By John Mendy
The Gambia’s latest attempt to foray into international football competition bite the dust in Bamako on Saturday when the country was humiliated and dumped out of the CHAN 2008 qualifiers. The team lost 4-0 to the host who now advance to the next stage 4-0 on aggregate. But who’s to blame?
Well you can be certain that the familiar search for scapegoats and answers is set to begin anew as gloom enveloped Gambia’s players and their backroom staff on the journey back from Bamako. The familiar jungle drums have started beating: Was Gambia– just not good enough? Saturday’s 4 – 0 resounding defeat to Mali coming after similar humiliation by the National team means that the future appears bleak as far as appearance in any major continental competition is concerned.
Saturday ‘s result too means it is the third in a row for the country to fail in attempts to qualify for CHAN; 2009 and 2015 and 2018 respectively.
Alagie Sarr has proved popular with his players and increasingly, with the public as well as the media. Off the pitch, Sarr has been an inspired appointment.
But the Gambia has always come up against high-quality opposition, in friendlies or in tournaments and is prone to failing against them. Most worryingly, coaches failed to learn from their mistakes and appeared to lack any kind of Plan B.
It has always been the Coach!
In 2015, Peter Bonu Johnson was appointed to lead the local base national team on a three-month probation and was relieved of his duty, a couple of weeks after Senegal eliminated Gambia in the first round preliminaries 4 – 1 .
Exactly two years this month, Alagie Sarr could be the junior national team coach to be axed if history is anything to go by. His appointment last May and its conditions are similar to those before him who got sacked. So inevitably there will be calls for him to be sacked except perhaps currently the FA has their plates full of bother and there is little appetite to cause more rumbling or upheavals.
As ever, they talked of a good game. despite more realism surrounding their chances than during the fevered frenzy of the Bonu Johnson’s years, when the Gambian squad – a mix of old heads and novices – gradually convinced themselves they were in with a chance until they were cruelly and shockingly exposed against Senegal in 2015.
When it came to the crunch, players touted and praised for their league performances have often not proved to be up to the job on the biggest stage .This again underlines the status and quality of the Gambia national leagues.
If there are positives to be drawn, it might be from the fearlessness shown upfront by Pa Omar Jobe, Matarr Ceesay, Yankuba Jarju, and a couple of others. The concern however will be that the familiar stain of failure will now weigh them down, unless otherwise as Gambia approach another overhaul of the playing squad.
The Football Federation has come under immense criticism by different facets of the sport including poor team preparation, organisation, and questions raise over conflicting interest and more so, mismanagement. Yet, the FA has always stood defiantly against every accusation.
There are some signs of progress and a long overdue willingness to try to improve the technical skills of young players.
The domestic leagues is yet to yield envisaged results and lure back traditional supporters, who remain hooked on football action unfolding far away from their shores, while the domestic leagues remain on the decline as a major result of lack of investment.
Further down the food chain, there remains a crisis in the provision of grassroots facilities with young players not properly looked after or even moulded.
The Media and Public
The more the media and the public talked themselves into accepting that their chances were limited, the more they expected to do so.
Perhaps it is the inevitable triumph of hope over expectation that still surrounds the team after all this time, or perhaps it was fed by the bold talk of players and management.
In the final analysis, most fans said before the qualifiers that the minimum they wanted to see was evidence of improvement and hope for the future.
Coach Alagie Sarr’s future, and the final analysis of Gambia’s performance may now rest on the senior national team of Sang Ndong; whether they can salvage some pride from the wreck against Mali.