Theodore Whitmore, the Jamaica head coach, has severely underachieved so far during their eight-nation CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers with little reality of reaching Qatar 2022.
The Montego Bay-born former midfielder has been under the cosh from avid supporters and a plethora of former players for a string of poor performances and pretty dire results.
However, when push came to shove Whitmore rallied his troops sufficiently to score a fantastic 1-1 home draw against the mighty United States this week. And came perilously close to securing maximum points, only to be cruelly denied by the ref’s dubious decision that ruled out Damion Lowe’s late effort.
Regardless of their spirited display on a bumpy pitch at Kingston’s National Stadium, Whitmore has failed miserably by registering just a single win from eight World Cup qualifiers.
As a result the Reggae Boyz are way off the chase for the three automatic berths to next year’s FIFA World Cup finals, and struggling to grab the fourth place that offers a play-off place with six games remaining.
The Boyz have drawn four matches and only seen off Honduras to currently sit on a disappointing seven points.
This race to secure places for Qatar appears to be between table-topping Canada, heavyweights Mexico and USA plus Panama. With Costa Rica, like Jamaica, stuttering this leaves El Salvador and Honduras as the two teams propping up the table to seemingly make up the numbers.
Canada, unbeaten so far and having stunned Mexico 2-1 in their last match, host the Boyz in the penultimate group game. Should they have already sealed their place in Qatar then it would not be out of the question if they fielded an experimental side against Jamaica, which could mean three crucial points for the Boyz.
Mexico, who have lost back-to-back games to the USA and then Canada, are the visitors to Kingston in late January. They tend to have close encounters with Jamaica, so Whitmore will need a victory or can forget any lingering hopes of appearing at Qatar 2022.
Panama host the Boyz three days after the Mexico match. Whitmore’s troops need to be firing on all cyclinders to score maximum points, because a draw at this stage is almost worthless against a rival.
Whether Whitmore, in his fourth team at the helm as the cheap option for the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), remains in charge for next year’s vital games remains to be seen.
He has long been walking the plank, as the Boyz have been slipping up during the World Cup qualifiers with the majority of performances unconvincing.
Yet in three games the Boyz were bustling. Namely in October’s 2-0 success over Honduras, the 2-1 defeat at high attitude in Mexico when they conceded a last-gasp goal and during their recent stalemate against the United States.
But Whitmore’s tactics are so transparent, on top of his constant swapping and changing of formations with players out of their favoured positions, which has truly angered fans.
Former players who are media pundits have been constantly explaining that there is no clear strategy from Whitmore, except to try not to lose matches.
Winning is the name of the game, yet the head coach sticks to his guns for each match with his blatant token tactics. He has a solid back four and a reliable shotshopper in MLS star Andre Blake.
Yet he has too often relied on one striker to chase shadows and utilised strikers in midfield, meaning there has been little service and very few goalscoring opportunities.
Include the fact that, despite not producing positive results, Whitmore has stuck to his guns with his tactics for this entire campaign.
He tries to frustrate and stifle the opposition during the opening half, ups the tempo after the interval then anytime from the hour mark onwards upsets the balance of the side by throwing on two or three substitutes – usually a defensive move rather than attacking – in a bid to score on the counterattack.
So far these tactics have failed miserably, and it was only when he resorted to a much more attacking 4-3-3 formation, when they tackled the US, that the Boyz showed why with their plethora of talent they should not be underestimated.
Sadly, even the arrival of burly 31-year-old English Premier League ace Michail Antonio at this stage of the qualifiers seems too late.
The West Ham forward has been on fire in his past two outings, bagging sensational goals against El Salvador and the US respectively. And unfortunately this is probably his last chance to make it to the World Cup finals.
The JFF have been slow to act when they realised that Whitmore was unable to eek out the required results to make progress in the round-robin World Cup qualifiers.
Identifying a potential successor surely must have been on the JFF’s agenda following September’s 3-0 humiliation to Panama in Kingston, when Antonio’s much-hyped debut fell flat and he was hauled off after 70 minutes with his team-mates verbally fighting throughout the contest.
