In early September Simon Dawkins scored a goal that literally kept Jamaica in the 2018 World Cup campaign. Had it not been for his 89th minute strike against Nicaragua in Managua, the players who represent the Reggae Boyz would most likely be at their respective clubs across the globe thinking about their upcoming club fixtures.
As it was, his last gasp effort gave Jamaica a 2-0 win that saw the country advancing to the semi-final round 4-3 on aggregate after Nicaragua had put the Boyz in a pickle with their upset 3-2 at the national stadium a few days earlier.
What many people don’t know is that Dawkins delivered his best for his country at great personal sacrifice. During the Caribbean Cup held here in Jamaica in December 2014, Dawkins’ mother had fallen gravely ill. She was suffering from cancer and eventually passed shortly before the Copa America this past summer. Still Dawkins accepted the invitation to represent Jamaica at that tournament to which the Reggae Boyz had been invited, as well as the Gold Cup that followed in the United States weeks later. He didn’t even have time to grieve when he was once again pressed into duty in September when Nicaragua had Jamaica against a precipice following their surprise 3-2 at the National Stadium in early September.
Days later, it was his goal that saved Jamaica’s campaign and gave the national team a chance to be playing in the semi-final group stage of World Cup qualifying. Inexplicably however, Dawkins was left out of the starting XI against Panama to kick off their series of matches in this round. Word is that he was training well and given the fact that it was he who saved the campaign consideration could have been given to having him start against Panama.
Dawkins had shown great patience and sacrificed much but he was unable to contain his frustration when Coach Miguel Coley, who was deputizing for banned head coach Winfried Schafer pulled an ineffective Giles Barnes and in a match where Jamaica was trailing 2-0 brought on Alvas Powell, a defender, who had walked away after complaining of not getting playing time during the Gold Cup.
Having sacrificed so much and getting what he saw as too little in return, Dawkins reportedly packed his bags and left the squad even as Jamaica was preparing to play Haiti last Tuesday, November 17. Jamaica won that match 1-0 courtesy of a 62nd minute goal from English import Clayton Donaldson. The win means Jamaica lies third in the group behind leaders Costa Rica who has six points but on the same number of points as Panama who lost to Costa Rica 2-1 on Tuesday night. There are still four matches to go and Jamaica will need every point to finish among the top two and advance to the final round of qualifiers.
The Reggae Boyz are still in it. Which is why I find it disturbing that Dawkins would choose to walk away now.
I understand his frustration. He sacrificed a lot, his confidence is high and like every professional player worth their salt, he wants to play. So I get his angst and to a degree his impromptu decision to pack his bags and head back to Derby County where he plies his skills as a midfielder. However, I don’t agree with his decision. I think it is selfish and suggests that the player is more about himself than his national team.
I don’t know why Dawkins was left out of the starting XI or why he was not brought on when Jamaica needed to improve it’s chances of scoring against a disciplined Panamanian team, Powell being chosen instead but what I do know is that if that’s what the coach decides then that is what he decides. It may be the incorrect decision but it is what it is. Hopefully, everyone will learn from the decision.
Just recently I watched as celebrated Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp during their match against Crystal Palace pull a tall Christian Benteke and replaced him with Brazilian Roberto Firmino as the Reds went for the win. Late in the game Liverpool conceded a corner and Palace defender Scott Dann rose above the flinching Brazilian to get off a header that was blocked by Simon Mignolet straight back to the defender who headed in the rebound. Klopp I am sure made the substitution thinking it was the right one but in hindsight had a taller Benteke been the man standing in front of Dann, it is reasonable to believe that match-winning header would not have occurred.
Similarly, Coach Coley made a decision that he thought was in the best interest of the team and it didn’t work out. But is that a reason for Dawkins to quit the team? I really don’t think. Who knows if he was not going to be selected to start against Haiti and even if he wasn’t, there are still four matches to go.
No one individual is bigger than the team and if every time a player doesn’t get selected he picks up his marbles and goes home it doesn’t send a good message to the remaining team members. Powell did something similar at the Gold Cup which suggests that this could be the start of a disturbing trend where players will want to threaten “pick me or else I am going home”.
Every player wants to play in the World Cup and Jamaica, for all it’s issues, has a good shot at doing so and that’s why this situation is so unfortunate. Say, for example, there are other players in the squad who were undergoing personal issues similar to Dawkins and all or most had demonstrated good form, who do you pick, the player that was experiencing the greatest personal turmoil?
Coaches pick teams and players play. Sometimes the coaches get it right, sometimes they don’t. Against Panama, given that we lost again to a team that we have only beaten twice, maybe it was the wrong decision to leave Dawkins out but there are four other matches wherein the the coaching staff has the chance to right their wrong.
Powell was allowed back in and we can only hope Dawkins will be allowed back but the player also has to realize that it will take a team to get to Russia in 2018, not any one player who believes he deserves a shot at playing over that of his teammates.