By Alagie Saidy-Barrow
I am not an expert on football tactics and that is probably why no one ever contacts me when they need a football coach. But like many other Gambians, I love football and whenever Gambia plays, I go out of my way to watch the game. I grew up playing football on the sandy streets of Bundung and I guess I was good enough to get a university scholarship at some point in the USA.
I have keenly followed Gambian football over several years and despite our struggles to gain much traction in international tournaments, I never lost faith in us. Perhaps I am in denial, but I always think that Gambian footballers are as good as any other footballers out there. But then I see the level of dedication others put into their football and it dawns on me why my football career stopped at university level. It’s not because I wasn’t good enough, it is because I never really put in even ten percent of the dedication that those we consider stars put into their game. But individual dedication can sometimes only take you so far. Most times, you need a proper structure to get to the very top. That is where the Gambia Football Federation comes into play. But if you want to know how mediocre our GFF is, take a look at our government. You need no further evidence than the fact that our only stadium that was donated to us when I was in primary school in the 1980s, is not even fit to host an international football game. Like any other institution run by Gambians in The Gambia, the GFF is not immune from corruption. Check out the supposedly rehabilitated playing grounds sponsored by FIFA! For many more Gambian footballers to be successful, GFF has to be better than it currently is. But mediocrity is very comfortable among us so I am not holding my breath.
Given my love for football, I dedicate some time to understanding the game by reading about it. To some degree, I have since familiarized myself with game models, strategies like counter pressing, counter attacking, ultra defensive football etc. I read Opta analysis and the coaching manual to understand the game more. I don’t try to understand football to turn myself into an armchair coach, I do so to understand what I am watching. I respect and admire football tacticians who are capable of making the team click. If I had my way, all teams will play what many of us consider attractive football but I understand that not every team is equipped to do so. I also understand that it may be even harder to gather a disparate group of players from across the world and get them prepared enough to play in a desired system.
To some degree, I understand the Gambian coach’s decision to play on the counter and be ultra defensive when we play stronger opponents. I understand his pragmatism. And It is very difficult to efficiently function in any organization run and managed by Gambians. So I’ll cut our coach some slack. However, if a novice like me can anticipate his tactics, surely professional coaches of other teams know exactly what they will be facing when they play Gambia and they can easily plan accordingly. That is why it is important for any coach to evolve and adopt tactics for every situation. That is where I think our coach can improve. If your strategy remains the same for every strong opponent, then you have a problem.
To win anything, you have to beat the best. To beat the best, you have to outperform them. That starts with a winning strategy. That strategy should start from the Gambia Football Federation. They must be clear-eyed about what kind of football they want and strategize accordingly. My intuition tells me we don’t have the and overarching football strategy and that falls on the Government, the GFF and the coaching staff.
If some of these players tell you the sacrifices they make to represent the national team, you’d appreciate their dedication to the game. Can we say the same dedication exists in our football administration? I doubt it. Like this thing we call “government service”, being in the GFF is mostly a hustle for many. They may care about the football but their own survival matters more to them than ensuring we have one worthy football stadium! But If going to the African Cup of Nations is our definition of success, then let’s all hail our government, sports ministry, GFF and ourselves! I mean it’s not as if our country excels at anything so let’s not get too worked up over our designed mediocrity!