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Men's Football Bailey reveals Jamaica's problems and takes a break from the national team

The Villa forward has decided to step away from Jamaica, blasting the team as ‘unprofessional.’ JAMES NALTON reports

JAMAICA and Aston Villa forward Leon Bailey is arguably the best player in the Concacaf region of international football, but as the Jamaica men’s team approached their Nations League semi-final with the United States on Thursday night, Bailey and several other stars were missing.

According to Jamaica coach Heimir Hallgrimsson, Bailey was dropped due to missing a curfew while with the squad during the previous international window in November.

But the Villa winger has since revealed that he has decided to step away from the national team.

He says he felt the suspension was harsh while also lamenting the lack of professionalism within the Jamaica national team set-ups.

It is the latest issue at a national federation that has talent among its pool of players but appears to hinder itself via internal politics, lack of organisation, or as Bailey recently described on the Let’s Be Honest podcast, an all-round lack of professional standards.

“I make a lot of sacrifices to make sure I always turn up,” said Bailey. “A lot of people don’t know that most of the time, I book my own flights to come and represent the national team.

“They are very unprofessional. You’re getting your flight details sent to you 11pm at night before travelling the next day.

“The Jamaica national team doesn’t pay. I don’t remember the last time I received a dollar from the national team.

“All this time I’ve been joining up with the national team, it’s very unprofessional, in ways you can’t imagine.

“You’re turning up and they don’t have equipment for you. You’ll go and they’ll only have one shirt for you, and you have to find shorts.

“Players turn up to games and it’s a women’s shirt they printed out for you to wear. In terms of travel and all sorts of things, it’s ridiculous and they don’t know how to operate.”

The problems Bailey detailed were also evident with the Jamaica women’s team that participated in last year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

The organisation of things that would be considered basic provisions for a travelling national team, such as accommodation, living expenses and transport, was so inadequate that players’ family members started a crowdfunder to help them pay for meals and accommodation.

The federation also failed to organise friendly matches in the build-up to the World Cup which affected the team’s preparation for the tournament.

Despite this, they still qualified from a group containing Brazil and France and didn’t concede a goal in the tournament until they were defeated 1-0 by Colombia in the last 16.

Even in December, four months after the World Cup finished, players were still commenting that they hadn’t received their money due from the federation for participating in the tournament.

As the men’s team approached their Nations League semi-final on Thursday they were already the underdogs even with their strongest team, but with several stars missing few gave them any chance at all.

Michail Antonio of West Ham withdrew himself from the squad, with no reason given as to why. Trivante Stewart had been dropped for the same reasons as Bailey, Demarai Gray and Shamar Nicholson were on yellow card suspensions, while Ethan Pinnock and Amari’i Bell were injured.

Despite this, they still managed to take the lead against the United States with 31 seconds played and were unlucky not to progress to the final.

An own goal from Cory Burke with 36 seconds of second-half added time left to play meant the game went to extra time, where the United States’ individual quality in depth eventually shone through as the favourites won 3-1.

It left many convinced that Jamaica would have progressed were the likes of Bailey and Antonio available, and that Bailey’s points about the lack of organisation and professionalism are costing them in these big matches against the traditional heavyweights in the region.

With his Jamaican accent becoming stronger as the interview with the Let’s Be Honest podcast progressed, Bailey spoke from a personal point of view on the sacrifices made when representing the national team.

Some of this included how this affects his club football and references to his progression at Aston Villa.

He credited Unai Emery for the upturn in his own form and that of the team.

“The coach came in and did a lot,” said Bailey. “Previous coaches I had issues with and things weren’t clicking, but when the new coach came in, that’s when things turned around for me and he helped me a lot, to be where I am today.”

Bailey’s form at Aston Villa this season has seen him become one of the most productive attacking players in the Premier League in support of his prolific teammate, Ollie Watkins.

His performances, which have helped Villa challenge for a Champions League place in one of the most difficult leagues in Europe, mean he is now arguably the top player from the Concacaf region, with the USA’s Christian Pulisic of AC Milan the other contender.

But this means nothing if Bailey is not playing for Jamaica in games like this Nations League semi-final and the upcoming Copa America in the US, for which Jamaica have already qualified as one of the Concacaf guest teams for this South American tournament.

Bailey admitted breaking a curfew in the previous camp, but it’s perhaps the case that this kind of occasional, casual flouting of team rules is a reflection of the lack of professionalism the players see from the Jamaican Football Federation itself.

He was obviously put out by the suspension, which could have been the reason he decided to speak publicly on these long-standing issues, as well as tipping him over the edge to take a break from the national team.

“I am Jamaican and I love my country, and hopefully one day my kids can grow up and come into a better environment than I did,” he added.

“But sometimes I think about it and realise that these things were happening before I was born so can I be the change? There’s only so much one person can do.”

 

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