At the time of writing this, Heimir Hallgrimsson and the Reggae Boyz are a match made in theory. The Icelander was joint manager of the 2016 Iceland team that qualified for the country’s first European Championship and would go on to knock heavyweights England out of that tournament. He later took sole charge of the team as they qualified for their first World Cup two years later, so there’s plenty of reason to think he is capable of working with this Jamaican team to a positive end. As always, some players shine brighter than others playing for the same coach; here are five players we can expect to excel under Hallgrimsson’s tutelage.
Iceland’s two championship teams were renowned for their defensive solidity and organisation, as such it should be no surprise that vice captain Damion Lowe is listed here. His ability to command a backline while being dominant on the ground and in the air will be vital to the team’s defensive structure. Hallgrimsson already highlighted the significance of developing the team’s defensive side of the game; it will take intelligence and discipline to carry out his instructions. The Inter Miami FC centre back possesses enough intelligence, both in understanding and in reading the game, what he needs to improve on is discipline. If Hallgrimsson can get Lowe to cut the rash challenges out of his game, he’d have a dependable bedrock upon which to build his new defensive structure.
The Vancouver Whitecaps fullback has already shown to be a reliable solution for the deficiencies of Alvas Powell. Strong in the tackle, good on the ball and effective in attack, Brown has the two-way capabilities of a top notch player. In a Hallgrimsson team, as with most of modern football, fullbacks are important cogs of the machine. It will be important how well Brown and the fullback on the opposite side hold their position and make use of the space that may be afforded to them. Hallgrimsson’s team will likely be compact (and going off Iceland’s 2018 tactics) they will look to overload one side in narrow lines of engagement while being vertical and direct rather than expansive and methodical. In the moments the team is getting pressed into losing the ball or spotting the space for a switch, the fullback (or winger) will need to quickly get upfield to make use of that possession. Brown is already good at this, but his timing of those runs, and the defensive side of his play are what need sharpening and his new coach should be able to help with that.
The Blackpool man has not played many games for the Reggae Boyz yet, indeed he has far less caps than anyone on this list, but he could prove to be as important as anyone. Questions of commitment aside (which could be levelled at many of the overseas players) if Stewart becomes are regular in Hallgrimsson’s team, we may get a glimpse of why the federation was excited to get the 29 year-old in the first place. The midfielder describes himself as a shuttler, which basically means he’s the one to cover spaces and put in the hard yards to make tackles and break up play. He’s not overly inventive with his play, when he wins possession he passes it on quickly to those who are more creative. We all saw what Anthony Grant brought to the team for the few games he was a part of, and we’re all familiar with France’s N’Golo Kante – not that he should be compared to the World Cup winner – those two are similar to Stewart’s style of play. In a team that will likely feature one or a combination of Ravel Morrison, Daniel Johnson and Devon Williams; all of who possess far greater passing range and ambition, there will need to be someone to anchor the midfield. Stewart, or someone of that ilk, can be that anchorman.
One of the best players on the team is being picked to be one of the best players on the team? Reductive, I know; but he hasn’t been and here’s his chance to finally be. For one reason or the other, Leon Bailey has been prevented from being the talisman of the Reggae Boyz that many thought he should, and could yet still become. A new coach could do the trick. Similar to the fullbacks being required for ball retention or direct attacks depending on which side the ball is on, Bailey and his fellow wingers will shoulder much of the attacking burden while maintaining their defensive duties. Jamaica will likely end up counter attacking or playing more direct, both are styles that suit Bailey’s overall gameplay. That’s the typical tactical setup in the German Bundesliga, hence why the current Aston Villa player was able to star in that league. With an emphasis on defensive rigidity Jamaica will probably draw teams out of position leaving space for Bailey and the other forwards to run into. With a fit and firing Bailey Hallgrimsson can really focus on the defence while the attack sorts itself out.
West Ham United’s frontman is another divisive figure for Jamaican fans. He’s one of the overseas contingent who some would take and others would leave, but the fact is Michail Antonio represents one of, if not the best option the Reggae Boyz have to lead to the line. It’s worth mentioning that he’s scored one goal every other game, and yes, okay, that’s only three goals in six games, but if he continues like that, there won’t be too many complaints. The imposing 32 year-old is strong, fast and industrious; the ideal candidate to spearhead an attack by himself. He can effectively press defenders, he can hold up play to wait for support, and he can breakaway on his own. He’s also capable in the air as well as possessing a powerful strike. All of those attributes matter because in a counterattacking, direct team, there needs to be a reliable out ball so that when the team breaks, they are efficient enough in attack to take advantage of however the chances come. Antonio can be that type of striker, and Jamaica will likely be that type of team so it stands to reason that he, and the others, can thrive in Hallgrimsson’s system.