‘It’s better late than never’ is a proverb that aptly describes the current reality of Jamaica’s senior football program for the Reggae Boyz and the Reggae Girlz, specifically when it comes to their readiness ahead of tournaments later this year.
News coming out of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) is that announcements are imminent regarding friendly games for both teams during the upcoming FIFA Window between late May and early June. The JFF was set to announce friendly games for the Reggae Girlz ahead of the start of the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign in November.
And for those who might have forgotten, the Reggae Girlz, who qualified as the first English-speaking Caribbean nation for the 2019 World Cup Finals in France, have not played together in many moons mainly because of the devastating effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Jamaica’s sporting landscape has been severely affected as the Government struggles to balance public health and the resumption of sporting activities. That has seen many sporting disciplines remaining under lockdown, including football, the most popular sport on the island.
The announcement of these games will be great news for head coach Hubert Busby, especially after an opportunity to get in some much-needed practice in Spain earlier this year was missed because of the deadly impact of COVID-19 in that European country.
While the Jamaican Government fidgeted with the return of sports, most of the rivals in CONCACAF found a way to return sports to the people. And those countries would have been more advanced in their preparations ahead of November’s start of the World Cup qualifiers.
But at least Busby and his technical staff can now finally begin to chart the way forward and try to get up to speed as quickly as possible. We wish our ladies well.
For the Reggae Boyz, a source has indicated that they, too, will be engaged in a two-game friendly series during the said FIFA window. This announcement will be made at a later date, the source said. If confirmed, that will be great news for head coach Theodore Whitmore and his technical staff, who have been given the proverbial straw basket to carry water.
Over the past year, several English-based players have been linked with the Reggae Boyz, some of whom have already committed and have made their debuts, while a few others are awaiting official Jamaica documents to formalize the process. Yet, others are discussing the move with their families for a final decision to be taken.
At the end of the day, the number of interested individuals is fairly high and Whitmore and his staff would need time to fully access these players and, more importantly, get in enough match practice to provide an environment for players to gel, develop an understanding of each other and to build team chemistry.
Whitmore must have a solid pool of players at his disposal as the format for this qualification campaign requires no less. For some windows, the Reggae Boyz will play three matches in quick succession, and Whitmore will need to have the resources to rotate players and still maintain a high level of play.
Sadly, Whitmore lost out on the last two FIFA windows last November and March. Not that the Reggae Boyz were not engaged. But to many, these games were rendered less than ideal.
The new COVID-19 protocols and bungled travel arrangements for the team to get to Saudi Arabia meant that the Reggae Boyz were short-staffed and undercooked for their first game against the Middle Eastern country, which they duly lost.
However, the team rebounded massively and comfortably defeated their rivals in the return game three days later, proving that if they are properly prepared, they have the tools to compete successfully.
Last March was another opportunity to help in the preparation of the team in a game against CONCACAF rivals the US in Austria. But, again, the opportunity was wasted in a 4-1 defeat. Half of the squad travelled from Jamaica and had not played competitively in a year, while the other half included about six players who had never before suited up in Jamaican colors.
Most of the players who had played in Saudi Arabia and who had been a part of Whitmore’s teams over the past year, watched from the sidelines because they were in a long, drawn-out salary dispute with the JFF. That dispute had since been settled.
From our vantage point, we hope that these players, some of whom are high-profile English Premier League campaigners, will grab the opportunity to make the trip for these two games so that they can strut their stuff and provide headaches for Whitmore and his staff.
It is already late in the day as the US and Mexico are far ahead in terms of their preparation for the World Cup qualifiers, but as is commonly said in Jamaica, It’s never too late for a shower of rain.