Tom Saintfiet was appointed manager (Coach) of the Gambian national team on 18 July 2018. He has made history by taking the country for the first time to Africa’s biggest football tournament – African Cup of Nations (AFCON) currently taking place in Cameroon.
Saintfiet has coached in several countries; Belgium, Qatar, Germany, Faroe Islands, Finland, Jordan, the Netherlands. He has also worked in Africa, becoming the National Team head coach of Namibia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Malawi and Togo. Before going to Namibia, Saintfiet was manager of Finnish Premier League club RoPS Rovaniemi. In 2002, Tom Saintfiet coached Faroese team B71 and finished second in the Faroe Islands First Division. He then went on to become coach at Al-Ittihad Sports Club of Qatar (now called Al-Gharafa Sports Club). In 2004, he Coached the Qatar U17 team to third place in the AFC Asian Championships and qualified for the U17 FIFA World Championships. Prior to FIFA World Cup 2010, Saintfiet was one of the candidates to lead the African Super Eagles, Nigeria, for the World Cup campaign in South Africa.
Saintfiet started very successfully with Namibia by beating Comoros and Malawi and playing a draw against Lesotho in the Cosafa Senior Challenge Cup in South Africa in July 2008. Namibia were eliminated from the Quarter Final at the hands of subsequent winner and host South Africa. Saintfiet’s achievements included defeating Zimbabwe 4–2 in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier and Congo DR 4-0 in a friendly. Three days after drawing 1–1 away to Lebanon on April 2009, Namibia once again got an impressive result with a 0-0 draw away to Angola. Arguably his most satisfying result came in Durban, when Namibia drew 1–1 with South Africa after leading for much of the game. Namibia had only won 1 game out of 12 in the months before Saintfiet’s arrival. Under Saintfiet’s leadership, Namibia rose 34 places in the FIFA World Rankings to the highest position they had achieved in the last 10 years. After these performances, the Namibian press nicknamed Saintfiet “The Saint” and one even newspaper called him “The Messiah”.
After being heavily linked with the job, Sainfiet emerged successful through a shortlist of 15 candidates and signed a 4-year contract with Zimbabwe Football Association on 1 October 2010. In November, Zimbabwean immigration authorities refused to issue a work permit to the Warriors coach and Saintfiet was requested to leave. The Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) has appealed the decision taken by the department of immigration to turn down Saintfiet’s work permit application for national team coach and a decision will be announced shortly. On 10 October, Zimbabwe played Cape Verde in Harare in a 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualification match, the game resulted in a 1–1 draw. Saintfiet had trained the squad prior to the match although he was made to leave the camp due to the issues regarding work permits. From his base in Namibia, Saintfiet, put in place the tactics and selected the National team squad that beat Mozambique 3–1 in the following match. After being refused a work permit by the immigration department for a second time, Saintfiet was forced to leave his role as Senior Men’s National head coach of Zimbabwe in October 2010. Star-player Benjani Mwaruwari (former Manchester City) announced his international retirement immediate after Saintfiet was forced out of the country, his last selection was under Saintfiet.
Shabab Al Ordon
In late December 2010, Saintfiet signed a 4-month contract with 2007 AFC Cup winners, Shabab Al Ordon. Again working wonders with his defence organisation, his team only conceded one goal in their first five matches with Saintfiet in charge. He never lost a match with his club and guided them to a second position on the log.
Saintfiet was named head coach of Ethiopia in late May 2011. Within 10 days of taking over, Saintfiet guided Ethiopia, composed of local players, to a 2–2 draw against African giants Nigeria in the 2012 AFCON qualifiers. In a full Addis Ababa Stadium, fans watched Ethiopia take the lead for most of the game, only for Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo to score late on to rescue a point. After beating Madagascar 4–2 Saintfiet voluntarily resigned his position as head coach on 28 October 2011 after the FA stated to have no budget anymore for a foreign coach. Many Ethiopians, players and fans see him as the reason of bringing back success to their National Team over the last years.
In March 2012, Saintfiet was appointed as the technical director of Nigeria by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). However, the Nigerian ministry of sports hinted three months later that there were many competent Nigerians and preferred a Nigerian instead of a foreign technical director. Therefore, he could not obtain work visa to enter Nigeria.
Young Africans SC
In July 2012, Saintfiet took charge of Tanzania club Young Africans SC. Saintfiet immediately guided the club to win the 2012 CECAFA Club Cup/Kagame Interclub Cup, the first time the club had won this Champions League of East and Central Africa title in consecutive years. He was however let go in September after two league games after a disagreement with the club board. Saintfiet guided the team in 16 matches, 13 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses before he left.
On 3 July 2013, Saintfiet took over as the head coach of Malawi national football team on a three-month deal.The goal was to qualify Malawi for the first time in history for the World Cup but he did not succeed. A lack of budget stopped both parties to extend the 3-month deal into a long-term contract. 2 years later the FAM President stated in a BBC interview that their poor performances of the last 2 years (2014–2015) were a result of not signing Saintfiet earlier.
Free State Stars
On 2 July 2014, he was named the head coach of South African side Free State Stars. The club ended the season before as number 14 in the league. After 10 league matches into the 2014–2015 Saintfiet got fired after a dispute with the Technical Director and son of the owner, Kootso Mokoena, at that moment the team was ranked 11th in the log only 3 points behind champion favorites Orlando Pirates and Bidvest Wits. The months after his sacking the team dropped to relegation zone (16th) only to be rescued in the last games. The year later the team ended 12th.
Saintfiet signed a contract as the head coach of Togo in May 2015. But his first match as Togo National Team Coach was 3 months earlier against Mauritius (28 March), as interim. Saintfiet guided Togo direction qualification of the African Nations Cup 2017. He left Togo in April 2016. In the 14 months in charge of the Sparrow Hawks he worked under 3 different FA Presidents (and boards) and 2 different Ministers of Sport.
Saintfiet signed a short three-month contract with Bangladesh in June 2016.The start of his tenure did not go well when Bangladesh lost 0–5 away to Maldives if an international friendly, the biggest defeat in Saintfiet’s career so far. But the team bounced back with a 0-0 draw at home with the Bhutan national football team in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification match. Saintfiet has cited the lack of strikers in the team as a major concern.
Trinidad & Tobago
The Belgian, who took up the position on 7 December 2016 following the dismissal of Stephen Hart, tendered his resignation to Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) only 35 days later. In the four matches T&T played with Saintfiet at the helm, the team lost 2-1 to Nicaragua and also beat the same opponent 3-1. They also lost in extra-time to both Suriname and Haiti in a Caribbean playoff for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifiers.
The defeat to Nicaragua was the first ever suffered by T&T against the Central Americans in history. T&T had beaten Nigaragua 3-0 (1974) and 3-1 (1967) in previous meetings, while Saintfiet also won 3-1(Dec 30, 2016)over Nicaragua while in charge.
In the Play-offs for the CONCACAF Gold Cup the team played twice a draw in the 90 minutes, due a change in rules at CFU level, extra time had to be played and both Suriname (2-1/full-time 1-1) and Haiti 4-3/full-time 2-2) proved to be stronger in extra time. The Belgian manager, however, cited a lack of support as the reason for his departure in a statement he released. He never could use his best team, the games were played on non-FIFA dates and about 15 major players weren’t available for different reasons. He was forced to use mostly local based players but TTFA and the league did not accept his request to postpone the league for 2 weeks during the preparation and the play-offs. For this reason he could not even select his best local based players. This combined with TTFA ignoring his request for a professional qualified capable staff were the reason he resigned.
On 11 October 2017, Saintfiet was appointed as new head coach for the Malta national team, his first appointment to a European national side. His first game in charge was on 12 November 2017, a 3–0 defeat to Estonia. After only three games in charge and with reports that Saintfiet was one of the coaches who applied for the post as Cameroon head coach, the Malta Football Association terminated Saintfiet’s contract.