A visit to Football House

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I went back to Football House the other day for, well, yet another press briefing. This time it was not the two musketeers, OB or OS belaboring a point, but a well composed line up of new GFF leaders putting across a message for a new approach to doing things, including flogging a dead World Cup qualifying campaign back to life. The speakers included Stars, BBs and KKs.Opposite them sat a pack of journalists, not countering the main speakers this time but listening and even suggesting ideas for progress. Coach Peter Bonu Johnson sat listening as his job is being cut out for him. They were surrounded by familiar faces in the secretariat.

Underneath the seemingly tranquil nature of things though is the undeniable feeling that things have changed in that building and the new leaders are gradually grappling with the realities of the daunting task they have undertaken to do.

For a start Mr Kebbeh who survived a bruising 

election campaign is caught between the forces of the past which helped his election bid, and the forces advocating total and genuine change in the management of the game. How he can strike a balance between the two requires all the intelligence his double masters degrees can give.

Almost on the very day of his assumption of power Kebbeh had to decide what to do with apparent last minute appointments effected by the departing Normalization Committee, NC, which planted personnel in his secretariat and technical departments who are clearly opposed to his elections bid last July.

This situation demanded some tough assertive and progressive decision especially because it was President Kebbeh who said there are no camps in football anymore and called for genuine reconciliation in the football family. But as it turned out, Kebbeh’s dictionary does not include any reconciliation word which could mean having minutes of his executive meetings, correspondence and confidential information recorded by a secretary general who led his opposition’s campaign.

And so Ebou Faye ‘s appointment as secretary general alongside other appointments, was quietly rescinded based on reasons that it was not officially mentioned in NC’s handing over note  in addition to the fact that by law, the appointments should have  been effected by the executive committee. But to be fair, in exercising his right to use only staff suitable to his liking, Kebbeh is not threading on new grounds here. When he was sending the former management team home, Omar Sey of the NC famously said; ‘’You work with people you are comfortable with.’’

Whichever way one may look at the reasons for the annulment of the appointments, understandable exit from a wisely woven web, or outright revenge, Kebbeh seemed to have successfully emerged from his regime’s first test there, but further and even more rigorous tests are in his path, not least the thorny issue of the banning of former GFA officials who backed his presidential bid. Though the sanctions imposed on them are domestic sanctions, Fifa knows about it, and along with Gambians, the World governing body would be watching how Kebbeh and team go about it. If he chooses to jump in bed with the banned officials by removing the ban this soon, he would definitely be seen to be craving into the dictates of his friends and backers and automatically draw suspicion on how independent a president he could be. But it is common knowledge that the former officials are not prepared to stay under the ban especially when their man is in power and Kebbeh must now be contemplating of finding a way to maneuver out of this other test and emerge unscathed reputation wise.

Next comes relations with government and the private sector. Let us face it and as publicly confirmed by the Minister Of Sports, while meeting the new GFF leaders, relations between the Ministry and the former GFA had been terribly undermined by lack of trust and near show of egos towards one another. The situation was so bad that the GFA was taken off from directly spending government and donor monies on national team matters. The two sides too never agree on crucial matters like technicians. While the former GFA preferred ousted coach Paul Put the Belgian was not very popular at the Sports ministry. Current coach Peter Bornu Johnson was not the choice of the former GFA but the sports ministry. Since any hope of success depends on getting government and private sector backing, Kebbeh and his team would have to work hard to get and maintain trust from all these directions. Only acting with professionalism and sincerity can assure him of that. But with popular support, a fresh mandate, and readiness to efficiently run the management of the game, Kebbeh could afford to assert and implement his ideas without fear of collision with an outside force especially if he can show his independence.

Another angle Kebbeh needs to work on to lengthen his honey moon is to ensure victories in international matches especially home ones. His regime inherited a dull moment in spectators’ confidence in the national team and he must inject a whole new set of ideas and, some would argue, even personnel to achieve that. His priority must be to guide the nation to her African Cup Nations appearance by working very hard to motivate and inspire players and technicians and the nation at large to adopt a fresh approach to football matters. There should be no dull moment in building and sustaining interest of the people in the game and GFF officials must be seen and heard regularly, inventing new ideas and keeping good momentums.

These of course cannot be remotely attained without running a robust domestic league, with adequate funding and superb organization. And talking about the leagues what is the GFF’s plan for regional leagues? With hardly no standard infrastructure in some regions and others needing upgrading, just how is the much touted football decentralization going to work?

But first things first. There is no and shall be no football in most of the regions in the Nawettan season, meaning that all leagues there must be played in dry season. The GFF must be alerted to this fact and get their regional officials to prepare for a busy dry season of activities. If this proves difficult they could initiate a dialogue with the authorities with a view of convincing them on the need for flexibility on the moratorium especially in the light of the new constitution which focuses on regional football development.

Pondering over all these issues I left Football House that afternoon convinced that Mustapha Kebbeh and his team has a daunting task to execute. They have my best wishes though.

Author: Lamin Cham