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Sat, Nov

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Saintfiet - I am a proud 'Soca Warrior.'

Soca Warriors Online (SWO) recently caught up with journeyman and T&T's new head coach Mr. Tom Saintfiet who seemed passionate and ready for the rugged road lying ahead despite the TTFA's ultimatum.

Tom Saintfiet was hired on a short-term contract as a replacement for former head coach Stephen Hart. What is really facetious is that Saintfiet's ultimatum from his new employers was quite forthright and predispose, “Win the next two World Cup games or you're out.”

After, speaking with the 43-year old one thing definitely stood-out. He seemed desirous to prove his critics wrong, win over the supporters and ready to tackle the dark unknown quest which awaits.

While not getting carried away, Saintfiet recognises that it will not be an easy assignment. However, he feels that his experience as a player and a coach as well as his decorated curriculum vitae will play a pivotal role and pull him through in the end.

Tom meanwhile, is a man of many languages which includes; Dutch, English, French, German, Faroese and basic knowledge of Arabic, Afrikaans and Spanish.

He has won many awards and honours as well including:

  • 2002 2nd in the League and the Silver Medal (The Faroe Islands).
  • 2004 3rd position (Bronze Medal) on the AFC Asian Championship U17 in Japan, September 2004. Qualified for the FIFA World Championship U-17, 2005.
  • 2004-2012 Instructor KNVB, Dutch FA (Holland), Taiwan (CTFA) and Finland (Fin. FA).
  • 2005 Qualified for Semi-Final NFV-Cup (Germany).
  • 2005-2010 Football TV-Analyst for Belgian, South African, Namibian Television.
  • 2006--2007 Technical Advisor of Kazakhstan Football Federation (President Aliyev) Member of the CBV (Coaches Betaald Voetbal – Organization of Professional Coaches Holland).
  • 2008 Coach of the Year (The Namibian) & Most Famous Sport Celebrity (Informanté).
  • 2008+2009 Quarter Final COSAFA Cup (South Africa).
  • 2009 Runner-up Coach of the Year (Sports Awards 2009 Namibia Sport Commission).
  • 2011-2012 Internship FC Internazionale Milano, Udinese Calcio and Manchester City.

Below are a few questions aimed at the man in the hot seat.

1. Hello coach and welcome to T&T. Obviously most T&T supporters are not happy with the sacking of former T&T head coach Stephen Hart but understands that it had nothing to do with you. The move seemed inevitable since TTFA head man David John-Williams were sworn in as President. Anyway, can you tell us a bit about your short-term goals and a little more about your past experiences and achievements.
Tom Saintfiet - I fully understand that Stephen Hart had built up a good name and reputation, he did a decent job and as being born on the Island it's even more difficult to leave. But the last year T&T won only three times, two games against St. Vincent and Grenadines and one against Dominican Republic... Now I came here to qualify for the 2017 Gold Cup and World Cup respectively. I believe it's possible, T&T has the quality and I too, together with the staff, the TTFA, the players and the fans we can all achieve this!

Some parts of the media decided to inform the people wrong... who I am? One of the highest qualified coach ever on the Islands... I hold the UEFA PRO License, and naturally also a UEFA-A (when I was 27 years old already) and UEFA-B (when I was 25 years old).... In-addition to that I have a University degree in Sport and Business Psychology. The Dutch Physical Coach licenses 1-2 and 3 and the Skill Development Coach license....

I played football in Belgium for KVC Westerlo (same clubs as Khaleem Hyland) and also for Oud-Heverlee Leuven and KFC Lommel SK but had to stop at a young age because of 6 crucial ligaments injuries (knee). At age 24 I became the youngest Senior team Head-Coach (Manager) in Belgian football! I had to build up from bottom to the top. I worked in Europe, Holland. I was Technical Director of a First Division Club (RoPS) (this is second highest league). I coached a Finnish top league team (same club of some T&T players) and with pro clubs in Germany and Belgium.

