Laurie Foster | Get Bailey in!
The condition in which Jamaica's football has been allowed to fall is troubling. The second-place finish in the CONCACAF Gold Cup last summer gave a temporary fillip, but since then, losses to Canada and Saudi Arabia have removed the smiles from the nation's face. Then comes the heartbreaking news that the country's best young talents are ineligible for entry to the prestigious English Premier League (EPL) unless a FIFA world ranking of a spot in the top 50 is attained.
According to recent reports, EPL clubs Brighton and Crystal Palace made moves to sign Reggae Boyz' first choice goalkeeper Andre Blake but were thwarted by the failure to secure a British work permit because of Jamaica's low ranking. Something drastic has to be done to raise the level of the sport if this sad situation is not to continue.
Foster's Fairplay has a suggestion. Exposure on a few occasions to the 20-year-old Leon Bailey, as he plays in the German Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen is compelling. He has scored two fantastic goals, the last against high-riding Borussia Munchengladbach in a come-from-behind 5-1 victory, coming from 0-1 at half-time. One can add at least three Man of the Match Awards to his name as a testament to his pedigree. As the colloquial language in his country of birth goes, "Him nuh normal." This player needs to be playing for Jamaica.
The newly elected regime at the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) is being given time to set out its plan, promised in early exchanges post the poll, to be "coming soon." At the time of writing, it is five weeks since that announcement, which is deemed to be enough for a full roll out. If the reason for the delay is, "we are plotting the Leon Bailey scenario with the intention to invite him, utilising the traditional channels for the next FIFA date," that would be more than acceptable."
There are some hard truths to be faced. Jamaica needs Bailey and not the other way around. The country can benefit from his presence to have the image of the game restored to the level it enjoyed during the Boyz' campaign to France '98. The concept of a fortress, as the Office was, needs resuscitation. Players need to feel that there is a clear path to be taken for them to realise their dreams. This is not to say that all this rebuilding is a one-man job, but it can be a platform on which to build the future by bringing back the match day support Jamaica once knew.
With that all this, it must be appreciated that things have gone terribly wrong and must be fixed in the best interests of the nation's football. The JFF is to be blamed for bringing the Bailey discussions into the public space. Meetings at which these negotiations are forged should be held in camera. It is for this body to apply the medicine now.
In the opinion of this column, the first play is to sideline the controversy with Bailey's protector-plus-everything else, Craig Butler. Butler should not be faulted, in all the to and fro so far, for setting his conditions for the release of the young baller. There is nothing inherently wrong in his asking for details of a programme that is requesting the input of the considerable skills with which his "son" is blessed. He undoubtedly played a sterling role in Leon mastering his craft and would not want it to fall on rough ground, there to wane and wither away. As it entails in a United States collegiate system, parents are invited on visits for them to get the lay of the land that their charges will call their home for an extended period.
Come on JFF, for reasons already explained, Leon should be brought home to be a member of the country's squad to participate in its next home game. Any fallout that occurs from putting Butler's grievances on hold will, hopefully, be cooled by the energy and excitement the introduction of Leon can be expected to give to the nation's football.
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