Yet the JFF did nothing to kick-start Jamaica’s qualifying campaign, instead they left the reliable Whitmore to plod on with his job.
No details have emerged of Whitmore’s situation, and the JFF now find themselves in a dilemma.
Even if they splash the cash on a top coach from overseas to carve out some much-needed victories, it may not be enough to propel the Boyz to a top four slot.
Any new coach would surely be employed on a short-term contract, with the goal to steady the ship and reach Qatar 2022.
But should Whitmore be given the boot and the results still not improve then not only would the JFF be seen to have wasted money but also certain JFF members could find their position untenable.
Whitmore’s links with the national team saw him give his all in the heart of midfield as a player, which included a brace against Japan at the 1998 World Cup finals in France.
Yet there is no room for sentimentality in football, and because he is such a personable man has long been the JFF’s go-to guy when they wish to save the pennies and have someone who will not argue with them.
Yet the time has arrived to make a switch of head coach but keep Whitmore within the set up. There are no apparent candidates ready to fill his boots, with even social media criticism of the head coach failing to tout the names of viable alternatives.
The JFF are aware that reaching next year’s prestigious finals would result in mega bucks in every direction, yet they failed to fully prepare to ensure that the Boyz were at least in the mix to reach Qatar.
Whitmore’s reputation as a coach is mixed, he has experience and some silverware but finds himself lacking the drive to want to win matches. Instead the Boyz tend to play with damage limitation rather than the freedom and swagger that they are capable of.
He has not thrived in recent times, but when competing against the qualifiers’ big boys – such as Canada, Mexico and the US – he gets the best out of the team, and everyone should show him the respect he deserves for this.
The desire among Jamaica’s fans is to replace Whitmore, and it does appear that he is on a losing battle with mediocre displays and lack of entertainment from his sides.
Sealing a deal for his replacement is a path that the JFF must seriously proceed with, and actually include Whitmore in the process as they absolutely need to get the right head coach in charge. The JFF cannot afford to get it wrong, either financially or in terms of results.
The problem is that Whitmore’s dragged-out reign, by constantly stepping in when the JFF have few other options or want to save money, is hindered by the fact that the Boyz are rich in his DNA as a player and a coach.
A stronger personality is required to take Jamaica further, hopefully to Qatar, but unless the JFF swiftly sound out a successor then Whitmore will wade in and make his excuses after some more bore draws.
It is no good to anyone listening to the same excuses from Whitmore after matches, he sets up the team and seemingly has just one set of tactics. He has not convinced the fans, the media, the players nor the JFF with the performances and results from eight of their 14 World Cup qualifiers.
Moving forward the JFF needs to put everyone involved with the Boyz out of their misery and focus on the future. History is there for the making, and with arguably the best set of talent in recent years a new head coach could fancy his chances with Jamaica.
Six games remaining means 18 points are up for grabs, and with games against those above them then the Boyz could claw back precious points. However, under Whitmore that might be mission impossible.
If the JFF are happy for him to see out the World Cup campaign then they will be kicking themselves that they did not deal with the sinking ship.
It is not even a gamble to now consider appointing a coach with a winning track record.
There were rumours abound last night that Whitmore had been given the boot and replaced by ex-England international Ricky Hill, who used to coach USL Championship side Tampa Bay Rowdies, with Paul Hall expected to stay on as assistant manager.
For the Boyz to make any form of impact the JFF should not rely on someone like 62-year-old Hill, who is involved with their youth recruitment and development programme, but a tried and tested coach who can get the best out of the talented array of strikers that Whitmore has sadly failed to get firing on all cylinders.
CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table (after 8 games)
Canada 16pts (+8 goal difference), USA 15pts (+7), Mexico 14pts (+4), Panama 14pts (+2), Costa Rica 9pts (-1), Jamaica 7pts (-4), El Salvador 6pts (-6), Honduras 3pts (-10).
Jamaica’s remaining matches: Mexico (h) 27 January; Panama (a) 30 January; Costa Rica (h) 2 February; El Salvador (h) 24 March; Canada (a) 27 March, and; Honduras (h) 30 March.
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