By Gregory Bryce
It is a fact of life that practice makes perfect. In all areas of life, the habit of practice and preparation is a key part of being able to succeed at the highest level. It is no different for football. Professional footballers will spend hours training and preparing for their competitions and it shows on the field. A player who fails to practise is easily identifiable by the lackluster performance that they put out.
But not only do footballers train individually, their teams often schedule pre-season and friendly matches that take them away from ‘game-like’ training sessions into real games. For a team, friendlies and pre-season matches are a great way to judge the strengths and weaknesses of the teams, as well as test the preparedness of the team in a controlled environment.
To arrange friendlies, particularly before an important competition, is vital for any team.
This is why Reggae Boyz’ team manager, Roy Simpson, is concerned by the lack of action that the national team will face before they begin their World Cup qualifying campaign.
The Boyz will begin their campaign in the final round in June 2021, but will be playing fewer matches leading up to the qualifiers after it was announced by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) that the team will not be playing in the October international window due to the increase in COVID-19 cases across the island.
Simpson says he is concerned because this decision has resulted in the cancellation of matches that were in the process of being setting up. Simpson says that it is even more concerning when you take into consideration the fact that the team has not played competitively since March. This could prove to be a problem for the upcoming qualifiers.
“It is a concern for us,” Simpson said in an interview with the Gleaner. “We have been inactive competitively from March, which is also a concern to us because we have not been doing anything locally. We still await the go-ahead from the Ministry of Health.”
Undoubtedly, the Reggae Boyz will need to be able to play more matches leading up to qualifiers in June, and Simpson is optimistic that matches can be played as early as November (granted protocols are put in place to ensure the health of the players).
“If they can provide the type of environment that would not subject players and staff to any form of exposure to the pandemic, hopefully, we will engage,” Simpson said. “But as we have always said, it is a continuous wait-and-see approach because the health and well-being of our staff and players are paramount.”
I can understand where Simpson would become concerned about not being able to play in the revised October international window, as it takes continuous playtime together for a team to become cohesive and play at their best abilities. If Jamaica wants to secure their spot in the 2022 Qatar World Cup, it will not be a last-minute combination of players that will do so, but rather, a ready and solid unit.
The lack of any October fixtures will be a loss to the national program, no doubt, but at the same time, there are hopes that the Reggae Boyz will be able to play a match before the end of the year, and this could be a key moment for Simpson and the national programme.
Time is of the essence at the moment, and there have been positive signs so far for the individual players of the team.
Just this week, Bobby Reid scored his first Premier League goal of the season for his club, Fulham, which is a positive sign for the national team. His expected strike partner, Shamar Nicholson, has also been showing good displays in the Belgian League with goals and assists to his names.
Alex Marshall is another Reggae Boyz player who is doing well, with his Canadian club, HFX Wanderers FC, who made it to the finals of the Canadian Premier League (CPL) while Nicholas Hamilton, who could earn his first Reggae Boyz cap in the near future, is expected to be sent on loan to the Scottish Premiership League with Dundee.
Jamaican players have done well so far in their individual careers, and now the onus is on the coaching staff to create a cohesive team from the talent available for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports journalist.
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