FORMER Reggae Boyz hero Deon Burton says that Jamaica's football has improved leaps and bounds since the virginal days when he first joined the team for the successful France 1998 World Cup campaign.
He said that with Jamaica being able to develop marketable talent for export and the willingness for more ancestral Jamaican players to represent the country, the game is no longer "a little joke thing".
"These players (foreign born) are saying 'hang on a minute, there's a team down there (Jamaica) trying something'. It's good the quality of players Tappa has been able to get in, and it shows also that we are a growing nation (football wise).
"These players are no longer waiting around to see if they can make the national teams of whatever nationalities they are eligible to play for, but are saying that we are going to play for Jamaica," said Burton, a four-goal hero on the Road To France campaign.
He noted that the quality of the foreign players in the current squad is very high and suggested that on paper it would have surpassed the group that was successful back in 1998.
"I think looking at them (current foreign Boyz) most of them play at the higher level, which is Premiership and Championship, so I think that we came at lower levels, so I think the standard and quality is there, it's now to get everything to mix together with the local players," said Burton, leading goalscorer with 10 for League Two outfit Gillingham, where he plies his trade.
Having witnessed and savoured the historic performance (0-0) at the fearsome Azteca of the Brazil 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign against Mexico on February 6, Burton told the Jamaica Observer that if his former teammate, Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore, can get all the elements to blend into a single symphony, then the sky is the limit.
"I saw that game against Mexico and I see it as good that more overseas-born players are coming into the team, which will help the balance with the home-grown players and the local-born players playing abroad.
"I think it's all coming back around a bit like it was back in the '98 campaign, so there are good possibilities and chances for the squad right now to do something and hopefully qualify," noted Burton, who has 13 goals for Jamaica in 59 appearances.
Included in Jamaica's squad to face Panama tonight at 'The Office' and following in the footsteps of the likes of Burton, Paul Hall and Fitzroy Simpson are England-bred Jobi McAnuff, Garath McCleary, Adrian Mariappa, Nyron Nosworthy, Lloyd Doyley, Jermaine Beckford, Theo Robinson and Marvin Elliott.
And as evidence to the growth that Burton referred to earlier, 21 of the 24 players selected for the Panama match tonight and away to Costa Rica four days later, play professionally overseas.
Burton made his Jamaican debut on September 7, 1997 in the latter stages of their France 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign, and almost single-handedly guided the country to its first global tournament.