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Oral Tracey | Is Leon Bailey worth the trouble?

Published:Sunday | February 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Leverkusen's Jamaican forward Leon Bailey (right) rounds Hamburg keeper Christian Mathenia to score the opening goal in their German Bundesliga match in Hamburg on Saturday. Leverkusen won 2-1.

As I sat and watched Jamaican winger Leon Bailey unleash another impressive match-winning display in Bayer Leverkusen's 2-1 away victory over Hamburg in the German Bundesliga on Saturday, where he scored once and was integrally involved in the construct of the other goal, my mind swayed back to the ongoing debate about the nuanced challenges of getting Bailey to represent the country of his birth.

Opinions are split down the middle, with some individuals convinced that the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) must do whatever it takes to secure the services of the super-talented Bailey. Conversely, several persons have opined that the guardian and agent of Bailey, Craig Butler, is simply going too far with his demands in exchange for the player's commitment to Jamaica.

Multiple callers to the radio show, The Sports Explosion, on HITZ 92 FM, co-hosted by myself and Earl Bailey, as well as the sentiments expressed through informal interaction with members of the football fraternity, seem to be converging on the view that enough is enough, Butler is effectively hijacking the nation's football, and the JFF should not accede to his demands of direct involvement in the technical shaping of a national football philosophy; citing fears that a pact with the narcissistic Butler will set a dangerous precedent, so let him go to hell, and forget about Leon Bailey.

So is Leon Bailey worth the trouble? Is he worth all this hassle, inconvenience and difficulty? If President Michael Ricketts and company genuinely think the principle is bigger than the individual, and it is not worth their time and energy to try and resolve the issues that need resolving to make Leon Bailey a Reggae Boy, then they should shut the door on the negotiations, as well as on Messrs Butler and Bailey.

If, however, the thinking is that Bailey would add short-, medium- and long-term value to the national team, and the national programme, then the lines of communication and negotiation must not just remain open, but the JFF needs to move with alacrity. This, especially with news emerging that Bailey could be eligible to play for England, as two of his grandparents hold British passports. It has also been reported that the process has actually begun to get him on the plane to the World Cup in Russia in a Three Lions shirt.

Leon Bailey is such a special talent, not just in a Jamaican context. His on-field exploits, inclusive of his 10 goals and five assists in 22 games for his German club, have captured the imagination of the entire football world. It would be a travesty to not have him representing the country of his birth. There is an old Jamaica saying that, "if yuh want good, yuh nose affi run." That saying is playing out perfectly in this scenario.

It is absolutely worth the time, the effort and every ounce of leadership expertise to get Leon Bailey wearing the black, green and gold of Jamaica. The fact of the matter is that it is Jamaica's complex cultural and football reality that produced the synergy that gave rise to both Leon Bailey and Craig Butler. This is our problem and we have to solve it.




Venturing even further left of field on this principle, if given the imperfect choice of having to deal with the enigma of a Craig Butler, with a precocious talent such as Leon Bailey as the prize, and not have a Butler hurdle or a Bailey prize, I would choose the Butler challenge any day. Extending even further, I would also much rather face the problem of having even six or seven players of Leon Bailey's quality emerging out of Jamaica, with the commensurate six or seven Craig Butler equivalents to navigate, than not having either the problematic agents or the possible services of the super-talented players.

Another consideration in the analysis of this still-unfolding saga is the question of Butler's competence for that technical role he craves. Would Craig Butler be an asset to the national football programme going forward? It is pretty much a no-brainer that his expertise and experience would be of great value to the overall programme. Therefore, the resolution to this convoluted conflict might be even simpler than it is being made out to be.

If the pursuit of Leon Bailey to become a senior Jamaican international is worth it, and if Butler's vision of a football philosophy and its implementation will be beneficial to the nation's football, what then is the big issue? The JFF needs to act, and act now. It needs to craft a role and make the Butler appointment and proceed to get Leon Bailey here as soon as possible. Jamaica Football Federation, the ball is bouncing around dangerously in your penalty area. Get it cleared, BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE.