Foster's Fairplay | Burrell should meet Butler half way
Foster's Fairplay has always had great respect for the president of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), former Army Captain Horace Burrell. Although he is frequently described as possessing a dictatorial style, it is that which has brought a great deal of glory to the country's football image. Over the years, Jamaica was never short of football talent. However, this was the sporting administrator who had a vision and along with the Brazilian recruit, coach Rene Simoes, attracted the support and acquired the tools to make it happen. The rest is history, as it led to the nation making its entry to the World Cup Final in 1998.
A lot has changed since that time. Burrell and his team are now facing a dilemma. With a public who had experienced the sweet taste of this achievement yapping at his heels, seeking more of the same, the terrain after 1998 was always going to be tough. Although the campaign back then was flavoured by an influx of England-based players, there now seems to be less of a desire by the football fraternity to accept them with the enthusiasm with which they were welcomed more than 20 years ago. One of the reasons for the well-voiced reluctance is that the quality of a Deon Burton, a prolific striker, is absent in the present lot. The same can be said about the midfield general, Fitzroy Simpson. With the present crew, the word 'journeymen' seems to sum it up perfectly.
The current thinking from the football management appears to be that local-based players are not the answer, either. As such, the squad named for the recent friendly against the USA was bereft of those who play their club game in England. It comprised players from Major League Soccer and others from here at home. Coach Theodore Whitmore, despite a 1-0 loss, is reported to be "encouraged'' by the team performance, but what is the path forward?
There is no suggestion that the future of the country's football can rest on the shoulders of a single player. Having said that, the country has not been able to attract real quality players, plying their trade overseas, notwithstanding the fact that they were born in Jamaica. England winger Raheem Sterling, originally from Maverley, did not accept the invitation when the Captain came hunting his talent. The gifted Leon Bailey was transferred just a few days ago from the Belgian club Genk on a deal worth over £12 million. He now represents Bayer Leverkusen in the German Bundesliga. But there is a major problem with the 19-year-old, who played locally at three recognised youth levels, top-scoring in them all.
Coming from his own mouth, the former Jamaica College Manning Cup left-side defence man, Craig Butler, who founded the Phoenix Football Academy for which Leon played when he was based in Jamaica, is the youngster's adopted father. There are some old issues coming out of the administration of that entity that has put Butler and the Kingston & St Andrew Football Association (KSAFA) and, by extension, the JFF at loggerheads. Recently, as the bid to get Leon to represent Jamaica at the senior level intensifies, Butler has publicly issued an ultimatum. In order for him to allow his adopted son to play for Jamaica, there has to be an apology from the JFF for disrespect meted out to him by former national coach Winfried Schaefer. Another clause is that the JFF must outline a philosophy for the running of football if Leon is required to be a part of it.
There seems to be no backing out on the decision taken by Butler, hence the problem. So what does the JFF do to address this impasse? No one should ask that the Captain slavishly accepts and complies with the dictates of Butler. However, there must be a way forward to allow the young man, if that is his wish, to represent his country and give its people an opportunity to view his exceptional skills at close range. It will take a meeting of minds, frank discussion and, above all, the will to overlook past grievances in the interest of Jamaica, land we love.
Aye, aye Captain, you are needed on deck.