Even as the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) ponders its replacement for former head coach Tom Saintfiet, the Belgian looks set to return to familiar territory: a second-tier Africa football nation.
The National Football Association of Swaziland (NFAS) has named Saintfiet as one of roughly 15 applicants to coach its national team, which is ranked 99th in the world and has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup or the Africa Cup of Nations.
Saintfiet, according to the Times of Swaziland, is in a two-way battle with local Harries “Madze” Bulunga for the job. And, considering that the NFAS chose not to renew Bulunga’s term as caretaker coach just two months ago, the departed Warriors coach looks to be a shoe-in.
At Saintfiet’s unveiling in Port of Spain on 7 December 2016, he claimed to have never been fired from a job and also blamed his string of failures across the developing world on a range of excuses from jealous assistant coaches, bitter journalists and ISIS.
And, in his sensational resignation letter, the Belgian made it clear that he attributed his short-lived and unsuccessful stint in Trinidad and Tobago to poor support from TTFA president David John-Williams, indisciplined players and failure to get the right coaching staff.
Saintfiet has had 18 jobs in the last 14 years in nations like Namibia, Ethiopia, Yemen, Malawi, Togo and Bangladesh. Trinidad and Tobago, ranked 78th in the world, was easily his most illustrious posting while his second highest ranked employers, Togo, were 96th when he took over.
Saintfiet was appointed by the TTFA board of directors, which comprises: John-Williams (president), Joanne Salazar, Ewing Davis and Allan Warner (vice-presidents), Samuel Saunders (Central FA), Sherwyn Dyer (Eastern Counties Football Union), Karanjabari Williams (Northern FA), Richard Quan Chan (Southern FA), Anthony Moore (Tobago FA), Joseph Taylor (Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association), Sharon O’Brien (Women’s League Football), Wayne Cunningham (Eastern FA) and Dexter Skeene (TT Pro League).
The TTFA technical committee which put Saintfiet on its shortlist consists of: Skeene (chairman), Dr Alvin Henderson (vice-chairman), Errol Lovell (former national goalkeeper), Jinelle James (ex-national player and current administrator) and Muhammad Isa (technical director).
The Soca Warriors played four times under Saintfiet and lost three of their matches including two Gold Cup play off matches at home against Suriname and Haiti. During his term in Trinidad, the Belgian clashed with the management of Pro League champions, Central FC, axed team captain Kenwyne Jones and fell out with a string of senior national players including Kevin Molino, Joevin Jones and Daneil Cyrus.
Remarkably, Trinidad and Tobago was not Saintfiet’s shortest stint. His only top flight stint in Europe—outside of the Faroe Islands—ended without a single competitive game, as Finnish club RoPS showed him the door during their pre-season while South African club, Free State Stars, parted ways with the coach after just two matches.
Saintfiet sought to impress members of his coaching staff by producing emails which suggested he had an array of professional opportunities in Europe, including France’s second division. Instead, his next destination looks typical of his undistinguished career so far.
While Saintfiet said it was “an honour and privilege to work for a beautiful nation like Trinidad and Tobago”, his South African fitness coach Riedoh Berdien appeared to be far less complimentary as he allegedly posted using the Twitter account of Fitness Football Ltd—a South African-based company.
“T&T will never play a WC again. Maybe qualify for the hockey WC [hysterical laughter emoticon].”
The Twitter account further mocked ex-Soca Warriors coach Stephen Hart and Central FC managing director and World Cup 2006 player Brent Sancho. And, bizarrely, claimed that the Trinidad and Tobago media was paid to write positive stories about Hart.
When Wired868 suggested that Berdien was behind the tweets, Fitness Football pretended not to know who that person was. The possible flaw in that defence was that Fitness Football retweeted messages from Berdien about three times a day.
They came, they saw, they blundered… Next stop? Swaziland!
Rough excerpt of Tom Saintfiet interview for Belgium Soccer via Google Translate:
“I had expected a professional framework, but it was thick against… On paper Trinidad also very good players. Unfortunately I have the professional players who are active abroad never seen…
“I organised the end of December a training camp in Nicaragua, but no professional team manager was available. Of the 30 players I had called, there were 17 not show up. The best-known players, such Khaleem Hyland (Westerlo) and Levi Garcia (AZ Alkmaar) were not released by their clubs, but others were not even invited. it is however the task of the league and the team manager. Eventually I just played inexperienced guys with a lot from their own league…
“If the Red Devils miss their fifteen best players, they can still catch it. In a small country like Trinidad & Tobago is extremely difficult. I had to do it with a C-team.
“There were problems with passports, with registrations and even with the game tops. I have as coach never to cooperate with such unprofessional people. That is why I have given my resignation.”
Parting shots from a South African fitness trainer, believed to be Saintfiet’s employee, Riedoh Berdien: