WHITMORE... facing calls for hisresignation after slow start to World Cup qualifying campaign
Villa winger Leon Bailey throws support behind under-fire Boyz Coach Whitmore

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Jamaica's star winger Leon Bailey is pushing back against calls for Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore to be replaced as the Reggae Boyz head coach.

Whitmore, who coached Jamaica to the final of the 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup, has come under fire after the team's slow start to the final stage of regional World Cup qualifying.

“Tappa is a great person, a great coach and I believe that he has done a lot for the country,” Bailey told members of the media on Monday before the team's departure to El Salvador for Friday's qualifier against the hosts.

“He's a man for the people and for the team, so anything that he is doing I'm sure he's doing it for the best interest of the team and the best interest of the country, so we have to always believe in him. He's our coach so we believe in him right through,” the 24-year-old Aston Villa player added.

The Jamaicans are sixth in the eight-team standings with five points from six matches, with only the top three countries assured of a place to the Qatar 2022 World Cup Finals.

Mexico lead the Concacaf qualifying table with 14 points, ahead of United States (11), Canada (10), Panama (eight) and Costa Rica (six). El Salvador, who have five points but trail the Jamaicans due to an inferior goal difference, and Honduras (three) are the back of the pack.

The Concacaf octagonal comprises teams playing in a round robin, home and away format. Each team will contest 14 matches.

While the top three nations in the table will progress automatically to the World Cup, the fourth-place finisher will head to an intercontinental play-off for another possible spot to Qatar.

Jamaica gathered only one point from their opening four final-round matches, but they revived qualification hopes with a respectable goalless draw with visitors Canada followed by a historic 2-0 victory away to Honduras.

Another positive result on Friday could propel them even closer to a top-three position.

Bailey, who in the summer break left German Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen for the challenge of the English Premier League, expressed regret that Aston Villa recently parted ways with Head Coach Dean Smith after a run of poor results.

“He [Dean Smith] is one of the persons I was always in contact with before I even went to the club and he really believed in me and everything. It's just a shame we [didn't get] to work together for too long.

“He's been really great, great person, and he's shown me a lot of love and respect and trust. It's sad that he's gone, but this is the world that we live in. This is football, this is a part of the game as well, so we have to accept it and move on,” he said.

The speedy wide player had a hamstring niggle plus a thigh injury earlier in the club season, but played the full 90 minutes in Villa's 0-1 loss away to Southampton last Friday.

He said he is basking in the opportunity of playing in England's top flight.

“I haven't been playing much because of my injuries, but so far it's been going pretty well. It can get better but, you know, with time everything will come together.

“The premier league is a top league and it was always one of my dreams to play in the premier league. And I'm actually there now so I'm really taking the opportunity to enjoy it. With time I think I'll definitely get where I need to get,” he told reporters.

Aston Villa are 16th in the league table with 10 points from 11 matches.

BAILEY... he's a man for the people and for the team(Photos: Observer file)
BY SANJAY MYERS Senior staff reporter myerss@jamaicaobserver.com

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