A former PSL coach who couldn’t last even a dozen games in South African football is winning hearts at the ongoing AFCON finals after taking the lowest-ranked nation at the tournament into the quarterfinals.
Tom Saintfiet – a journeyman who was ridiculed after being appointed the head coach of Free State Stars – has now been turning heads with Gambia, who are ranked 46 on the continent (150 in the world).
Saintfiet took over at Stars during pre-season ahead of the 2014/15 season with Kinnah Phiri demoted to a role as assistant.
However, he lasted just 11 games at the club and was gone at the beginning of November 2014 after a heavy defeat to Polokwane City.
He won three, lost six and drew two through his time with Ea Lla Koto after which he went on to work as head coach of Togo.
Being the nomadic coach that he took over the job of the Gambia national team in 2018 with little expectations but upon leading them to the AFCON finals he has now gone a step up.
The Scorpions downed Mauritania and Tunisia then drew with Mali to finish second and comfortably stroll into the last 16.
Fellow West Africans Guinea were their opponents in the first knockout phase, and they were surprised 1-0 winners.
A date with host nation Cameroon awaits on Saturday for Saintfiet, previously known more for being a globetrotting coach who has even coached Bangladesh along with Namibia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe in the COSAFA region.
Gambia has a population of 2,5 million and is essentially surrounded by Senegal though they also sit on the Atlantic coastline.
In the context of COSAFA, Gambia went into the tournament as ranked lower than Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana
Saintfiet (48) has been a coach since the age of 24 after injury cut short his playing career and in his latest job had to convince players across Europe.