KINGSTON, Jamaica – “The more things change, the more they remain the same,” is a phrase coined by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr.
And it best describes the current situation facing Jamaica’s national senior men’s football team, which is set to wrap up its CONCACAF Nations League Group C of League B qualifications during the on-going FIFA window with games away to Antigua and Barbuda and at home to Guyana.
We remember very well the outrage from then Reggae Boyz Technical Director, Brazilian Rene Simoes, when his team was forced to endure sleepless nights ahead of crucial World Cup qualifying games primarily in Central America, during the “Road to France” campaign.
Rowdy home supporters would march on the team’s hotels and bang drums throughout the nights to create a nuisance and make life most uncomfortable for the visiting Reggae Boyz, who were condemned to such treatment due partly to the team management’s naivete.
Then Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) President, the late Captain Horace Burrell, learnt his lessons and remedied the situation quickly by engaging the services of highly reputable and secured hotels with the requisite amenities for the players to rest peacefully so that they could report in the best physical and mental shape for games.
More than 20 years later and it appears to be back at square one, where this generation of players is forced to endure similar discomfort ahead of competitive international games.
Current Head Coach Theodore Whitmore has built up a strong group of players who have been piling on positive results over the past few years and are on the brink of securing qualification to the next CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament, as well as earning a place in the hexagonal phase of the next FIFA World Cup Finals qualification campaign.
But even as Coach Whitmore has battled hard and long to define his group and to have then “singing to the same tune”, off the pitch issues have reared their ugly heads.
The group arrived in St John’s on Monday evening and refused to lace up their boots for a planned early morning training session on Tuesday morning due to what they claimed were unsatisfactory conditions of their rooms at the Starfish Halcyon Cover Resort.
Apart from old furniture and malfunctioning equipment, there were reports of situations which could present health risks to the players and staff, which frustrated Captain Andre Blake, especially on the back of recent negative headlines.
“The team is doing so well right now and then we have to keep dealing with this kind of things…as players we have had different situations over the years to deal with, and even with these distractions we have to make sure that the mindset of the players is still in the right place, and we have to make sure once we touch the field we get the results,” Blake told the Jamaica Observer.
“We want to just focus on football, but there is always something to distract us, and as I demand the best out of the players, we have to demand the best of the JFF, so that we are not given a basket to carry water.
“We missed a valuable training session this morning (Tuesday), and for me, that is one training less and we could have improved, so it is very disappointing.”
And the intervention of the President of the JFF, Mike Ricketts, has resulted in the team management being forced to relocate to a more comfortable setting, which may or may not have incurred more funds, but certainly more unnecessary bad press.
The hierarchy of the JFF learnt from early in the ball game that reconnaissance was very important to the operations. It was important for someone to make a site visit to the team hotel, training fields, and to co-ordinate ground transportation so that an efficient operation can be executed.
It is understood that the impoverished state of the federation might have rendered reconnaissance surplus to requirement, but if Ricketts and his board wanted any further evidence of its importance, then they need not look any further than the embarrassment at Starfish Halcyon Cover Resort.
And it should be noted that a spokesperson for Starfish Halcyon, while disappointed by the team’s premature departure, urged the JFF to share blame for the fiasco.
According to the spokesperson, the JFF confirmed booking for the rooms relatively late (about four days earlier), even though initial contact was made from last month, but was never followed up on, until Starfish Halcyon inquired if there was still interest as the best rooms were already sold.
The hotel representative also noted that no JFF officer visited and indicated the type of rooms required.
This is another case of the general secretary falling asleep at the wheels for the umpteenth time this calendar year alone. When will it stop?
The foul-ups, bleeps and blunders from the JFF across the Reggae Boyz and Reggae Girlz teams this year would have seen most general secretaries fired for incompetence, but not this one. Why?
The Reggae Girlz travel fiasco ahead of the FIFA World Cup Finals, their row over payment before and after the global showpiece event; the many strike threats by the Reggae Boyz, the withdrawal of the Under-15 men’s team due to the failure of the JFF to apply for US visas in a timely manner – all over incidents which are standard protocols.