Now that the differences have been settled...Saturday, May 15, 2021
This newspaper joins in applauding the resolution of differences between leading national players and the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) which appeared so threatening a few months ago; and the negotiation of a three-match friendly tour of Japan early next month.
Readers may recall that in March, the JFF had to use a makeshift team in a friendly international against the United States in Austria because of a pay dispute with leading professionals.
The JFF was forced to use a mix of local-based players — who were mostly out of condition due to a year-long COVID-19-related lockdown of contact sport — and England-born players of Jamaican ancestry who were on début.
Not surprisingly, the Reggae Boyz lost 1-4 to the well-organised Americans despite a brave showing.
This newspaper and others fretted then that if the salary impasse and inevitable bitterness were not speedily resolved, Jamaica's football programme, including the upcoming Concacaf Gold Cup and Fifa World Cup qualifiers, would be undermined, if not derailed.
Where there is a will, there is always a way. Happily, the differences are apparently behind us, though we notice that the influential playmaker Mr Leon Bailey of top German club Bayer Leverkusen is yet to sign a contract with the JFF and has been left out of the 30-man squad for Japan.
We are being told that the trip to Japan — a football powerhouse in Asia — will involve two Friendly Internationals against the hosts and another against skilful Serbia out of eastern Europe.
Head Coach Mr Theodore Whitmore — who we are told played a pivotal role in resolving the recent player/management differences — has understandably hailed the fine-tuning value of the Japan tour with a view to the greater challenges ahead. His reminder to players that they must press their case for long-term selection is timely.
Also, JFF President Mr Michael Ricketts has committed his organisation “to providing within our means all the support the technical staff needs…” going forward.
Mr Bailey apart, the squad appears to be very close to, if not at, full strength. It includes hardened Jamaican Internationals based in England and wider Europe, North America and elsewhere, as well as top local players.
Crucially, the recent easing of COVID-19 restrictions on Jamaican football means local players are now in a much better position to get themselves match ready, not so much for the tour in just over two weeks but for competition in subsequent months.
By the time of the Japan trip, the 2020-21 British and wider European club season will be over, making life easier for all concerned.
Analysts agree that Jamaica, in terms of available talent, has the best chance in many years of making it to the 2022 Fifa World Cup Finals, set for Qatar in the Persian Gulf. That would be the first time since Jamaica's maiden World Cup Finals in France, way back in 1998.
Favourable though the signs may be, Jamaican football followers know from long, hard experience that there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. All parties must do all in their power to do what's required over the next year or so to make the Qatar dream reality.
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