Whittaker swells with pride for Blake's success
TODAY, he's feeling like a proud big brother, watching his younger sibling getting the headlines as the latter makes the transition from amateur goalie to a full professional.
Talking to him, you hear it in his voice. And if you listen carefully, there's also a hint of nostalgia floating around. For, some 13 years ago he came close to achieving what his 'kin' has now accomplished. He insists he's over the disappointment, though.
"I have no regrets," he said last year. He's now "a proud husband and father" and a member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) "The army was the silver lining behind the cloud," he once said.
We are talking, of course, about Allien Whittaker, the former Reggae Boyz goalkeeping sensation whose seemingly straightforward journey to the ranks of professional was painfully derailed by a serious knee injury in 2005. And Andre Blake, the present wonder-kid, who last Thursday created history when he became the first goalkeeper to be selected as the number one in the MSL SuperDraft. This following two hugely successful years on the US college circuit while representing the University of Connecticut. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Union.
Whittaker and Blake are not blood brothers. But they actually have a lot in common.
Both goalkeepers started their football education at May Pen Primary School. Both kept goal for Clarendon College at the daCosta Cup level (Blake later played for Glenmuir High), before going on to represent Jamaica at various levels.
It was at May Pen Primary, renowned for churning out top football talents in Clarendon, where Whittaker first saw his young counterpart. "The first time I saw him keep goal, I was at West Park and I said this yute is going to make the U-17 team. He did make the team, but at the time he was on the bench. He has grown so much since that time. Trust me, I'm really proud of the yute."
There are also major differences between both keepers.
Whittaker has represented Jamaica at two youth World Cups, the Under-17s in New Zealand and the Under-20s in Argentina. Blake is yet to. Blake, though, has achieved what Whittaker did not: a professional contract - something which many who saw him in his prime were sure he would have achieved.
"I kept on encouraging him to try and get a scholarship," Whittaker said of his advice to Blake some years ago. "I told him to just look at my situation. I went to two World Cups and all it took was one injury. I had to fall back on the army.
"I also told him to look at the current crop of goalkeepers in the national team, the majority of who are about five years older than him. There's (Donovan) Ricketts who is undoubtedly the NO 1, as long he's fit. Then, there's (Dwayne) Miller, (Duwayne) Kerr, (Richard) McCallum and Jacomeno (Barrett). They are all ahead of him in the national programme. So I told him instead of waiting for a chance he should try college." Which Blake did, and the rest is history.
Interestingly, Whittaker, now 30, is looking to resurrect his own career with a recent move to Sporting Central Academy - the same club where Blake also played.
In four years Whittaker will be 34. For a lot of professional goalkeepers, these are considered their best years. "Ricketts is now 35," Whittaker explained, "and he's still at the top of his game (he was recently named Goalkeeper of the Year in the MLS). If Jamaica had qualified for the World Cup he would have been the man in goal. That's what convinced me that this is realistic."
He did admit, though, that this is just the start. "I'm not 100 per cent," he said. But judging from his dominant performance against Montego Bay United, which helped Sporting earn a 0-0 draw, many were left with the impression that it won't take much to getting him back to peak condition.