By Zecharias Zelalem
Former Namibia, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Malawi, Ethiopia and Togo national team coach Tom Saintfiet believes he is the best option to succeed the recently fired Yohannes Sahle as Ethiopian national team coach.
Yohannes Sahle, has finally been given the sack after a poor run of results saw Ethiopia exit the 2016 CHAN tournament prematurely, and her AFCON aspirations take severe and possibly fatal blows.But while most Ethiopian football fans have a somewhat glum outlook on what the future of Ethiopian football offers, Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet believes things look much brighter than what they appear to be. The man who completed his coaching badges and became the youngest professional head coach in Belgium at age 24 says there’s much more than meets the eye when it comes to the talent at Ethiopia’s disposal. Saintfiet spoke in detail with Ethiosports over what he saw as an opportunity to do things the right way.
“For the next four years or so, Ethiopia will still have a host of experienced players who were at the 2013 AFCON, as well as a crop of young growing talent,” Sainfiet says. “This local combination of newcomers and established players, combined with the foreign based talent means we can create a strong mix of talent and experience that can serve the country for many years.”
Tom Saintfiet would be no stranger to the Ethiopian game. Hired in 2011 to replace Iffy Onuora only months after the latter’s Ethiopian side were dismantled 4-0, he managed to pull off an unlikely 2-2 draw against the same Nigerian team barely months later, a result which ended up dumping Nigeria out of 2012 AFCON contention. In Saintfiet’s last game in charge, Ethiopia defeated Madagascar 4-2. In only a couple of months, Saintfiet had restructured and rebuilt the Ethiopian national team into a well oiled machine. Many fans argue that it was the progress made under Saintfiet’s leadership that led to his successor Sewnet Bishaw guiding the team to its first AFCON in three decades. Saintfiet still has a lot of friends in Ethiopia and would be most likely welcomed with open arms.
Saintfiet also refuses to close the case on Ethiopia’s current campaign to reach Gabon 2017 despite the woes of surmounting a -12 goal difference after a 7-1 battering at the hands of Algeria.
“There is still a chance of qualifying with eleven points. The goal difference from the 7-1 loss doesn’t help but it’s still possible. I’m well acquainted with the national sides of Seychelles and Lesotho. I’ve watched Lesotho live last year, and have faced Seychelles many times in the past. We can beat them both and qualify.”
Tom Saintfiet has an extremely impressive resume. He has traveled across Africa amassing valuable experience and collecting accolade after accolade. Among his achievements, Namibia’s 30 place climb upwards in the FIFA rankings and his winning the 2012 CECAFA Club Cup title at the helm of Tanzanian side Young Africans SC. The Belgian FA officially recommends his services as one of the top coaching experts out there. Despite his having just left the Togolese national team and being sought after by club sides and national teams alike, he says when it comes to Ethiopia, money isn’t an issue.
“No I don’t care about the money or a contract,” says Saintfiet. “I would just like to help change fortunes and start to build things up on a solid foundation. I’m ready to start immediately!”
With 46 FIFA “A” internationals under his belt, Saintfiet has most likely seen it all. Despite his travels across the world, his short stint in Addis Ababa has marked him like no other job.
A year ago he described to me what according to him was the most amazing moment in his coaching career.
“I have coached many sides across Africa, but the most incredible moment I have ever experienced in my career was when 30,000 people at Addis Ababa stadium stood up and sang the Ethiopian national anthem just before the match with Nigeria (in 2011). Even the memories give me goosebumps. It was absolutely amazing!”
Exactly when the Ethiopian Football Federation plan on hiring a new coach isn’t clear; but with the final two AFCON qualifying games bearing down on them, Ethiopia cannot waste time in finding a suitable replacement for Yohannes Sahle who can pull off the Hail Mary attempt at reaching Gabon 2017. It would be hard to argue against Tom Saintfiet.
Zecharias Zelalem is a regular contributor of Ethiosports.