed by our senior national team for way too long.
Before departing for the Dominican Republic, Coach Rajesh Latchoo called the team “the best team” he had coached since he took up his post four years ago. They are, therefore, the best players Dominica has to offer and their display must be seen as a clear reflection of the quality of football in Dominica. The commentator of the Panama game suggested that Dominica should not have made the trip expecting to advance to the next round of qualifying matches but should look on the games in the Dominican Republic as a learning experience. Was he aware that Dominica has been playing World Cup qualifying matches since the mid-90s, and has never moved past the first-round stage? Should we still be entering these competitions to gain experience?
In sports, it is easy for onlookers and supporters to identify scapegoats when they do not get the results they wish for. In football in particular, the effectiveness of the coaching staff usually comes under heavy scrutiny when performance falls short. When the Trinidadian, Latchoo, was hired as Head Coach, the Dominica Football Association (DFA) boss Glen Etienne boasted his experience and skills. His impressive credentials aside, the coach is neither a magician nor a miracle worker from the sidelines. Every coach is expected to have a particular system and philosophy he uses to develop his strategy and tactics. But for the coach to meet his objectives, he must have players who possess the technical and tactical abilities to effectively execute his game plan. The players on any senior national team are expected to be complete footballers. They should be close to, or fully developed footballers by the time they get to that level. It is therefore, unreasonable to expect a coach, at this stage, to be focused on the technical development of his players.
Most players representing Dominica’s senior national team are selected based on their performance over a series of local tournaments. Are we satisfied that the quality of our local competitions allow for the selection of players who are capable of performing at a higher level than what was on display in the Dominican Republic? If the local leagues are at best mediocre, we should not expect the players from the same leagues to perform creditably in international competitions. The reality is, the display of the senior national team in the Dominican Republic was just the end product of the overall state of football in Dominica.
The local football governing body, the DFA, now has to make an honest assessment of Dominica’s readiness for such tournaments. Are the expectations of the senior national team reasonable and realistic? Do we have a structure in place that is effective enough to yield the incremental improvements in local football that will make us more comparable with our peers within our confederation?
There are encouraging signs to suggest that the interest in the sport is on the rise. The crowds are returning and showing keen interest in the local games again. The game has become more decentralized over the past two decades, as many more teams from out districts are featuring in the competitions. A number of past players are also assisting in various juvenile academies across the island.
To capitalize on this, the DFA needs long-term strategic planning that considers infrastructural development, and the mental, physical and social development of our players.
The Association and the Government of Dominica should pool resources to construct and improve more playing fields across the country. The surfaces of existing and future playing fields need to be brought to acceptable playing standards and maintained regularly to allow for the free flow of the game.
Youth football is the key to future success. There should be greater investments in strengthening these programmes. Schools, academies and clubs can benefit from the provision of football equipment and gear to enhance physical training. Further, these programmes should focus on more than the physical and technical aspects of the game. Trained personnel should be on hand to assist with the psycho-social and personal development of young footballers to include knowledge of nutrition, exercise and health. The DFA must, therefore, initiate comprehensive training programs to ensure the academies, schools and clubs around the country are staffed with qualified coaches, administrators, and physical trainers to promote the holistic development of our young footballers.
We also need an overhaul of our approach to the sport as a nation. Sports, especially football, should be treated as an investment in our nation’s human resource base in hopes of greater benefits for the state in the long run. As a people, we must reject the culture of mediocrity and vanquish the reluctance to criticize for fear of being labelled ‘negative.’ In fact, the administrators of the game should welcome constructive criticism as they devise ways to develop the sport here.
The aggregate score from the 180 minutes of play in the Dominican Republic is nothing for Dominicans to be ashamed of. In fact, we should take some comfort in the fact that we did not make international sporting headlines for the wrong reasons, as is the case for some other nations playing in this round of qualifying matches. However, to achieve a turnaround in fortunes in future international tournaments, there is a need to revolutionize our approach by improving governance of the sport, increasing investments and rolling out new initiatives to improve player performance and increase competitiveness.
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