Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet is five years old at his job as Gambia coach.
From a nonentity with some unpronounceable name in July 2018, Saintfiet guided the small but football crazy nation to her first ever Africa Cup of Nations finals, reaching the last eighth. In so doing, he made himself a hero. On Tuesday he marked his 5th year on the job with these comments:
“Five years ago today, I started my journey with The Scorpions of The Gambia! I am so proud to work together with such fantastic president, vice president’s, board and of course a great staff and brilliant players! I also want to thank Minister of Sport and the government, the fans, the musicians who made great songs about the team and the media! Thanks all for the wonderful and successful past five years”.
While many doubt his notoriously defensive style, Tom managed to confound critics by somehow reaping the much desired outcomes from sometimes tricky situation. He is currently facing one more such tricky assignments. He needs to guide his Scorpions to beat or draw Congo on 4 September to secure a second appearance in the Afcon.
One of the many strengths and inspirations he enjoys is the unflinching support of his employers, the Gambia Football Federation, GFF.
A little while ago , ahead of Match Day 4 in the Afcon qualifiers, the Federation ran a glossy perspective on his job as Gambia coach, painting a brighter future for the Scorpions in this current assignment to qualify for the Afcon 2023 in Ivory Coast.
Here is the GFF’s testimony on the Belgian at that time:
“Unfairly maligned back home, especially by citizen journalists, Tom is a coach very much liked by his players and staff because of his work ethic, attention to details and his commitment to the course coupled with his love for Gambia. He has a core of players who believe in his methods to the point they are always willing to go to war for him. His statistics back this up as well. With 37 matches played as head coach since his appointment in July 2018, he oversaw 17 victories, representing a win percentage of 46 and nine draws, translating to 24% with just 11 loses. This means that in those matches, he hasn’t tasted defeat in 70% of them. His teams are known for their tactical and defensive discipline than its flair up front but even at that, over the same period, the Scorpions scored more goals than conceded, with 37 against 32. During the last half a decade, one of the many heavyweights that also fell to Gambia include Morocco, Guinea, Angola, Tunisia, Benin, Gabon amongst others. Having made the final five-man shortlist for the African Coach of the Year 2022 awards, he also finished third on the Belgian Coach of the Year category voted for by professional Belgian coaches.
Under his tenure, he gave debut to 37 Gambian players amongst which include the current core of the team. Tom, who is contracted to oversee Gambia’s assault on a maiden World Cup berth in 2026, will be hoping to qualify the team to another Afcon to edge him further closer to cementing his status as the greatest coach the country ever had”.