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Whittaker's last big shot

By NODLEY WRIGHT, Freelance Writer
www.jamaica-star.com

MORE THAN ANYONE else, perhaps, 20 year-old Allien Whittaker is looking forward to the qualification of Jamaica's Under-23 team for the Athens Olympics later this year, because it is his last big shot at shining on the international stage as a junior player and earning himself a professional contract abroad.

"It would mean my last real chance in getting somewhere - for the time being anyway," said the 20-year-old shot-stopper who has, since 1998, been keeping goal for the Under-17, Under-20 and more recently the Under-23 national football teams.

Next time around he'll have to compete with the likes of established senior 'keepers Donovan Ricketts and Aaron Lawrence. Breaking through could take some time.

"If we do not qualify it would be a while for someone to see me on the international circuit.

Role models

"I have been training with the senior team a lot and there are people like Aaron Lawrence, who is my role model. Donovan Ricketts, who I have a lot of respect for, also there are Shawn Sawyers and Leon Gordon. These are the people that I will have to contend with," explained the man who is hungry for a professional contract overseas.

Jamaica became the first country from the English-speaking Caribbean to qualify for football's biggest stage and at the time was the country with the smallest population or size to do so.

Those successes were followed up by qualifications for the Under-17 World Cup (1999) and the Under-20 World championships (2001).

With them came the opportunity for many players like Ricardo Gardner, Walter Boyd, Theodore Whitmore, Ian Goodison, Ricardo Fuller, Jermaine Johnson, Onandi Lowe, Claude Davis and Omar Daley to be snapped up for international contracts in England and Kelly, who went to PSG in France.

However, unlike most of his countrymen who are more inclined to play in England where the language is similar, Whittaker has no real interest in that country.

"I would play anywhere basically. I do not know if it is because of the type of person that I am. I am a person like this, if I see a lot of people wearing the Diesel brand name then I will not necessarily be interested in that. Similarly, right now it seems everyone is looking to England but I am more looking towards Germany. If not Germany then anywhere else," explained Whittaker, who represents Rivoli United in the Wray and Nephew National Premier League.

A large part of Whittaker's desperation for qualification has to do with the events of 2001. Then, despite Jamaica not winning a single match, Whittaker was named to the All-Star team as the best goalkeeper after an impressive display in a game against eventual champions Argentina, who won 5-1.

However, to date there has been no professional progress.

"In Argentina to be recognised for my performance was really overwhelming. It was like a victory for me because in the Under-17 World Cup I never performed as well as I would have wanted. That I put down to not being very prepared.

"But after that nothing happened. I question the fact that nothing happened for me but my father said that it was because I had no agent," Whittaker said.

Disapointed

In 2003 things should have been much better as a supposedly more mature and more experienced Whittaker had a chance to once again compete in the Under-20 World Championships. Along with him were five other players who had played in the previous competition. Included in that number was Keith Kelly (then attached to Paris Saint-Germain in France), Alex Thomas, Sean Fraser, Sheldon Battiste and Craig Gordon.

"It was terrible not to make it then. To tell you the truth, prior to that campaign I kept close touch with coach Patrick 'Jackie' Walters . I said to him, 'if we qualify for the Championships the eyes would be on me."

A second qualification for the Under-20 Championships was to fade taking with it another opportunity for Whittaker to shine. "I think complacency set in among the six of us who returned,"explained the Clarendon resident.

"Another problem too is that we were not adequately prepared. We never had many practice matches and those games that we played were against local teams. Our first real game was the qualifier against the Cayman Islands," said Whittaker.

Charges of poor preparations cannot be levelled this time around as they took part in the CAC Games and are due to have practice matches against Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Canada just before the final phase of the qualifications in Guadalajara, Mexico. There is also the possibility that another game could be arranged against Honduras, who are also in the running for a place to Greece.