Monday, February 17, 2020

Gambia’s Newest Coach Tom –The Gaffer Who Escaped Zimbabwe in His Training Kit over Deportation Fears


By Sulayman Bah 

Tom Saintfiet’s appointment came apparently without a warning –typical GFF style to keep details under wraps.

His rise to the country’s national team managerial helm has left many wondering what is it in there for the Scorpions.

Football House’s failure – in a dispatch yesterday announcing the Belgian’s selection – to reveal names of applicants for the job has only added to the puzzle.

Tom Saintfiet

Born in Mol, a province in Antwerp, the 45-year-old was a footballer in his heydays – a career truncated by successive knee injuries. Undeterred, he tried his hands on coaching crafting a niche for himself, becoming, in the process, the youngest man to bark instructions from the dug-out at just 24 years. Emboldened by his three-year coaching statistics in the lower echelons of Belgium, Tom threw himself up for a new challenge.

Africa became his first destination in the year 2000 with Satelitte Abidjan where moderate successes had him switching to the Faroe Island with B-71 Sandur his first port-of-call.

Still attempting to enrich a promising CV that would later take a journeyman-like curve, a little known Tom then dived to the Netherlands staying with Stormvogels Telstar for under 12 months prior to moving to Al-Gharafa Sports Club of Qatar. Then he jammed into some success after he qualified Qatar’s U-17s for the 2005 FIFA Youth World Cup –the same outfit that ending Gambia’s fairytale in the tournament.

It was his first try at national team coaching and his biggest feat at the time.

A stint at BV Cloppenburg followed before he accepted offer to be Dutch side FC Emmen’s technical director in 2007.

Armed with experience he garnered from Dutch football, he dived into the football waters of Finland, assuming the role of a manager for RoPS in 2008.

Then he made a second pass at coaching in Africa culminating into his appointment as Namibia national team’s gaffer after convincing the southwest African’s football association of his project.

At Windhoek, his story began altering for the better, spurring the Brave Warriors to the quarters of the COSAF Cup Challenge beating Comoros, Malawi and Lesotho along the way before South Africa applied the brakes to that prepossessing display. How he metamorphosed Namibian football earned him adulation in the press who styled him as The Saint with some tabloids there even upgrading him with the title The Messiah. The Brave Warriors climbed 34 places in the FIFA Rankings under the Belgian’s watch as he got feted as Coach of the Year and the Most Famous Sports Celebrity of the country.

It was during his time in Windhoek that he had his first taste of Gambian football after he lost to the Scorpions 3-1 in Banjul during the Nations Cup 2010 qualifiers with goals from Sainey Nyassi, Ousman Jallow and Momodou Ceesay doing the damage.

Photo: Tom Saintfiet talking his Malawi national team players

Saintfiet walked out of Namibia with an unblemished character and his journey took him to erstwhile head of state Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Tale of his spell in Harare did not make for a happy ending. The 45-year-old got refused working permit twice by the immigration department. The Zimbabwe FA’s move to appeal the verdict fell on deaf ears. Unfazed at first, Tom still took the job coaching the players from his base in Namibia before moving into Harare. Then events took a turn for the worst and his stay there cut short amid brewing anger over a foreigner working in black country without permit.

A newspaper’s story about the Belgian’s imminent deportation prompted the gaffer into a quick dash as he escaped to the border while still in his Zimbabwe training gears.

Ethiopia, Malawi  and domestic club Free State Stars are all part of teams he’d coached but real-time achievement greeted him in 2017 when he shepherd Togo to the Africa Cup of Nations, his first time to qualify a team to the tournament after eleven years in the continent.

Majority of the national teams he’d handled in Africa ended in a separation citing short-term projects or lack of funding.

With 4-2-3-1 his preferred formation, the Uefa Pro License coach holder’s biggest career defeat was Bangladesh’s 5-0 humiliation to Maldives in 2016 during the Asian qualifiers. Sainfiet blamed his outfit’s lack of strikers for the loss.

Of worry, if any, to the GFF would be his record of just 11 wins, 11 draws and 25 defeats in 47 games with a combined 44 points since 2005, according to statistics monitored about the coach.

With Gambia, Tom has nine months to work magic on a Scorpions team that has already lost its first game against Benin with Algeria and Togo yet to visit Banjul. GFF’s communiqué didn’t clearly state out Tom’s project with the national team but he’s expected to lead them throughout the qualifiers for the 2019 Cameroon Nations Cup.

He is set to be unveiled to the media this week.

Adebayor is the biggest player the globetrotting manager has ever managed.

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