The Reggae Boyz have come a far way from the first players who crawled out of the canefields and backyards to strap on football boots to play Jamaica’s first official match against the Haitians in 1925. These days, modern day players have evolved far from the heavy-set lead-footed slabs of meat and are now fit, athletic specimens of the human anatomy with greater capacity for invention and technique. The likes of Leon Bailey, Corey Burke and Shamar Nicholson represent the apex predators of the day that prowl the opposition penalty box sniffing out chances. At the back we have easily one of the best goalkeepers in the region, similarly majority of our defenders are cultured footballers with the increased intelligence associated with the modern-day defender. With those points generally accepted as facts, the one question everyone asks is who or what is needed to fill the gap in that line of evolution – there appears to be a missing link. The Reggae Boyz had been in relatively good form up until 2021 where our only wins this year came against minnows Suriname and Guadeloupe in the Gold Cup. All that meant was a slip five places down to 50th in the FIFA World Rankings. Though a scathing assessment, there can’t be too many complaints. The whole time the squad looked disjointed, despite the strength that may have existed on paper. Look no further than the recently concluded Gold Cup (that so emphatically did not ‘fawud a yaad’) and you’ll see the issue of a missing link player very clearly. The defense looked largely sturdy, if not resolute, and the attack – at least individually – had decent performances. But the middle of the park, particularly in the attacking sense, was severely lacking. Coach Tappa Whitmore favoured the 4-4-2 and the 4-2-3-1 formations which essentially featured two holding midfielders and two strikers (regardless of the formation). Daniel Johnson was typically partnered by Michael Hector, and while the jury is out on whether that should be, the issue was further up the pitch. Blair Turgott, who was listed as a midfielder, played mostly out wide as part of the attacking quartet. Tyreke Magee, who was perhaps the only out and out number 10 in the Gold Cup squad, barely got onto the pitch, and when he did, he was playing far too deep.
What was the result? The attack was so far away from the defense and the midfield looked on their own. The team was crying out for an individual to take the ball from the holding midfielders and carry/pass it to the frontline. A player like Ravel Morrison, who was ultimately unable to travel with the team, who can grab a game by the scruff of the neck and make things happen with his dribbling and passing is what the Reggae Boyz needed then, and requires now to get us moving in the right direction again. The pool of defensive/holding midfielders at our disposal is (in terms of bodies in the position) fairly healthy, the attacking options however, are almost non-existent. Tyreke Magee represents the brightest pick among that bunch, but the rest are simply not good enough. For clarity, players like Junior Flemmings, Bobby Decordova-Reid, and Jamal Lowe are technically forwards, despite the role they may play on the pitch.
So then who are our options in those positions? There are some youngsters coming; the likes of Lamar Walker and Peter-Lee Vassell have already been involved in the national setup and have been regulars in the last four or five years. Recently though, the Jamaica Football Federation has been sending out invitations to a raft of foreign talent of which, only a few address this issue. Only one player from those recently invited would seemingly be a specialist in that role, and that is Kasey Palmer of Bristol City. Troublingly, the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers are upon us soon and those games bring out a sort of primal competitive urge in teams as they fight for a coveted World Cup berth. And unfortunately with the current crop of players plus the foreign hopefuls, the mystery of “who is the missing link” may persist for months to come.