Mending fences - Ricketts, Whitmore welcome fresh Leon Bailey talks
Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) president, Michael Ricketts, and national senior team coach, Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore, are both looking forward to fresh talks with Phoenix Academy founder Craig Butler on the possibility of Leon Bailey representing Jamaica.
Butler appeared to have softened his stance and now seems more willing to end his stand-off with the JFF, opening the door for the Bayer Leverkusen star and other Phoenix graduates to finally play for the country.
"We have considered our country and how important it is to us and have decided to make one last effort to reconcile with the JFF in the best interest of Jamaica," Butler said, while pointing out the need for mediation, with Sport Minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange being his preferred candidate.
"We will never forget where we are coming from. So if the JFF is willing to sit with me and a mediator to ensure all is fair going in, I am willing to consider letting go of the past and walk side by side with my countrymen to World Cup victory," Butler said. "The minister, if she is willing, can serve as mediator. She has supported both sides and understands what it means to put the best interest of the country first. I have deep respect for Minister Grange. Now is the time to make it happen."
Ricketts yesterday welcomed the news, insisting the door was always open for Bailey and pointing out that it was up to the winger and his adopted father/manager, Butler, to commit to the national programme.
"We have always said when Leon Bailey is ready to play, we (JFF) are ready. I don't know how much mediation he needs, but we will embrace Leon Bailey whenever he is ready, and I know the coach is ready. So it's is just for him to make himself available," Ricketts said, noting that he hopes the issue will this time be resolved swiftly and amicably.
"It is all up to him (Bailey). We have games coming up - two friendlies with Cuba, then a Nations League game in October and November and one early next year. Once he (Bailey) sticks his hand up and says, 'I am ready', then I am pretty certain the coach will be ready for him," Ricketts stated.
Whitmore was also pleased to learn that talks could resume and is anticipating that one of world's most exciting talents will finally be available to him and the national programme.
"The door has never been closed on any player, not Leon Bailey or Jourdain Fletcher. But it is pleasing when you have a player like Leon Bailey out there. I have always said that it's for the JFF and Leon Bailey to do the right thing, but I definitely hope the next meeting will progress into something positive," Whitmore commented.
Butler, who was full of praise for Whitmore during a recent interview with The Gleaner, believes he can work with the national coach to develop a national football culture, despite his lingering doubts about the current administration.
"I cannot deny Tappa's effort and the improvement he's made. Having a solid cadre of local and international players that understand a system will give Tappa the edge he needs to be the best coach in Jamaica's history," Butler said. "Being close to Tappa, I can help him with the development of a football culture. So I am really hopeful for the future, but I have doubts the members of the JFF can put the country and its youths before their egos and let my boys play."
For the last few years, Butler and the JFF have been at loggerheads. The local governing body sought the services of Bailey, but Butler's demands for a football culture and a position within the federation led to negotiations breaking down and it has been dormant since January.