The new coach of The Gambia senior national team Tom Saintfiet said he has been preparing himself for The Gambia challenge for some time now when it became clear that there was an opportunity to coach the Scorpions.
Known by his nickname ‘The Saint’, Tom vowed to defend The Gambia to the letter and expects the same from his players, noting that those invited for national team duties must earn their place in the team.
The 45-year-old was speaking last Thursday at Football House during his unveiling after being appointed recently as the senior national team boss to oversee their participation in the 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifiers.
He noted that qualification is achieved through team work and being a team player himself, he expects all Gambians to close their ranks, irrespective of background, and support the team to achieve its goals. “I know all the players of the National Team in and outside of The Gambia. It is a difficult task against Algeria in a little under two months and I know they will feel the same way. We will prepare and analyse our strategy and make sure we get the right players for the games. We respect them but we are not afraid of any opponent,” a defiant Tom said.
He said one has to work hard for success in the world and he is a disciplinarian ; saying hard work and discipline are important in every endeavour and as a result, those chosen must earn their place and should feel honoured and proud to represent The Gambia. They must show respect to the national colours within and outside the field.
“I’ve two million Gambians at my disposal to choose from but only eleven will be lucky to start a game. So if the players are not respecting the rules and they put themselves above the team, I will discipline them. They have to be an example on and off the pitch.”
The former Togo and Zimbabwe Coach said he is very honoured to have achieved a long-term personal objective because it has always been his ambition to one day coach The Gambia since he came across former national team player Mustapha Kamal Ndow as a 28-year-old coach then beginning his journeyman career in coaching in Cyprus.
“It is a fantastic feeling that after so many years, I’m coming to The Gambia.
When I came here with the Namibian team in 2010, even though we lost, I became very impressed still am with the Gambian players and the public. We have a lot of potential in Gambian football and our people are very passionate about their team so I’m happy to be here at this time,” he stressed.
Algeria is a strong team as well as Togo who have both participated in the World Cup and Benin was always appearing at the African Cup so we are the underdogs.
We will respect them but that doesn’t make us afraid of any of them and I know they will expect difficult games against us.
The Saint also promised to both coach and serve the Gambian people by involving in the education and development of local coaches, noting that he will be seen everywhere. He assured that unlike other foreign coaches who live away and only go to their host countries during games, he will be based in The Gambia.
Speaking earlier, the President of The Gambia Football Federation, Mr. Lamin Kabba Bajo said following several consultations, the Federation in consultation with the new leadership at the Ministry of Youth and Sports came to the conclusion to appoint a coach for the National Team. He said everyone was aware of the then strained relationship with the Ministry, which though unfortunate and is now in the past, cannot also be brushed aside.
He reiterated that while government is looking for funds, the GFF has stepped in the meantime to pay the salary and other associated costs of the Coach.
Bajo said though there are no funds specifically available for this undertaking, it’s in national interest and thus very important and the Finance Committee of the GFF had to look for ways to tap from.
He disclosed that 20 coaches applied and it was submitted to the Technical and Development Committee of the GFF who shortlisted four people, which was then sent to the Ministry of Youth and Sports through the National Sports Council, but nothing or little was done about it.
“We renewed the matter with the new Minister and we have an agreement with them that there is an urgent need for the coach to be in place,” he said, while thanking Minister Sidibeh and the Permanent Secretary Adama Ngum-Njie for understanding and appreciating as well as endorsing the proposal.
He vowed that the GFF won’t relent in forging a great relationship with the Ministry, which he said is indispensable.
He described Tom as a coach who has a lot of knowledge in world football, African in particular, noting that even though he doesn’t want to be overoptimistic, he is hopeful that he’s going to get the nation results,. “We have great players within and outside The Gambia who have a desire to play for The Gambia and we will leave no stone unturned to achieve the objective of the athletes.”
PS Ngum-Njie, deputising for Minister Sidibeh said her Ministry believes in Tom Saintfiet’s ideas, thus giving them renewed hope. She urged him to ensure he implements what she called the big ideas he has for the country, while reassuring that Government and her Ministry’s collaboration to take football to the level desired by all. “I’m very much happy that the GFF was able to bring a coach in the calibre of Tom Saintfiet and I would like to once again welcome him to The Gambia,” she concluded.
The Second Vice President of the GFF, Mr. Ebou Faye said the Federation took the responsibility to appoint the coach after the failure of the previous minister but added that with the new dispensation, they are hopeful a fantastic relationship is being established with the Ministry.
Faye said after the qualifiers, the parties will review the contract and look for a way forward. He added that Tom will have a competitive team comprising the same backroom staff, noting that he will work with schools and local coaches to develop youth football.
The event was chaired by the General Secretary Lamin M. Jassey, who described it as a very important milestone in the leadership of Lamin Kabba Bajo.
He thanked the Minister for the commitment and the Permanent Secretary for attending the unveiling of coach despite the unfriendly weather.