Hibs' Marvin Bartley has a reggae World Cup dream
Hibs star Marvin Bartley is hoping a fairytale end to the season for the Easter Road club will help him pursue World Cup glory.
The midfield enforcer holds a Jamaican passport and enjoys dual nationality, being born in England with both his parents and grandparents hailing from the Caribbean island.
And although he has been on the Reggae Boyz radar for the past four years, Bartley revealed that only now, at the age of 29, does he feel ready for the international stage and has already been sounded out by figures “in and around” the Jamaican Football Federation.
In an exclusive interview with the Evening News Bartley revealed he has a close affinity with the holiday paradise, a frequent visitor to meet up with members of his family.
He said: “My mum Sandra and dad Clement came over as kids with their parents who were looking for a better life. My mum was five and my dad eight but they met in Reading when she was 19 and he was 23.
“They would always take me over to Jamaica to see aunts, uncles and cousins.
“We’ve got a lot of family in Jamaica – more than we have in England. I’ve been over every year on holiday for maybe the last 15 year and was there just last summer.
“So due to my family all being from Jamaica I’ve followed the national team’s results since I was a young boy.
“Obviously I’m eligible to play for them thanks to my parents and grandparents and in 2012 the Federation asked eight English-based players, including Adrian Mariappa and Garath McCleary, to apply for Jamaican passports as we’d need to prove our credentials.
“It has long been an ambition of mine to play for the country, ever since I started as a footballer. I’ve had conversations on a few occasions since then, I’ve been open and honest with them but I had a few injuries, hamstring problems and also there were times when I felt I was not in the best possible form.
“So while I told them it was something I wanted to do, I didn’t feel the time was right. I was at Burnley, things were going reasonably well but I was feeling tired towards the end of games and I felt travelling back and forwards to Jamaica at that point wouldn’t help. I’d spend the international breaks having a few days off.
“Nice as it would have been because the weather in Manchester was awful, it didn’t feel right.”
Now, though, Bartley would jump at the chance from Reggae Boyz manager Winfried Schafer although, as yet, he hasn’t spoken to him. He said: “I’ve spoken to a few people in and around the set up who’ve been basically sounding me out.
“At the last international break a few people got their wires crossed thinking I had turned down a call up, but that was not the case. There was a lot of stuff on social media asking why I hadn’t come, but it was never the case that I was going in the first place.”
Bartley confessed he hasn’t broached the subject with Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs, joking that if he does get the call he would maybe just drop him a text from the steps of the plane at Heathrow. “If it were to happen I’m sure he’d be absolutely fine. He’s very proud of his players, he wants to see each and every one of us do as well as we possibly can in our careers.
“I’ve watched the likes of John McGinn, Jason Cummings, Liam Henderson, Otso Virtanan and, when he was here, Dom Malonga all go off on international duty and heard from them on their returns how much they’ve enjoyed the experience. I haven’t been envious, more happy for them, but I’d be very proud to get a call of my own one day.”
Jamaica have a hectic summer schedule. They first have a friendly away to Chile at the end of May before they move to the United States to take part in the Copa America. Then come two crucial World Cup qualifying matches: in Panama and then at home to Haiti, the pressure on after a 3-0 defeat by Costa Rica last time out.
Bartley said: “Playing in the World Cup would be the pinnacle of any player’s career. Jamaica have two massive qualifiers coming up if the are to get into the “hexagon”, the final qualifying section from which four countries will book their places in Russia 2018.
“It’s a very complicated system and Jamaica have to win these two games. It would be great if I were to be called up, but if not I’ll wish them all the best. I’ll watch the games on television as I always do and I’ll be in Jamaica this summer sipping a rum punch or two on the beach.”
Bartley, however, fervently hopes he’ll get the call, stating his CV to the Jamaican Federation by saying: “I now feel I am fighting fit, my current form is good and I am more than ready to pull on that gold jersey.
“I’m athletic enough to cover a lot of ground in a game, as a holding midfielder I can bring stability and balance into the centre of the park, allowing more attack-minded midfielders to do their business.
“But I do believe talk is cheap, I’m more than happy for those watching to decide what I bring to the team should I receive a call up.”
Bartley admitted it will be his form with Hibs which will hold greatest sway with Schafer and his staff but he believes the string of high pressure games the Easter Road side face, starting with tomorrow’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United at Hampden and then a concerted push for promotion via the play-offs could play an important part in that regard.
He said: “Being successful here can only help and that is my focus. Promotion is the aim and we also want to make the Scottish Cup final.
“We have a lot of big, big games coming up. The spotlight will be on the team and on each individual player, all eyes are going to be on us. But we can achieve something absolutely fantastic, promotion is what it is all about and we are determined to get up.”
Bartley conceded, though, that losing a two-goal lead to Falkirk had again raised question marks as to whether Stubbs’ players can achieve that objective, Hibs having won just one of their last eight Championship matches, a run which, naturally, has attracted plenty of criticism.
The former Bournemouth and Leyton Orient player said: “Yes, results of late have not been good. They’ve been poor to be honest, but when we win promotion all the current sniping will be forgotten.
“When Eddie Howe was my manager at Bournemouth, he told me there are two types of fans in football – those who are there for the good times and supporters who are there for the good and bad times alike. Fans will come back when they see success, but promotion will be for the real supporters who have backed us through the bad times and deserve to enjoy the good times.”