But my passion was always to work at the National Team level. After working in the Qatar Star League, the league at that time with players like Batistuta, Hierro, Guardiola, Caniggia, and many others. I then joined Qatar Under-17 and qualified them for the 2005 FIFA World Cup. Later, in 2008 I got my first job as National Team Head-Coach of Namibia. I changed their fortunes in a short period of time and made a good name in the region that Zimbabwe asked me to join them so I left Namibia (with players of Hamburg SV, Trabzonspor,...)

After 2.5 years in Zimbabwe, who has players like Benjani (former Man City, Blackburn Rovers) I signed a 4 year deal but after 2 weeks I had to run away by night due to some political games.

Later I signed some short term deals as National Coach to turn bad situations for some countries... after the qualifiers there wasn't a budget to continue.

In Ethiopia, Malawi and Yemen I did a decent job. After playing with Ethiopia against Nigeria the Nigerian Football Federation offered me the job of Technical Director, March 2012 I got announced as Technical Director on a 4-year deal then 2.5 month later the Minister of Sport decided to stop the deal because he wanted a local instead of a foreigner.

In Between I was successful as club coach of Shabab al Ordon (never lost a match) and Young Africans 16 matches, 13 wins and 2 draws plus winning the Champions League of East and Central Africa.

In 2015 I signed as National Team Coach of Togo and worked with players as Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham) and about 25 players of the squad played for decent clubs in Europe like; Olympique Marseille, Olympiakos Pireus, FC Genua, Fulham, Trabzonspor, Helsingborg, Bochum, .... I left Togo after 14 months after having 3 FA-Presidents and 2 Minister of Sports in this period, we were on the way to qualify for the African Championship which Togo did. The only possible wrong move I made on request of a friend was signing an immediate short term deal with Bangladesh, a less known football country. Just like Canada is seen in the rest of the World eyes as a Ice hockey country, Bangladesh is seen as Cricket country. But don't forget, Otto Pfister, a former T&T coach, coached 3 years in Bangladesh. In that same period I was together with Paul Le Guen, a short-listed for the Nigeria National Team Coaching job. ... I guided by now 49 FIFA matches as coach. By the way, my former FA's and the Belgium FA recommended me for the T&T job. 

2. Do you feel six games; 2 friendly against Nicaragua, 2 Caribbean Cup Play-off games in January and two World Cup qualifiers in March will be enough for you to turn things around and to make a strong case for a possible long-term contract and why did you choose T&T?
Tom Saintfiet - If we want to go to the Gold Cup and World Cup we need to get good results immediately otherwise the chances are gone. Naturally, it is easier to start on a long term deal to build something, this task isn't easy, sure if you know that for the friendlies and Gold Cup qualifiers many of the foreign based players won't be available but I like challenges like this. Together we can achieve something!

3. I will assume that you have already been viewing some of T&T's past games and would have relatively a good idea who will make the grade and who will get the cut. You would also have a fair idea on how to go about fixing the forming your team. What style of play do you prefer, outline some flaws you may have seen and what are some of the things you normally stress on regarding players. Also, will we see more-or-less 90% of the same players get called up and who impressed you the most?
Tom Saintfiet - I don't want too say to much about tactics right now, for sure not about the past but my plan is ready. Clearly we need to use our quality to get results, the style is secondary, the result is priority! We have many decent players in Europe, CONCACAF region and also in the local league so we will try to form the best squad. I don't want to mention individual players.

4. Our Caribbean Cup play-off games carded for early next month against Suriname and Haiti will be an interesting one. T&T has failed against some of the region teams (Martinique and Haiti) in the past year. Then our next two World Cup qualifiers are against CONCACAF powerhouse Mexico and Panama who are not significantly better than T&T but they play with fight and determination, luckily for T&T, all four games are home matches and T&T does hold the record over Panama at home in WC matches while Mexico (without underestimating them of-course) does not travel well. Our former coach Stephen Hart last two games against Mexico really showed them up- they however, has made leap and bounds since then while T&T dropped in form so there is obviously work to be done. My question is, will you be scouting these teams knowing that you are new to the region and how will you plan on playing at home, for instance, you may have a different approach for home and away games, tell us a bit about your plans and your physiological approach.
Tom Saintfiet - First of all, I am not new to this region, the last years I saw most of the matches of the Gold Cup, and during the last 2 World Cups I was a TV analyst for a Belgian TV station and therefore I know countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and USA very well.

