'We've been very impressed with Leon Bailey'

'Tappa' says Bayer Leverkusen star should make Boyz debut on Monday

Deputy Sport Editor

Thursday, June 13, 2019

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Reggae Boyz head coach Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore says that wide attacker Leon Bailey will definitely start the Concacaf Gold Cup game against Honduras, barring any unforeseen obstacle.

The Group C double-header inside the National Stadium is historic because it's the first time that a Caribbean nation will host matches in the confederation's marquee tournament, which has also been expanded from 12 to 16 teams.

In the other matchup of the double bill, El Salvador and Curacao will contest the curtain-raiser at 6:00 pm, while the hosts will take on Central America's Honduras at 8:30 pm

Bailey, 21, a well-sought-after talent by Europe's top clubs, was a squad member in the team's assignment to Washington last week where they handed hosts USA 1-0 defeat in a friendly international at Audi Stadium, but the exciting Germany-based winger did not take the field.

Fans were left disappointed, but as Whitmore explained, Bailey was on the mend from a hamstring injury, and it was the collective decision by Bayern Leverkusen's medical staff and their Jamaican counterparts, not to risk the player at that stage with a long Gold Cup tournament to come.

But the former Genk star's professional attitude, seamless fit into the player ranks, respect for squad protocols, and application to the training regime has earned him plaudits from the coaching staff and other team officials in Washington and on his return to Jamaica for the ongoing camp.

With everything he has seen, Whitmore is confident that Bailey will make his long-awaited debut for the senior Boyz outfit. Four years ago, the player had a brief stint with Jamaica's Under-23 squad, but his transition to the senior programme was stalled by boardroom poltitics.

“On the pitch, Leon has been sizzling. He is now fit and raring to go. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, he should line- up at the start of the game on Monday. We still have a few more sessions to go, but his production at all the sessions has been spot on.

“He is ready to make his international debut for Jamaica and will play with not only his talent, but also his heart. This is what I sense in him since his arrival to the group… he's a really talented young man and very coachable,” Whitmore told the Jamaica Observer.

Bailey, who has played over 60 matches for Bundesliga campaigner Leverkusen since joining in 2017, is seen to have received a “warm welcome” from his Jamaican teammates as much as he has embraced them.

“We've been very impressed with Leon Bailey from day one as his attitude around the group has been simply fantastic. He's definitely a team player and the group has embraced him very well. This was important given all the noise over the past few years around his selection to the national team,” Whitmore noted.

Meanwhile, the tactician shared that the intensity from all players has been good, spurred on by the high level of competitiveness among the players.

“The group is very competitive and selection will be challenging for the staff, but this is a good problem to have. The players will push each other and some sessions appear like a match and this is what I like and we need to keep going in this direction.

“Overall, the preparation has been going very well and it's always of tremendous benefit when we're able to have the group together for an extended period, and this was not the case for our Nations League preparation due to the limitation of Fifa windows,” Whitmore said.

The former Jamaica captain says the hope is to build on the performance against the USA recently, which has been cited by Whitmore himself “as one of the best performances of the Jamaica team in a long time”.

“We need to build on our work in the last game against the USA. We showed much greater enterprise in possession of the ball and played with confidence and assurance. However, we recognised that there were areas of that performance that still required improvement and we have been putting in the work on the training pitch since we commenced the training camp in Montego Bay,” Whitmore ended.

Jamaica were runners-up in the 2015 and 2017 editions of the Concacaf Gold Cup, losing to champions Mexico (1-3) and the USA (1-2), respectively.

With the highly talented Bailey on the roster and expectedly to figure prominently and buoyed by the performance against the USA, Whitmore's Boyz are looking to lift the coveted trophy this time around, and they have said so.

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