Jamaica Reggae Boyz Future looks brighter than before

After winning the Caribbean Cup four times in the last decade and reaching the final of the Gold Cup in 2015 after an impressive semi-final victory over the United States, it was with a certain amount of optimism that they went into the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup to be held in Russia. In fact, after their performance in the Gold Cup – the first time the Reggae Boyz had reached the final – many thought the team may be returning to the glory days of late 1990’s. So what went wrong? And is there any hope for the future?

The table makes for depressing reading. 6 games played, just 4 points amassed virtue of one win and one draw. The most damming statistic is the goals for column, with Winfried Schäfer’s team only managing to score 2 goals, while shipping 10 at the other end. The thing that rankles the most however is that it could – and maybe should – have been so much different, but for abject displays, and seemingly bizarre tactics and team selections. We will never know if any of that would have made any difference, but that was certainly a group the Jamaican team could have qualified from, particularly in light of their form coming into the tournament and some of the players in the squad.

A lot of the fingers will be pointed in the direction of the German coach, who it was hoped would be able to get the most out his undoubtedly talented squad. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Not only have they failed to gel, he has been found out tactically, resolutely sticking to his all too predictable defensive strategy, regardless of the opposition or required result. It quickly became apparent that there was no plan B, and teams were able set up to counter their formation relatively comfortable in the knowledge that the Boyz would not be able to change things around. And that is precisely what happened again and again.

A case in point was the crucial game against Panama. Don’t forget, this was a game we needed to win. Yet despite that, the team was set up to defend, and could muster only two shots on the opposition goal in the whole 90 minutes.

What made these tactics even worse was that as well as being toothless up front, the team were not able to stop the goals from going in their own net. In fact they only kept 1 clean sheet, which is remarkable when you consider how the teams were set up. This includes the final game against Haiti. Up until that game at the National Stadium, Haiti had failed to score in any of the previous 5 games. Yet, on that occasion they managed it twice for no reply.

So, the world cup dream is over for another 4 years, with the likes of Costa Rica preparing to see if they can progress where Jamaica failed. After what Leicester City achieved last year in the English Premier League at similar odds, who is to say history won’t repeat itself? Costa Rica is currently 500/1 to grab the World Cup.

The Current state of Affairs
Winfried Schäfer (extreme right) via weltfussball.at
Schäfer’s future is in doubt regardless of the outcome of his current suspension, though where the JFF go from here is anybody’s guess. Failure to qualify will hit them hard financially, and they may be forced to look closer to home for a less expensive replacement should he be shown the door. That may not be a bad thing. The heroics against Chile, currently one of the best teams in the world, was achieved mainly through home based players and there is an argument that if that is the way forward then a Jamaican is likely to get the best from his troops.

Whatever happens, they need to arrest their recent slide down the FIFA rankings. They currently sit in 80th, making them the third ranked team in the Caribbean – behind Trinidad & Tobago at 69th and now St. Kitts & Nevis at 77th. Despite the Caribbean Cup wins.

The Future
Despite the current feeling of despair after such a lamentable qualification campaign, there are real causes for optimism. The results over the United States and Chile show what the team are capable of when everything clicks, and they are set up and sent out correctly. Also, they have one of the young stars of world football in their ranks.

Leon Bailey – currently plying his trade at Belgian side Genk, looks like he could be the real deal and is interesting the biggest clubs across Europe. He is exactly the player who a future manager can build his team around. Added to that, they have in captain Wes Morgan, someone who has experience at the very highest level of club football. In all football, especially in international level for the so called lesser nations, in order for a team to be successful they have to be better than the sum of their parts. This was something that certainly was not the case in this campaign, but if Jamaica can develop a core of the side – around Bailey and Morgan they may not be as far away from achieving that as recent results suggest.

The beauty of football is that there is always another tournament around the corner. The Boyz – and probably more importantly the management whoever that may be – have time to put things right. They also have plenty of tournament football to prepare for what has to be the next international goal on the horizon – Qatar 2022.

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