Going as far back as the last 20 years, Jamaica has always struggled to consistently secure friendly games for our respective national teams. However, the Reggae Boyz secured friendlies recently against the United States, Serbia, and the Japan Under-23 team. The games ended in a 4-1 defeat to the USMNT, 1-1 with Serbia, and a hammering by the young Asian team. Aside from the action on the field, there was more happening off the field. The friendly fixtures which should have been used to form a core group of players for the upcoming Gold Cup and World Cup Qualifiers later in the year descended into chaos when almost the entire group of players decided to boycott being called up to the national team as they protested the compensation being offered by the JFF for games. This led to an almost entirely new group of players being called for the friendly against the USMNT. That squad was made up of English-based debutants and local players who have not played football in a year. It was no surprise the team was soundly beaten. The days leading up to recent friendlies were marred with chaos, something that has become a permanent fixture under this current administration. There were issues with vaccination, travel arrangements, and passport issues that led to the cancellation of a friendly against Japan’s senior team. No doubt the upheaval would have impacted the coach’s preparation for the games. To discuss all that is wrong with the Federation would take a whole series and cannot be surmised in a solitary article. The current administration has overseen constant upheaval and disagreements every time there is a camp for the men’s and women’s teams.
Coach Theodore Whitmore tends to chop and change his teams constantly and as such it is hampering our nation’s ability to develop any sort of chemistry on the field. Whenever Jamaica plays a game, the players look like strangers, as they are not familiar with their teammate’s playing style. Almost every time a team selection for Jamaica is announced, there are a host of new names and while it is not unusual for new faces to be added and given a chance to show their talent and stake a claim for a spot, far too many new players are being brought in all at once and with frequency.
It turns out Whitmore had a pool of 60 players from which he chose his Gold Cup squad. After one look at that player list, one could ask, are all 60 players good enough to perform at a world-class level, a level that will take us to the World Cup in Qatar? Additionally, the fact that days before a major tournament we have no idea what our starting 11 would look like is testament to mismanagement and a lack of squad planning being undertaken by the administration and coach. There is also the issue of there being no clear standards or requirements for being called up. During Whitmore’s tenure, there have been many players called up who do not even have a club and are not playing any football to have warranted a call-up. There are also regulars in the team who do not even seem to use their opportunities well but still always seem to be in the squad.
One reason being given for the make-up of the team in the past has been to provide a platform, particularly for local-based players to get exposure to secure professional contracts overseas. However noble that may be, we cannot challenge for titles or qualify for a World Cup with semi-professional players or players playing little to no competitive football. Jamaica needs to have a core group of players that consistently demonstrates quality – week-in, week-out – and a list of periphery players who can rotate with players who may be unavailable or injured. With a host of English-based players showing interest in playing for Jamaica recently, it is almost a certainty that there will be more chopping and changing soon. Going into the Gold Cup and soon after the qualifiers, it is hoped that we can have a settled group of talented individuals that can regularly demonstrate their quality and develop a bond on and off the field. Some of the names being touted as possible recruits such as Michail Antonio, Nathan Redmond, Kemar Roofe, and Ethan Pinnock are reasons to be hopeful as we already possess some quality in players such as Leon Bailey, Damion Lowe, Bobby Reid, Andre Gray, and Jamal Lowe.
Alternatively, players like Chavany Willis, Kemal Malcolm, and Jeadine White are currently not at the standard required to get to the next level and compete in CONCACAF. The United States has already laid out the blueprint on how to harness young homegrown talent, Jamaica would do well to pay attention. Jamaica runs the risk of becoming irrelevant in CONCACAF as teams like Canada currently have prodigious talents like Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies playing for them. There is also the issue of tactics and style of play, something that Whitmore still seems to struggle with. You never truly get that the players know what they are supposed to be doing. One can assume that Whitmore is a pragmatic manager, one that likes to sit back and hit on the counterattack. Defensive teams are usually very compact and have a defined shape with quick players ready to pounce on the counter. In cases like these, you are expected to have a midfield that can spray the ball forward quickly after winning it back. In that regard, Whitmore has not quite had the tools to play this style effectively. It’s safe to say the coach does not have the best federation to work with that can provide the necessary resources, however, he can no longer escape blame whenever the country fails to achieve realistic targets. The country now has a talent pool that is arguably the best it has been in a decade, and he would do well with penciling out a core group among those available, determining a style of play that suits their skill sets, and keeping that group together consistently as we aim to move forward.