IT appears that a tug-o-war is brewing between two countries on a quest of trying to lure the exciting Liverpool teenage winger Raheem Sterling to their national squads.
Yesterday the British press ran stories that painted a jittery England, put on edge by this week’s visit of Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) President Captain Horace Burrell, who is scheduled to hold talks with the Jamaican-born 17-year-old sensation in efforts to persuade him to return to his roots.
England’s discomfort was heightened when Sterling had indicated an eagerness to meet with the Jamaican football boss to hear “his pitch” in selling the Reggae Boyz lure, plus it’s no secret that the player’s mother wants him in the colours of their island home.
“I also know that the parents of a lot of these players are so proud that this (making push for their kids) is happening, and they (players) will all tell you that they are constantly being encouraged by the parents to represent the country of their birth,” said Burrell, who serves on FIFA Olympic Football Tournaments Committee.
Burrell, who is due to depart the island today along with head coach Theodore Whitmore and assistant Alfredo Montesso for England to speak with nine other prospects, said talks with Sterling’s agent Adrian Ward were “encouraging”.
“I did not pick up anything in his (Ward’s) tone that would suggest he would dissuade the youngster in any way. From experience it’s important to have good relationships with agents and clubs, and once you have good relations with those two departments, then 90 per cent of the tasks would have been accomplished,” Burrell said yesterday.
While successfully landing the irrepressible winger may be a difficult task when one looks at the player’s options, the Jamaican football boss promised his approach would be positive all the way nonetheless.
“I expect fruitful dialogue with the youngster, as I think he can contribute a lot to the team if we are successful in getting him... also he would be a source of inspiration for a generation of talented youngsters here at home and I think this would be a catalyst to enhance the rapid development of our young talent as I believe they are many Raheem Sterlings in Jamaica,” said Burrell.
The veteran football administrator and reputed negotiator said, before any progress can be made with these UK-born and raised players, their genuine commitment and desire to represent the country must first be established.
“One of the first things that I will establish is that these players who have indicated an interest in coming to Jamaica must have a genuine interest in doing so, and that they are not just coming for the ride of it. Jamaica is a very proud country and we don’t want to be patronised by anyone.
“These people must have the genuine desire to play for the country and a commitment to give it 100 per cent,” Burrell added.
He told the Jamaica Observer that many of these players have expressed a desire to play for the country through various channels, including telephone and e-mail conversations and through relatives, but believes nothing gives a better reading of an individual’s passion than a faceto-face meeting.
“I have spoken to most of them and they have expressed that feeling of commitment, but by speaking to them in person and based on my experience, I will be able to determine whether or not they are serious. If they are not serious, then it makes no sense to pursue it any further,” said Burrell.
The nine other players with Jamaican roots that the JFF team has scheduled meetings with on their 12-day mission are Reading midfielder and captain Jobi McAnuff (31); 29-year-old striker Jermaine Beckford — formerly of Premier League outfit Everton and now at Huddersfield Town; 25-year-old winger Gareth McCleary; Queen’s Park Rangers’ 22-year-old winger David Hoilett; Derby County’s 23-year-old striker Theo Robinson; Newcastle right-back Danny Simpson (25), and 27-year-old teammate, defender James Perch.
In addition, Burrell and the touring team will watch five matches in the UK as well as hold meetings with players who have already been part of the national set-up, including striker Ricardo Fuller.
Burrell said looking for talented professional expatriates or individuals with the faintest of ties to a country is a common practice in the world game today.
“This is what all the countries are doing, and if the great USA can resort to its outside talent, what would therefore prevent little Jamaica from adopting that approach. The only drawback to this is that we don’t have the resources to perfect this.
“But I am sure with the success of qualifying for Brazil 2014, we hope to have enough funds to use our players overseas to good effect in developing our football,” noted Burrell, who will also meet with English FA Chairman David Bernstein on various matters of football.
Sterling, who turns 18 on December 8, left Jamaica as a five-year-old and later started his youth career at Queen’s Park Rangers before signing for Liverpool in 2010. He made his Premier League debut in the 2011–12 season. The skilful winger has represented England at Under-16, Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 levels, but could make his senior team debut in a friendly against Sweden next month.
Even if Sterling plays in that friendly, he would still be eligible for Jamaica because it is not considered an official competitive fixture.
The FA appeared to have beaten the Boyz to Sterling after calling the teenager up to the full England squad for the World Cup qualifier against Ukraine, but he didn’t play, thus giving hopes for a possible Jamaican capture.
Sterling has made an impressive start to his Premier League career and has thrived under new Anfield boss Brendan Rodgers, scoring his first senior goal against Reading a fortnight ago, becoming the Merseysiders' second-youngest competitive goalscorer behind Michael Owen in the process.