In the next few days, according to plans by the Gambia Football Federation, the Gambia National team players will converge at the southern Portuguese resort of Algarve for a short camping that will culminate into two friendly matches. One against Guinea Conakry and the other against Congo Brazzaville. The rationale is that the African Cup of Nations qualifiers for the 2022 finals in Cameroon will resume in November, ending nine months of absence. The Gambia will play twice against Gabon in the space of just a few days. Already the coach, Tom Saintfiet has picked a provisional squad and it did not include any local-based player, because according to him, current restrictions on travel imposed by Covid-19 pandemic may make it hard for players to obtain visas or be allowed to enter Portugal. This explanation may sound very valid and reasonable but would the same fate not confront officials coming from Banjul who are scheduled to go anyway? However, the subject here is the excitement and expectations about the return of the Scorpions to action and the role of the authorities toward this assignment.
You see, it may be hard to say but with little or no interest or enthusiasm for the national league among the larger football fraternity, the only thing that galvanises interest in the local game is international matches. More so, if it involves the national team. Without the Scorpions in action, the Gambian fans’ focus remains on the European leagues, nation or club championships. Only the few die-hard football fans, coaches and officials make it their business to follow Gambian domestic football league.
This means that the only way to ensure that football attracts a larger attention is to develop and produce a national team or teams that will compete effectively in international championships to respectable levels. The country may have secured a few accolades mainly in the junior categories but unless we break into the party of the big boys, the CAN and the World Cup, there will be hardly anything to write home about. Gambians have had to endure so many false starts, near misses and outright hopelessness in our so-far fleeting illusion to reach at least the CAN. So with action resuming in this current CAN qualifiers, our football technicians and officials must do everything possible to keep the momentum gained by the Scorpions in the current qualifiers where they are occupying first place in a group with the top two finishers guaranteed of progressing to the finals. This will have to include timely preparations, adequate funding and technical excellence. It was a shame to have learnt from the recent debate over the Covid-19 funds that the national team players were owed allowances or bonuses. This is unacceptable and a big demotivating factor that the GFF and the Gambia government must avoid. Even more disheartening was the revelations not long ago by a retired senior national team player that they, the Gambian players, were being paid a pittance as allowances or bonuses compared to their counterparts in the region. We must now graduate from our ambitionless attitude of expecting our players to be sacrificing for the country just for the love of the game. No. Our players must be adequately compensated and their welfare taken seriously for us to be justified to demand or expect the best from them. In the same vein, we demand thoroughness and sound judgment from our technicians and coaches in their selection and deployment of players, game tactics and approach. This is important because we have noticed great many new names being touted for possible injection into the team. Flamboyant as some names sound, care must be taken to avoid putting square pegs in round holes. Nothing must be left to chances if we hope to eliminate or stay on top of Gabon, DR Congo or even Angola.
By the same token, the Gambia government must take its responsibility seriously and fund national sports teams and associations and stop considering sports as just play or fun. It is much more than that. While we hold our breath and watch our boys go through another attempt to qualify, we prayerfully hope that our flag will fly in Cameroon in 2022, for the very first time.