Following Jamaica’s recent dismal display in the exhibition friendly against the United States, there is a plea from fans at home and abroad for the squad to be significantly strengthened ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup and FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
With the team’s familiar faces refusing to don the Reggae Boyz’ golden jersey until their contracts are sorted with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), head coach Theodore Whitmore has his hands tied in terms of selection and progress.
He had little choice in selecting the squad that was woefully outwitted 4-1 in Austria by the youthful exuberance of their misfiring old foes, USA. The JFF were always going to be penny-pinching for the match in terms of air travel, accommodation and appearance fees. The JFF clearly would have liked to use island-based players only, despite the fact that the Jamaica leagues have not been in operation since March 2020.
Yet their plans were severely scuttled over visa requirements, which resulted in a large contingent of English-based players being hastily thrown into the cauldron. Whitmore, the 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, for the JFF to back down from the financial stand-off that robbed the Boyz of highly prized players such as skipper/goalkeeper Andre Blake, resilient defender Kemar Lawrence and whizzy winger Leon Bailey.
Michail Antonio, West Ham United’s burly attacker, seemed to be on the verge of pledging his future towards Jamaica and with recruits – such as Rangers’ midfielder/striker Kemar Roofe – July’s Gold Cup outcome seems 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 stating that he wanted matters with the JFF resolved by early April, although no ultimatum has been given by the 48-year-old player turned coach.
Despite what is reportedly a paltry salary, Whitmore has masterminded some incredible results over the years and the JFF would 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 has been simmering since last November’s whistle-stop tour of Saudi Arabia, and came to the boil in the past game.
Inexplicably, JFF president Michael Ricketts announced that they were widening the net in order to strengthen their squad so they could successfully navigate the highly lucrative World Cup qualifiers.
Ricketts however, found himself in an awkward position when majority of these players from the long list of potential names he presented, snubbed approaches to join the squad.
It seemed to be an act of solidarity, by potential new recruits, adding support to the stars who refused to play until a contract was done and dusted by the JFF. So the JFF originally opted for only local-based players to face the US, but eight players were unable to make the trip to Austria. That explains why the roster was suddenly boosted by players based in England.
Not one player against the US in reality, proved exceptional to make a case for automatic selection in the squads for the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers.
The JFF has been left staring down the barrel at a potential embarrassment for July’s Gold Cup and with the current crop of talent offering little hope of qualifying for next year’s World Cup.
It is up to the JFF whether they will play ball with their usual array of talent, which would stop the rot and ultimately kick off new-found confidence among the Boyz. The ultimate goal for both the JFF and regular players is to reach Qatar 2022, which would prove prestigious and financially rewarding for all parties.
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 visa difficulties. 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 denied.
Seven other Jamaica-based players – 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) – didn’t make the visa appointment with the rest of the squad.
Recent Miami FC recruits, midfielder Lamar Walker (ex-Portmore United) and striker Jashaun Anglin (ex-Harbour View), failed to leave with the Jamaica contingent for their Austrian Embassy appointment. The pair are reportedly stranded on the island as their passports are with the US Embassy in Kingston, while they await work permits in order to join their new club in the USL Championship. The latest squad was also 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 bolster Jamaica’s current squad, which sadly lacks quality and nous, appear for now to have fallen on deaf ears. 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 World Cup qualifying campaign must surely 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 and make fans rightly proud of their team once more.