Sports

Bumps in the road

Ricketts surprised by outbursts from Bailey's agent Craig Butler

BY IAN BURNETT
Sport Editor

Thursday, October 05, 2017

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A perplexed Michael Ricketts, president of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), yesterday expressed mixed feelings regarding the long and rambling procedure in acquiring the services of Jamaican football starlet Leon Bailey.

With the federation and the player's agent Craig Butler having been at loggerheads for years to have the now 20-year-old Bayer Leverkusen flying winger represent his country at the senior level, Ricketts, the recently elected JFF boss, was left wondering if that long-awaited dream would materialise, especially after Butler's inexplicable public outbursts over the past few days.

Ricketts admitted that he held two meetings last week with Butler to discuss the possibility of having Bailey accept an invitation to join the Reggae Boyz squad for their friendly game here against Saudi Arabia on Saturday, but neither meeting reached an amicable settlement, though a follow- up discussion at Sunday's Red Stripe Premier League game between Waterhouse and Reno at Drewsland seemed to have paved the way somewhat for success going forward.

“The truth is that we have had two meetings with Leon's agent... We had a meeting on Tuesday and in that meeting were Linnel McLean, who chairs the technical committee of the JFF, the coach Whitmore (Theodore), director of football Downswell (Wendell) and, of course, the team manager and myself,” Ricketts said, but the Jamaica Observer understands that Dalton Wint, the Manchester FA president, who is tapped to become the general secretary, was also present at the meeting.

“We tried to get from Mr Butler whether or not his son would be available — that's Leon of course. Unfortunately we did not arrive at a conclusive decision, so we then set another meeting for the following Friday. Again, not much was achieved. On Sunday Mr Butler and I sat together at the Waterhouse/Reno game and he showed me a text that Kyle and Leon wanted to be a part of the set-up heading to Saudi Arabia. By then I thought it was late because the team was assembling to get ready to move on to Saudi Arabia, so I told him to speak to the team manager and see if anything can be done.”

The Reggae Boyz had started their journey to Saudi Arabia at 2:00 am Monday.

“Obviously the team manager told him exactly what I said, that it was late and let's look at another date, and I suggested to Mr Butler that we are trying to get some home friendlies and it would be nice if we could introduce his boys at a home game say at the National Stadium. And the truth is he actually agreed, and I thought it was the way to go, so I'm a little bit disappointed when I saw what was printed … that Mr Butler is outraged and hitting out at the team manager, which I think is a little bit unfair and unwarranted because I think Roy Simpson did the correct thing.

“Like I said, it was unfortunate, but we are looking forward to some time or another, based on certainly the coach's wishes, to have Leon Bailey in Jamaica's set-up,” Ricketts said from the team's base here at the Casablanca Hotel and Suites.

Those public outbursts might have poured cold water on any possible future negotiations, Ricketts hinted.

“As it is right now, that might not necessarily materialise based on the outbursts by his agent Mr Butler, but we think that if Leon is good enough to make the national team, and I honestly think he is, then as long as it is okay with his agent and it is okay with him.because he obviously wants to play based on the messages I saw that he had sent out to Mr Butler, so we are hoping that we can have this matter settled, and amicably settled, in short order, because we are looking forward to getting some home friendlies as we want to re-establish our fan base at the National Stadium and we want to make it a fortress like it once was…we are hoping that we can get Kyle and Leon into the set-up for a home game in very short order,” Ricketts added.

But therein lies one of the sticking points. Ricketts, Simpson and Whitmore independently charged that Butler told last Tuesday's meeting at the JFF headquarters that he had 17 players in Europe and that four of them could walk into the Jamaican team.

The JFF representatives made it clear that Bailey was their sole interest at this time, but Butler shot back saying that his son Kyle, along with two others, came as a package, as they knew each other very well, have played together for a very long time, and somewhere along the line the term “marriage” was used. The JFF reps also claimed that Butler included himself as part of the deal for Bailey to accept the invite, and that Bailey doesn't need the senior team.

This did not sit well with Whitmore, who promptly left the meeting and did not make himself available for the follow-up on the Friday.

“Mr Butler did say that he has at least four players who could walk into the national outfit. I certainly would want to say to the coach, have a look at them and you, in your wisdom, and as the head coach, would determine whether or not these four players are good enough or just one is good enough, or two would be good enough,” reasoned Ricketts.

He added: “Obviously it must be the prerogative of the coach, and being the president of the JFF I would not even interfere with the selection process. I could suggest to him that I know a player that I would like him to look at, but to insist that this player must be a part of the team, I would never, ever want to do that.

“Mr Butler maybe is a little bit too enthused about the whole thing. He wants to be a part of the staff, a part of the technical staff, but I have suggested to him that this is a process and he must present to the technical committee his credentials, his documentation and then the board of directors would make a determination, as to him being an employee of the JFF.”

When quizzed about how Whitmore should react to Butler's reported demands of guaranteed playing time, the need to be informed of the team's formation, other players to be invited, and so on, Ricketts drew the proverbial line.

“We are not going to bow to those kinds of demands, we will not. The JFF is not a patty shop, so we are going to do the correct things and I'm pretty certain that Whitmore is the kind of person that will ensure that things are done correctly, and we are not going to yield to Mr Butler or anybody who insists that we operate on his demands. No, we not going to do it, so it certainly won't work that way and in as much as I have a lot of respect for Mr Butler and we have a pretty decent relationship — but I have said it to him before and I will say it again, that it can't be based on a marriage, so to speak, that if we are going to get Leon then we have to take three others no we are going to select you based on merit exclusively,” Ricketts ended.

Coincidentally, former Head Coach Winfried Schaefer had dropped his interest in Bailey a few years ago after similar demands were made via WhatsApp purportedly from Butler after the German's visit to the player's club, Genk, in Belgium.

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