Orville Higgins, Contributor
I hope the Jamaica Football Federation Federation is taking heed. In fact, I am sure it is. Last Sunday night at the National Stadium, I experienced something I can't remember witnessing in recent times: the Reggae Boyz being roundly booed, both at half-time and at the end of the 1-0 loss to Panama.
The booing was not only because Jamaica was playing badly (granted, it was an ordinary display, to say the least), but the crowd was expressing its frustration, even disgust, about the state of the programme, not only the state of the game.
The average Jamaican football fan is not convinced that the Boyz are where they are supposed to be. Maybe the biggest concern is that, even at this late stage, the coaching staff is still trying out new players, such as Nyron Nosworthy and Adrian Mariappa, or looking again at 'old' ones, such as Claude Davis and Damion Stewart.
This creates the perception that with a week to go before the crucial June 8 clash with Guatemala, the coach is still not sure what his squad, much less his final eleven, will be. It appears that we are still in an experimental mode, and that can't be satisfactory.
Another concern is that many are convinced that the right match teams are not being selected. Here, I sympathise with the coaching staff. It's not easy to nail down a squad. There has never been a time in our history when the pool of players to choose from has been as wide.
Whichever squad the coach settles on for our first qualifier, there will be disagreements and debates. Added to that is the nagging perception that the coach has been inclined to favour players from Portmore and Harbour View.
Personally, I find this rather ironic, because I believe the two most glaring omissions from regular Whitmore squads are Jermaine Hue and Khari Stephenson, who are both connected with Harbour View.
not selling programme
When the question about the Portmore-Harbour View bias was put to Coach Whitmore, he lost his cool. That was a mistake. He became almost angry at the reporter, and his mysterious (and unsubstantiated) statement - that players from other clubs create problems when they are called up to the national programme - didn't go down too well in several quarters.
Whitmore, in fact, may not realise it, but his own demeanour hasn't exactly endeared him to the public in recent times. For one thing, Whitmore is too often inaccessible to the local media. Whatever else one may say about Rene Simoes, he was as much a coach as he was a public-relations whiz. Not only did he write regular columns in the papers discussing aspects of the programme, but he could usually be reached by the press.
Whitmore has to understand that his job is not merely to coach the team, but to sell the programme to the Jamaican fan. He can never be as aloof as he now appears to be. Whitmore enjoyed a lot of goodwill as a player and was always popular with the Jamaican fan. However, as a coach and ambassador for the programme, he has his detractors.
His real test begins now. The honeymoon is over. Tonight's return game against Panama will be closely monitored. Make no bones about it, a bad result and Whitmore will be feeling the heat. A good result will buy him some time, but only until June 8 when the sceptics will be out in full force.
Whitmore's moment of truth has arrived.
Orville Higgins is the 2011 winner of the Hugh Crosskill/Raymond Sharpe Award for Sports Reporting. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.