Gambian football celebrated with pump and pride when we not only eliminated the mighty Teranga Lions of Senegal but buried the 2002 World Cup quarter finalist to the dustbin of history. This achievement herald a new dawn in Gambian senior football even though it was not enough to qualify us to the 2nd group stage of the African Championship.
It was sad news for the fans and the players but the rules were there since June and rules are only bad when they affect you. What makes it much more devastating was the elimination of the U-20 the following day which only needed a goal to qualify to the U-20 African Championship. Now all our hopes are with the U-17 and all efforts must be made for the team to qualify as the Gambia relies on these junior categories to be the feeder of the senior national team.
The only word appropriate to describe the performance of the Scorpions in Senegal is DELICIOUS. The English dictionary defines delicious as “extremely pleasant and enjoyable”. The Scorpions were pleasure to watch, their football was a delight. There one-touch passes and movement was breathtaking and their confidence high. This was a box office performance which the Senegalese supporters appreciated and applauded because the match was not even a contest. It was a one-sided rout, a Homo out for a Saturday spin overtaking a clapped-out Renault 5. The Scorpions put their foot on the gas when they wanted to and all you could fault was their finishing. The hunger of the Scorpion players was also a breath of fresh air, not to sit back when we conceded a goal, they grew in confidence and ambition and the team continue to press and express themselves. It was a fine demonstration of how the hunger of the young players can actually serve the side best. Their desire to prove themselves means that the Gambia has a team with great desire than most African teams. All these was the expertise of the coach Paul Put that made it possible, it was his team, his selection that defied the odds. I expected Coach Paul Put to play safe but he took the attacking option and showed what top coaches can do in big games. They can make the tough choices that make the difference. There are vital, almost indefinable qualities that separate great coaches from the very good ones. That is why Coach Paul Put personal magic was more responsible for the upliftment of Gambian football to the 1st division of African football. Coach Paul Put may not be the cure-all for Gambia’s football problems but he does cut an imposing figure and it has been clear from the camp that he has total respect from the players.
This was also the game that Tijan Jaiteh came of age and it said everything about the extraordinary potential of this lad and surely convinced Coach Paul Put that to ignore him would be a dereliction of his own duty. It was not just the pace of the lad that catches the eye or his control, elusiveness and ability to play a pass. He has all that and more. He has a natural awareness, an uncanny sense of position that takes him into the right place at the right time. It is a quality some never learn and precious few possess at such a tender age. He was not overawed, nor disturbed or side-tracked by the big names of Fadiga or Salif Jaow. Nothing appears to worry him or undermine the utter joy he derives from playing. There are two types of players supporters love. The class act like Ngogu Demba and Aziz Corr and the one who rolls up his sleeves and battles. When someone mixes both these qualities like Tijan Jaiteh, he is guaranteed a special relationship with the supporters and he is becoming the jewel in the Gambian crown.
The potential of the Scorpions is appreciated by all football fans and now the question is what the Plan B is? Failure to qualify to the 2nd group stage should not be the end or to put the Scorpions on an animated suspense for the next three years. It is encouraging and motivating for H E The President to promise retaining both the coach and the trainers. This is welcoming but the GFA should draw up a 5 year action plan to map out the road of the Scorpions qualification to 2012 Nations Cup and Olympics. The Action plan will then be presented to H E The President for financing.
Retaining the coach and the trainers is just part of the solution. What about organizing friendly matches with for example Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Angola, Burkina Faso, D R Congo, Uganda and Libya as all these countries failed to qualify? All these matches will require massive finance and support from The President, the Government, Private Sector and supporters. Financing the player’s airfares to and for, their allowances, camping and opponents appearing fees is very expensive. The GFA cannot financially meet these financial obligations, hence the need to inform and advise H E The President that there is a need for massive injection of finance if we want to establish the Scorpions to the 1st Division of African football. If we don’t produce money we can’t produce anything. Africell should be commended for their benevolent gesture in shouldering the full responsibility of the Coach salary, we hope they will extend the contract and inspire other Company’s to meet the other aspects of the Scorpions road to the qualifications of the 2012 Nations Cup and Olympics budget.
It is a start of a brave new era and dawn for Gambian football. The Scorpions has achieved an outstanding victory against one of Africa’s most formidable sides and ended a 46 years spell to get a point in Senegal and that is more than enough to be going on with. We have suffered so many nights of humiliation and embarrassment as pass campaigns on foreign soil has ended in disaster. The whole football world has laughed at us in our shame but, my God, not any more. No one can now doubt that Gambian football can master the continent and didn’t that make you feel proud to be a Gambian. But success in football is cyclical and for the moment the Scorpions have the bike and we should ride and enjoy as much we can.
By Ebou Faye Coach