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City of Banjul
Saturday, October 31, 2020

A letter to Coaches Bonu and Matar

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The recent appointment of Messrs Johnson and Mboge as gaffers of the National U-23 and U-17 football teams respectively came shortly before The Gambia’s return to the international fold after spending some time in what my friends in the media literally refer to as the wilderness. 

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Of the two, it can be said that Peter Bonu Johnson or PBJ is more familiar with The Gambia’s footballing terrain having served as the number two to Osam Doudou when the Ghanaian in 2005 guided the national U-17 team to the Fifa U-17 Championship in Peru. It might be some ten years since then,  but any mention of the Latin American country still evokes wonderful memories and nostalgic moments about a country that until recently was able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best in international youth football. 

For a man whose close ties to Gambian football stemmed from his days as national team player, coach of the Gambia U-20 side that graced the 2007 Fifa U-20 World Cup in Canada, coupled with other coaching spells with the senior national squad, my expectation is that Bonu Johnson would not be fazed by the latest managerial assignment thrown at him. Lest we forget, the Banjulian, living up to his reputation as a loyal servant of Gambian football, was the one also hired by the kingmakers at Football House to steady the ship that was the national team following a dramatic role reversal that saw him moving as the sidekick to Luciano Mancini to becoming the Italian’s boss. That marriage though turned out to be shortlived, as the Gambia Football Federation dispensed with his services, following our suspension from by Caf. With a savvy understanding of the inner workings of both domestic and international football, the decision to appoint Peter Bonu Johnson as head coach of the Gambian Under 23 football is a no-brainer.

Mattar Mboge, the newly appointed coach of the National U-17 side, remains a somewhat unknown quantity to some of us, at least for now. But having already endeared him to many a Gambian with his immaculate TV punditry during the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil and this year’s Orange African Cup of Nations hosted by Equatorial Guinea, there is every indication the guy has a lot in his locker to offer beyond the glare of studio cameras. A holder of Uefa coaching licence A, the usually shave-headed, soft spoken fellow on paper ticks all the boxes for a coaching job with the U-17 football team. 

Youth football is no less important compared to the senior level. With the right structures in place and the required resources at their disposal, our youth football can serve as that conveyor belt capable of smoothening the path for an easy transition to the next level. Matter of fact, most big names today making waves in international football did not jump ship just like that but instead had their talents honed at the various age categories of their respective countries where it takes years before they gave way to up and coming stars. And talking of youth football, this is one area The Gambia once made a name for itself dating back to the 2005 peace tournament. 

The hosting and subsequent clinching of that international youth championship on home soil would later serve as a launch pad for the careers of most members of that highly fancied golden generation. That enhanced the passage of many of them to pastures new, enabling them to support their families back home as well as offering stiffer competition for spots in the senior national team. But for some reason, such remarkable feats in our youth football could not be sustained or eventually translated at the senior level. Well, that is history now but it serves to remind my friend Matarr Mboge about the glory days the Gambia’s youth football had once enjoyed on the international stage. 

Whist I am mindful not to crank any undue pressure on  coach Mboge  , I would not be fair to him if I fail to remind him  that  the past, especially in football and sports in general, cannot be forgotten , for what  prevailed  in the past,   provides us all with useful lessons that sometimes have serious ramifications. His job is equally crucial, for it will be key to continuity i.e. the steady production of that pool of talents needed  to  supply and sustain  the respective senior national set ups. Having said so, I hope your brief stint with Real De Banjul Football club has given you a bird’s eye view of Gambian football. 

At a time when most people tend to put their faith in the so-called A list foreign coaches as the solution to their footballing woes and with The Gambia emerging    from the doldrums of international football, Peter Bonu Johnson and Matarr Mboge of the national U-23 and U-17 teams respectively are bound to come under scrutiny from all quarters.

Needless to say, the support of all and sundry will be crucial but remember that the knives will be out in case of any hiccups along the way. Football may be known as the beautiful game but it equally has a short memory. May Allah smoothen the path for you. ‘To the Gambia ever true’, to borrow the last line from our national hymn.

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