Saintfiet just keeps coming back
Harare – He sparked very ugly fallout between the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) and the Namibian Football Association five years ago, was deported from Harare after working for just one day and made sensational claims he was almost killed during his short stay in the country.
But, for all the baggage that Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet carries, he still manages to get a job in this part of the world – even though it’s very likely that it will end in a quick divorce, due to a string of poor results.
Now, his ghost is hitting back at the football establishment, which just keeps falling for him, with Saintfiet demanding US$150 000 from Zimbabwean football authorities, in damages for the way his intended four-year stay in this country ended in controversy, and FIFA are backing his claim.
ZIFA confirmed last week they engaged FIFA to try and thrash out a payment plan for the Belgian’s US$150 000 demand to try and block possible range of sanctions from the world football governing body.
The deputy secretary to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee, Valerie Horyna, responded by advising ZIFA officials that they should first engage Saintfiet, and strike a deal with the coach, for FIFA to suspend possible sanctions against Zimbabwe.
“As a consequence, a possible payment plan has to be agreed upon directly with the creditor, in the present case, the Coach Mr Tom J. M. Saintfiet, which at his own discretion can accept or not the payment plan proposed,” wrote Horyna.
“Should a payment plan be agreed between and signed by both parties concerned, the present disciplinary proceedings will be suspended.”
It’s the latest chapter of a horror relationship between ZIFA and Saintfiet with the Belgian coach having been kicked out of Harare by immigration authorities, in October 2010, who were unhappy that he had worked in Zimbabwe without a work permit.
Saintfiet took charge of two training sessions of the Zimbabwe senior national team, ahead of a 2010 African Nations Cup qualifier against Cape Verde in Harare, just a day after he arrived from Namibia, and his action violated immigration laws given that he had not yet been issued with a work permit.
He was subsequently deported and, on arrival in Botswana, he told a Belgian newspaper that his life was under threat during a road trip from Harare to Francistown.
“Tom travelled the 600 or so kilometres through the bush to the Zimbabwe-Botswana border under the cover of darkness in a hired car,” the Belgian website, www.deredactie.be, said.
“He had hoped to return once the storm had died.
“However, officials at the German Embassy in Harare that represents Belgium interests in Zimbabwe dissuaded him from doing so.”
Saintfiet told the newspaper that a top official at the German Embassy had “warned him that there was a real chance that he would be murdered if he returned.”
As this drama played out, the Namibian football leaders, with whom Saintfiet had a contract before his decision to go and coach in Zimbabwe, were furious with their ZIFA counterparts for poaching a coach who was engaged elsewhere without following proper procedure.
Former Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Namibia, Chipo Zindoga, even wrote to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Zimbabwe saying the Saintfiet fallout had the capacity to disturb the good relations that exist between the two countries.
“The issue is refusing to die a natural death. This is the reason I am bringing it to your attention.
The secretary-general of the Namibia Football Association, Barry Rukoro, has launched an all-out attack against the ZIFA board over the poaching of Tom Saintfiet as the new Warriors coach,” Zindoga wrote.
“He is further quoted as saying, ‘they think they are untouchables and we are just going to fold our arms just because they are Zimbabweans.’
“It is clear from the outset that ZIFA’s appointment of Saintfiet had caused a furore within Namibia football circles.
The latest developments point to intense hostility that, if not handled amicably, will mar the cordial relations existing between the two countries.”
This baggage did not stop Saintfiet from landing a job in Malawi, to take charge of the country’s 2014 World Cup qualifiers and, after four losses and a draw in his five games, including the 0-2 defeat at the hands of Nigeria that ended the Flames’ dream of a place in Brazil, he quit.
But his dance with Malawi football was not without its controversy as there was a public uproar when it emerged that he had been promised a US$10 000 bonus by that country’s football for beating Nigeria, an offer he then rejected as anger exploded in the country.
Still Saintfiet found a job in Southern Africa, this time as coach of South African Premiership club Free State Stars at the beginning of this season.
The Belgian was gone, after only 10 games, following an embarrassing 1-5 home defeat at the hands of Polokwane City.
The club lost six of his matches in charge.
“Free State Stars FC has mutually terminated its contract with Coach Tom Saintfiet, who joined the club in the 2014/2015 season,” Stars general manager, Rantsi Mokoena, said on the club’s official website.
“We have had a meeting with the coach and both parties agreed that after a string of poor results it would be best for both parties to part ways in an effort to try and remedy the current situation.”
Saintfiet, the wily old fox, is certain to be back.