For sure will I analyse after the Gold Cup qualifiers more specific our next opponents Mexico and Panama. That is the job of every professional coach, video footage is available everywhere and I will consult the right people. We have to be top prepared for this. Playing home or away has in the current situation not much difference... We have 0 points and need to win matches to get back in the running, as I said earlier, the result will be the most important, there are no easy games in this group, we are currently the underdogs and have to utilize that to our advantage. 

5. You have already gone to Pro League games in search of players and to get acquainted with the league and so on. Who impressed you thus far as players and Clubs goes?
Tom Saintfiet - I arrived Tuesday at 5 in the evening... The same day I watched two Pro League matches and stayed awake for more than 25 hours (flight and matches). Also, on Friday I saw some games and Saturday as well. Sunday I went to a Super League match as for me it's very important as National Coach to live full-time in the country you work, to watch every week all matches if possible and not only in the top league. I go to go to all stadiums, Pro League, Super league and even lower league because I want to find the talent, talk with the coaches and understand the culture of the people and their football.

In Africa I discovered players on beaches and street tournaments who became National Team player and professionals abroad... I am passionate about football and know my job and I'm going to do the same here. I will follow school football, academies and Youth squads. I will be assisting where I can. T&T gave me a short term mission but I will build also for the long term plan. My experience all over the world helped me to adapt easy, to understand the habits and respect the culture. These aspects will be so important to achieve something here too. After the season I want to start with local based training camps, to prepare some of the local players for the matches against Panama and Mexico. I want to give many players the opportunity to prove themselves and in this kind of camps I can screen the players very well, this will be good to analyse local talented players too.

6. There are some decent locally based coaches like Angus Eve, Keith Jeffrey, Terry Fenwick and Zoran Vranes (to name a few). Any idea who might be assisting you?
Tom Saintfiet - I prefer to work with local coaches, they can guide me their knowledge, I had several meetings already with several coaches, decisions will be made later.

7. There are some foreign based players who I believe could help T&T greatly like John Bostock (RC Lens) and Sheanon Williams (Houston Dynamo). Then you have one of T&T's most composed player in Andre Boucaud. Will you be scouting any new talents any time soon or will your players be named without your input? In other words, a local rep picking your staff and players for you or will you pick them based on what you have seen?
Tom Saintfiet - I have a list of all the foreign based T&T players, some of them totally unknown in T&T, every day I get new names in my mailbox. After the Gold Cup qualifying matches I can focus a bit on checking out their potential and of-course I will go and search for more. John Bostock I saw the last years frequently playing in Belgium and for my ex club Leuven, he is for sure recognized but like I said, after the matches in January I will have all time to scout. Due to the fact that for the Gold Cup qualifiers we had to register the squad last week Friday I had to count on the assistance of several local coaches to finalize the squad, the players who played earlier in the team were known by me, even one player who impressed me on my first evening I selected, but it I made clear how I want to play and what I expect from every player on which position, based on that I got the right advice. 

8. Well the supporters would love to hear from you. Any words for them?
Tom Saintfiet - I am proud to be T&T coach, I want every player who is selected for his team to be proud too. 1.3 million people and only 11 will start that game, that must be an honour, you must be passionate to play for your country and do all to make the fans happy, we are like a modern army, to defend the pride of our nation.

I want passion and love, respect and discipline but also a group who play as one team, for the country! I want, together with a lot of people who assist me, to guide T&T to the Gold Cup and if possible also to the World Cup, we're going to do all to achieve that and as the country's motto goes "Together we aspire, Together we achieve!"

9. Have you ever visited the Soca Warriors Online (SWO - www.socawarriors.net) website and if so what are your thoughts and will we see you visit more frequently? It's basically a fan site and normally give readers a deeper look into T&T football without bias. Its independently run, which means, you can normally hear how the fans really feel and you get compliments and criticism in order as well.
Tom Saintfiet - Sure I visited the website, I am a Soca Warrior fan too! I want to say thank you to all the supporters and I will do my honest best to make you all proud.


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