Following Jamaica’s recent dismal display in the exhibition friendly against the United States, there are desperate calls for the squad to be severely strengthened ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the region’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
With all of the team’s familiar faces taking a stance and refusing to don the Reggae Boyz’ golden jersey until their contracts are sorted with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), head coach Theodore Whitmore has unfortunately had his hands tied in terms of selection and progress.
He had little choice over the latest squad that were woefully outwitted 4-1 in Austria by the youthful exuberance of their old foes – the USA.
The JFF were always going to be penny-pinching for the match in terms of the costs of air travel, accommodation and appearance fees. The JFF clearly would have liked to have contested the game solely utilising island-based players, despite the fact that the Jamaica leagues have not been in operation since March 2020.
Yet there plans were severely scuppered over the requirement of visas, which resulted in a large contingent of English-based players being hastily thrown into the cauldron.
Whitmore, who is a naturally cautious coach, was overloaded by defenders in a squad that he inherited rather than picked.
Now there are calls from fans across the island, and indeed the globe, calling for the JFF to back down over their financial stand-off that robbed the Boyz of their star players that included skipper/goalkeeper Andre Blake, resilient defender Kemar Lawrence and whizzy winger Leon Bailey to name just three highly prized and influential figures.
Michail Antonio, West Ham United’s burly attacker, seemed to be on the verge of pledging his future towards Jamaica and with recent other recruits – such as Rangers’ midfielder/striker Kemar Roofe – then July’s Gold Cup looked promising. The competition was deemed to be a perfect chance to fine-tune the squad, especially as some teams are sending their reserves as they wish to keep their best to tackle the World Cup qualifiers in late August and early September.
Whitmore has controversially gone on record to state that he wanted matters with the JFF resolved by early April, although no ultimatum has been indicated from the 48-year-old. He is arguably on a paltry salary compared to his predecessors and the workload he undertakes. The fact that overall he has masterminded some incredible results over the years means that the JFF will not wish to lose his services.
Admittedly his style of play fails to ignite the imagination of fans and support from most media outlets, but the sport is driven by results and the Montego Bay-born former midfielder has achieved far more than he could expect in almost five years at the helm.
However, he is clearly unhappy at the way he is presented with players and this has resulted in Whitmore taking a rare shot in anger at the JFF.
But this stand-off by players is long standing and stems back to last November’s whistlestop tour to Saudi Arabia, which has been festering ever since and came to a breaking point for the past game.
Accordingly, JFF president Michael Ricketts suddenly announced that they were widening the net in order to strengthen their squad so they could successfully navigate the highly lucrative World Cup qualifiers.
Yet bubbling underneath the long list of potential names he presented, primarily featuring in the top two flights in the English game, Ricketts found himself in an embarrassing position with the majority of these players turning down approaches to represent the Boyz.
It seemed to be an act of solidarity, by potential new recruits, for those stars who refused to play again until a contract was done and dusted by the JFF.
So the JFF originally opted for only locally-based players to face the US, only for eight of them to be unable to make the trip to Austria. Hence the roster was suddenly boosted by those based in England, which included Darlington defender Omar Holness (Darlington) who competes in the sixth tier at non-league level.
Not one player against the US in reality proved exceptional enough to state their case for automatic selection in the squads for the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers. It now leaves the JFF staring down the barrels at a potential embarrassment for July’s Gold Cup and with the current crop of talents leaves very little chance of qualifying for next year’s World Cup finals.
Yet it is up to the JFF whether they will play ball with their usual array of talent, which would stop the rot and could ultimately kick off a new-found confidence among the Boyz. The ultimate goal for both the JFF and their regular players is to reach Qatar 2022, which would not only prove prestigious but also would definitely be financially rewarding for all parties.
Overtures to recall top quality players from fans mean nothing unless the JFF buckle under the demands of their stars, whose potential replacements on the pitch are being closely monitored as stop gap plan.
At least Whitmore has more options for the Gold Cup as ten of the Boyz that were originally selected for the US game missed out over visas.
Mount Pleasant midfielder/striker Kemar Beckford, the Red Stripe Premier League’s leading scorer when the 2019-20 season was voided, saw his application at the Austria Embassy in Washington DC turned down flat.
While seven Jamaica-based others – goalkeepers Akeem Chambers (Waterhouse) and Dennis Taylor (Humble Lions), defenders Javoy Belnavis (UWI) and Ricardo Thomas (Waterhouse), midfielders Trayvon Reid (Tivoli Gardens) and Emelio Rousseau (Portmore United) plus forward Colorado Murray (Waterhouse) – missed the Boyz’ latest outing as they didn’t make the visa appointment with the rest of the Jamaica squad.
Recent Miami FC recruits, midfielder Lamar Walker (ex-Portmore United) and striker Jashaun Anglin (ex-Harbour View), missed the trip to Europe as they failed to leave with the Jamaica contingent for their Austrian Embassy appointment. The pair remain stranded on the island as their passports are with the US Embassy in Kingston, they are waiting for work permits before they join their new club in the USL Championship.
The latest squad was missing four influential African-based players. The Al Ittihad pair of defender Damion Lowe and striker Romario Williams compete in the Egyptian Premier Divison, with forward Darren Mattocks (Al Merreikh) and Alvas Powell (Al-Hilal Club) plying their trade in Sudan’s top division.
Calls for players to salvage Jamaica’s dilemma of a current squad, which sadly lacks both quality and nous, may fall on the dead ears of the JFF.
Yet to ignore bringing back a semblance of normality on the pitch with the incredible array of talent available may prove irresistible for the JFF.
The long-term goal of substantial financial rewards from a successful showing at the Gold Cup and their World Cup qualifying campaign must surely should sway the nation’s governing board. To be back in business, with familiar faces playing with their usual flair and pace, could certainly help put Jamaica back on the biggest stage of the sport to make all fans of the Boyz rightly proud of their team once more.
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