Knowing that funding national team activities can be very expensive, it will be wise first decide on which national team is best suited to enter into competitions. And to know this we must first answer the question why are we registering into this competition and then measure our chances to succeed. The answers we got from asking these questions must be genuine and concrete and must be realistic as well. If we genuinely cannot measure our success and the reason for entering the competition then we must cross a red line to that competition and try another one. Whatever competition in my view The Gambia should enter into as of now, should be a competition that will allow our teams to grow from one stage to another.
So in my view, I think The Gambia should enter into three competitions or should I just say the Gambia Football Federation and its partners or stakeholders should hold on to three national teams as a matter of priority. These are the U-16, U-19 and U-23. Why do I talked about U-16 and U19 instead of U 17. These new categories will allow most of the players there to stay longer together and possibly play more together. This is what most European teams present at U-17 championships. But again if I say U-16, I am not referring to mature players who spent three or four years in our league clubs. It is my believe that very few Gambians can play in the national league at the age of 16. I have played, coached and administer football at youth level so I know and have seen players grow from 8-18years at an academy. Not only have I worked within football as a coach and administrator, I also report about the game for over a dozen years now and also have a four year sting as a Physical Education teacher at an Upper and Senior Secondary School. So don’t question my knowledge on the growth of Gambian players.
Coming back to my topic, The Gambia can be the second smallest country after Cape Verde to grace the African Cup of Nations. But only if we refocus and prioritise our needs just like a market woman or a shopper with less money will do. When you have budget constraints, you look at your needs and tie your needs to the budget. This is what economics dictate.
In fact there is a bigger chance of success and glory if we focus on these national teams. This brings up the question: why these national teams and not the senior national team that help place a nation in the Fifa Coco-Cola ranking? Well the Fifa ranking may be very important but I think to be ranked high without even been able to attract teams to play friendlies with you during international breaks is not worthless. We must invest and build on these national teams heavily, to make progression to the senior national team easier and who said if we build with concrete cement and gravel we won’t have a solid team to compete in Africa and possibly the world”,.
Much as we should stick to our watch word ‘Catching them young’, we must also add ‘Keeping them together’ as another important catchword, because it is obvious that catching them young and letting them scatter will only keep us at square one.
It is also very logical that maintaining them together means providing them with lots of incentives and opportunities to play local and international test matches in the form of camps. These will increase their chances of growing with confidence and getting to know each other better, something many sports analysts believe is key to success.
The Gambia has purportedly built some solid U-17s and U-20s previously but ten years down the line when many people were expecting these players to qualify the country to the major continental championship, they put up lackluster performances and now most of them are nearing the end of their careers.
In as much as we need to prioritise the youth teams, we also need to put in place a target and a concrete plan of how to get there. This of course should come along with cost of camping, wages, travel and allowances for both players and coaches. Talent is definitely abound and needs to be tapped and nurtured, but attention should also be given to maintaining these talents. I am sure that scouting U-16s and U-18s won’t be difficult because we can get them in schools, football academies and from our ‘Nawettan’ centres across the country. As for the U-23, we have a pool of players home and abroad to put in this team. The coach responsible for picking the players will have a luxury of swimming in the pool of talents, but again he will have sleepless nights making decisions because he will be spoilt for choice. This U-23 team can represent The Gambia in the competition and proceed to the 2017 African Cup of Nations qualifiers and eventually the 2019, when they would have reached their peak.
If we cannot maintain them by organisinig friendly matches and taking them to training camps, then we better forget about the CHAN or qualifying to the African Cup of Nations sooner or even later. It is without doubt that nations that spend more time preparing and more are likely to do better than nations who spend money only when competitions are around.
Unless we begin to prepare well we cannot hope to rub shoulders with the big money spenders. I am not saying that once we spend, we will get the results coming our way but if we spend wisely with plans and priorities, we will definitely one day be a force to reckon with. Every Gambian today likes making reference to Cape Verde but have we ever ask, what have they done right to be a well-known footballing nation? I bet most of us never did. The football federation and or the ministry of youth and sports must definitely pay a study tour to this Island state of only 500 000 people to see what they have done and how much they invested on infrastructure, training and development of the game.
It is an open secret that money is needed to achieve excellence in sports so the question of who should do what will always come to play. Well, it is also an open secret that investing in sports most especially football is creating employment so to me all stakeholders should put their resources together. Fifa and Caf can support the growth of the game to some extent but they have clearly stated that their money is not for supporting national teams but for the growth of the game. This leaves the national team in the hands of government. It is without doubt that the government of The Gambia and on a personal note President Jammeh contributed immensely to the game. I am still convinced that when the GFF developed a good programme- I mean a programme that is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound) the government through the ministry of youth and sports will support it. We must invest heavily into our national teams especially if we are building for the future. On the other hand, the GFF marketing team should also engage potential sponsors of our national teams to ease the burden on government. We have seen periods when local sponsors partly helped in the logistics of our national teams and these sponsors can be encouraged to come on board as we build a team to compete in Africa. This can only be done if we can convince the sponsors. We can also engage firms that associate with football associations or the federation in sponsoring and equipping national teams for possible partnership. It might be hard to do but these in my view are the ways to have and maintain national teams. We need government’s support financially and sponsorship packages from both local and international brands.
We must all try to answer the questions above or design better questions and try to answer them to re-energise our desire to making our first African Cup of Nations appearance. If we don’t ask and attempt to provide tangible answers to these questions, we might remain in an illusion and mere supporters of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Algeria and the list goes on and on. That is not what I want. I want to watch my Gambia play in the Cup of Nations. This is what will make me proud. Gambia is 50 years old this month and we have the potential to be there. But we must plan to be there and to stay long there like Cape Verde are doing. Since they tasted the cup of nations they have been regulars. Investment in our football must be vigible for everyone to see.
Happy birthday Gambia at 50.
Sang Mendy is a Teaching Assistant, GPU School of Journalism, Sports Producer/Presenter, City Limits Radio and Journalism Student, at the University Of The Gambia.]]>