The dust has settled, and reality has truly kicked in. Jamaica will miss yet another World Cup, having previously only competed in the 1998 tournament in France, it should not shock anyone that Jamaica is missing out on the 2022 World Cup. The signs were there. However, many Jamaicans convinced themselves that they had a great team, the problem is they thought they had one of the best teams in the region.
President Michael Ricketts oversaw the disaster of the 2022 campaign. His leadership, or lack thereof, was one of the causes. After every failure, there must be an appraisal to ensure there isn’t a repeat in the future. So, who’s to blame? And what’s next for Jamaica after a disappointing stretch? Where the blame game is concerned, it’s a large pie, so everyone can get fed. Let’s start with the obvious: the team is behind most of its counterparts in the region.
Jamaica’s best player, Leon Bailey, was missing due to injury for a large part of the campaign, and when he was available, he was not the leader and creative force that many were expecting. Players like Christian Pulisic and Jonathan David have led their teams admirably and with a passion and drive that Jamaica’s talisman couldn’t replicate. Keeper Andre Blake was one of the few bright spots of the campaign, though he was not at his best at some very crucial and costly moments.
The foreigners that had everyone excited before the campaign began did not raise the level of the team. Players like Kemar Roofe were a complete disappointment, showing nothing close to the level expected of the Rangers forward. Michail Antonio, Greg Leigh, Daniel Johnson, and Anthony Grant did put in very good shifts at different points throughout the campaign. Shamar Nicholson was the cream of the crop of players with his goalscoring and constant effort even when playing out of position, something not shown by his peers. Overall, the players did not hold their weight throughout the campaign.
Outside of their performances on the field, the player’s commitment to the national team and qualifying for the World Cup must be questioned. A wage dispute had a majority of the players refusing to be called up for what should’ve been crucial friendlies right before the start of the Gold Cup last year. The players and the JFF were at odds throughout the entire campaign, with leaks, disputes, and players opting out of being selected for various reasons throughout the campaign. Their lack of commitment was evident through their performances, as they showed very little fight and grit when it was required.
The coaching staff
Former Reggae Boyz coach Theodore Whitmore was around the last time Jamaica did not qualify for the last World Cup. He is a legend on the pitch, but off it, he has failed to pick a consistent starting XI with a set playing style to aid in the advancement of the country’s football programme. The tactics, player selections, and late substitutions, or lack thereof, were not up to par. Whitmore very rarely ever took the blame for the team’s failures and always seemed ready to point a finger. Whitmore has done an admirable job with very poor resources and wishy-washy management, but he is not without fault.
Even with additional weapons, there was no real progression in the football played under Whitmore, and he often used players out of their positions, which affected their ability to give their best. He also didn’t prioritize midfield as the team regularly had a lot of forwards and very few midfielders, leading to target men and strikers often having to play in midfield and lacking the passing and creativity needed to break down teams.
Whitmore was fired with 6 games left in the campaign, with his assistant, Paul Hall, being named interim head coach. In the six games under Hall, the flames were well and truly put out of the campaign as Jamaica lost four games, had one draw, and won one game. It is too early to judge him, but some of his decisions were bemusing, to say the least. However, there was a slight improvement in ball movement and build-up in his brief run of games.
The football federation
There are way too many egos and not enough humility within the Jamaica Football Federation, and it starts with president Michael Ricketts. There seems to be no plan, just vibes, haphazard planning, and a lot of pointless talking. Jamaica needs a game plan from the men’s side to the women’s side to the youth, even down to how the stadiums are managed. Whitmore bore the brunt of fan frustrations and was rightly fired. However, he was not handed the proper tools to prepare, and he regularly aired his frustrations to the media. There are a lot of egos within Jamaican football as everyone seemingly wants the best, but it seems like the other way around.
Unreasonably high expectations. The media plays an important role in lobbying, pressuring, and advocating for the growth of football in Jamaica. However, many of our media professionals have been cozying up with the national players and federation members. This gives them access to exclusives and keeps them in the players’ good books. Sports journalists, in turn, have refused to constructively criticize players and management when it was rightly deserved. These journalists also overstate the quality of players Jamaica possesses, leading to unrealistic expectations from fans. At one point during the campaign, it was almost as if some journalists were running a PR campaign for Whitmore and his players.
A lot of Jamaican sports journalists advocate for local-based players and coaches, but when it comes down to it, there are not that many players or coaches who can take Jamaica to that level. Do these influential Jamaican media professionals need to ask themselves what exactly they want? Do they want to continue driving agendas for their own gain, or do they want to be genuine?
What is next?
There needs to be people at the helm who are doing what is best for the country’s football. That means not calling up players who are not even playing professional football, out of form, or are overweight. That means hiring the best coaches, improving the stadia right across the country from the grassroots levels, to the training ground to the National Stadium. Then there’s paying the coaches and players on time, recruiting, and calling up the best players, whether they are domestic or foreign-born.
Jamaica is a very tough country to live in, and people want some sort of escape, pride, and joy. When the national team does well, people connect to it. When they are not playing well, it adds to the pent-up frustration. The “Reggae Boyz” need to figure out who they want to be on the football pitch. It is time to usher in a new generation of Jamaican football. If they want to be great, people like Ricketts need to put their hands up and say they have tried and walk away with their heads held high. Can the powers that be develop a squad, coaching staff, and develop long-term plans to grow the sport enough to make the Jamaican people proud? All we can do is hope and believe.