JFF Approach Leeds Utd Skipper For Talks

Author: Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rüdd

Kalvin Phillips, the Leeds-born midfielder who has just won promotion to the English Premier League (EPL), is on Jamaica’s wanted list to tackle the forthcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

The 24-year-old, who qualifies for Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz through his father, only signed his first professional deal in 2014 with his hometown club Leeds United and is now their skipper.

But the defensive midfielder is also on the radar of England and was watched by England manager Gareth Southgate in January about a potential international call-up. However, England has a reputation for enticing players to represent their country of birth rather than another nation only to hand them one or two appearances then dismiss interest.

  

The Jamaican Football Federation (JFF) have made contact with newly-promoted Leeds United to request permission to speak to Phillips about joining the Boyz for the 2022 Qatar campaign.

However, there is no immediate hurry as FIFA recently announced that the CONCACAF qualifiers for the World Cup finals have been restructured with all 36 teams in the region being given a shot at reaching Qatar.

The Boyz have been given a financial boost in their bid to reach these World Cup finals as the qualifiers have shifted from a Hexagonal event to an Octagonal competition. They now face 14 matches to reach 2022 Qatar, with half of those played on home soil, which should inject much-needed finances for the JFF courtesy of sponsorship deals and contracts for television rights.

As the Boyz are currently among CONCACAF’s top five ranked sides – at FIFA world no.48 behind Mexico (no.11), USA (no.22) and Costa Rica (no.46) but ahead of Honduras (no.62) – they will receive a bye directly to these coveted Octagonal qualifiers. The CONCACAF Octagonal Qualifying matches are scheduled to kick-off with four games for each team in next June’s double FIFA international match window followed by two matches in September, October and November 2021, followed by a further two games each in January and March 2022.

The decision by the JFF to start scouting for players will no doubt please Jamaica head coach Theodore Whitmore, who because of financial constraints by the JFF has been blooding players from across the island rather than relying on those plying their trade overseas.

Despite having his hands tied, his squad choices have resulted in both current and former players constantly on his back through cutting comments across various media channels. Whitmore, who played in Jamaica’s only foray at a World Cup finals with his string of impressive displays at the 1998 France tournament, has been polishing the skills of locally-based players under the instructions from the JFF.

The JFF realise that if they reach the World Cup finals they will be financially rewarded, so are wisely widening their net to capture players that boast quality. The JFF’s immmediate objective is to try to keep the contingent of players from Jamaica together for the remainder of the year, so that they can gel as a squad before the overseas contingent from Europe and those plying their trade in North America’s MLS are brought in to strength the Boyz.

  

With shotstopper Andre Blake looking like a safe pair of hands and brilliantly commanding his defence, it has been the midfield that has been the chink in Jamaica’s armour in recent years. German-based Leon Bailey, the whizzy winger, has injected much-needed energy into the middle but requires some other talented team-mates to fully display his silky skills. Jamaica’s frontline has been looking sharp and arguably Whitmore has enough strikers at his disposal, leaving only the midfield that requires improvement.

Holding midfielder Phillips, who will be competing in the top flight for the first team when Leeds United return to the EPL next month, can also be utilised in defence. In July 2018 he started training in the position of centre-back and as a deep-lying playmaker as part of Leeds United’s Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics. This will suit defensive-minded Whitmore, who was a fans favourite at international level in the heart of defence.

Phillips, who progressed through the Leeds Uniteds youth ranks, penned a new five-year contract with the club last September and during the recent stop-start English Championship season was deemed to be the best player outside the EPL.

The US$40m -rated ace appears to have a bright future ahead with an international call-up expected soon, but the ball is in hi court as to whether this is with England or Jamaica.

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