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Reggae Boyz show mettle... but JFF must improve

Saturday, November 21, 2020

In sport, as it is in all aspects of life, the true proof of high quality is the ability to do well in tough, adverse conditions.

We think it's fair to say that, in recent times, very few Jamaican sporting teams have had to deal with the level of adversity faced by the Reggae Boyz in Saudi Arabia just recently.

It needs to be said, upfront, that the problems could not be blamed on the hosts, whose arrangements for the two friendly internationals were in sync with prevailing COVID-19 protocols governing international sport.

Instead, to begin with, it was a case of poorly managed travel arrangements by Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) which meant the players arrived in Saudi Arabia over a period of several days, rather than a short time span.

Readers should bear in mind that the squad included a few local-based players who haven't played competitive football since March, as well as professionals who are active in Europe, North and Central America.

The badly staggered arrivals left coach Mr Theodore Whitmore and his players desperately short on preparation time ahead of the first game last Saturday. There was only a single day of training ahead of that opening game and some late-arriving players couldn't take the field because of quarantine protocols.

Positive as well as inconclusive tests for a few members of the Jamaican delegation, including players and officials, made an already vexatious situation much worse.

In the circumstances, it came as no surprise when an under-strength, ill-prepared Jamaica team went down 0-3 last Saturday.

From all accounts, more reports of COVID-19 positive and inconclusive tests led to high tension and anxiety — hardly ideal for players striving to be at their best, three days after a humiliating loss.

But, in an impressive demonstration of mental strength, desire, and considerable skill, the Jamaicans bounced back on Tuesday to outmatch their hosts 2-1. Indeed, but for missed chances, the Reggae Boyz could have won by three clear goals, or more.

Watching on television, Jamaicans were extremely encouraged. Thoughts of the Reggae Boyz making it to the 2022 World Cup, should improvement continue, seemed appropriate.

“...I think I saw signs of greatness in this team,” said Mr Whitmore, who was marking his 100th game as national coach.

But the coach also knows that nothing of any consequence will be achieved if off-the-field organisation and management remain as shambolic as was the case for the two-match series in Saudi Arabia. And, the fact is, such complaints are not new.

“...We need the team behind the team if we are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the Gold Cup and in the World Cup qualifying coming up,” he said.

This newspaper is in full agreement with Mr Whitmore. The JFF needs to step up, big time.