With both the 2021 Gold Cup and 2022 World Cup qualifiers starting later this year, Jamaica are looking for new additions to their squad. The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) are using a tried and tested approach of contacting players of Jamaican descent who play in the UK.
The Caribbean nation had great success with this approach in the late 1990s. Jamaica’s one and only appearance at the FIFA World Cup was France 98. Deon Burton’s four goals were vital in ensuring that the Reggae Boyz qualified for the tournament. Their squad for the finals included Burton, as well as several other English born players, most notably – Robbie Earle, Frank Sinclair and Marcus Gayle.
While France 98, was undoubtedly Jamaica’s greatest achievement in international football, they have also been very competitive at regional level. Jamaica were runners up in the 2015 Gold Cup (beating the USA in the semi-finals) and runners up again in 2017 – this time losing to the USA in the final (2-1). More recently in 2019, Jamaica were semi-finalists, again losing out to the Americans.
Clearly, the Reggae Boyz have potential, but some believe that more strength in key areas (defensive midfield, upfront) is necessary in order to make the Qatar World Cup next year.
Jamaica boast some talented players in their ranks already with Leon Bailey (Bayer Leverkusen), Bobby Decordova-Reid (Fulham) and Kemar Lawrence (Anderlecht), all shining with their club sides.
In March this year, JFF President Michael Ricketts confirmed that eight English born players – Andre Gray, Demarai Gray, Isaac Hayden, Mason Holgate, Liam Moore, Nathan Redmond, Kemar Roofe and Ivan Toney, have already obtained or are in the process of applying for Jamaican passports.
Whilst the nation are excited about the prospective return to the world stage, perhaps they shouldn’t book their flights to the Middle East just yet, as there are some major problems behind the scenes:
The JFF and the players are currently in a stand-off over salary negotiations. On March 8th, the senior men’s team submitted a counter offer to the JFF for the upcoming 2021 Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers. In response to the JFF’s offer of $500 per match, the players proposed: US $2000 per match for the Gold Cup, plus bonuses. With regard to World Cup qualifying matches, the players proposed $3000 plus bonuses compared to the JFF’s offer of only $2000 per match.
The breakdown in negotiations has meant that Kemar Lawrence, Oneil Fisher, Damion Lowe and Leon Bailey have declined to represent the country until this is resolved. They all missed Jamaica’s friendly against the USA on 25th March and as a result Jamaica suffered a 4-1 defeat in that game.
It is unclear how the boycott will affect the UK based players who the JFF are currently trying to recruit, however it’s vital that the JFF resolve this pay dispute so that Jamaica are able to field their strongest possible side for future internationals.
In a recent interview with Simon Preston, Kemar Lawrence discussed his disappointment with the JFF on the YouTube channel Reggae Boyz Commentary. Lawrence indicated that his frustration was not purely based on financial remunerations:
When we were going to Saudi Arabia (Nov 2020), upon boarding my flight in London, I met with four English based players who went into business class and they put me in economy. On the way back the same thing. I play for an elite club in Belgium. I have more caps than all four put together and these are the things that cause segregation. Where is the level of respect and professionalism?
Furthermore, in May 2020, Leon Bailey said on Instagram live:
If Jamaica fails to make it to the next World Cup it would be the fault of the federation.
With the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers just months away, it is clear that a resolution must be found that suits all parties, even though there are clearly some deep rooted issues. Many believe this is a golden opportunity for Jamaica to return to the world stage.
Will they seize the chance or will there continue to be trouble in paradise?