By Sulayman Bah
Expatriate coaches from Europe are more trusted in the African game than their locally bred counterparts. This belief is fuelled by rife notion that foreign coaches come along with reservoir of experience regardless of the level they’re plucked or acquired from.
This assumption appeared to have been apparent when Luciano Mancini’s arrival was sanctioned in The Gambia in the summer of 2012.
Terms of his contract and arrival details weren’t made public knowledge, a modus operandi deeply rooted within Gambia’s sports movers and shakers.
Local media was told Mancini was laced as part of a ‘technical assistance package’ by the Italian FA to Gambia football during what was torrid time for the game in the country.
It was a moment when football was at a severe standstill under the tutelage of a Fifa-backed normalisation committee overseen by the late Omar Sey and OB Conateh. Veteran administrator Musa Njie was hired, designed to help the process supported by Marcel Mendy as secretary general, now executive director of the Sports Council.
Mancini was first quickly incorporated as late Bonu Johnson’s understudy whose services were acquired on the basis of being fan favourite coach, tasked with filling the void created by the departure of Paul Put, sacked in November 2011.
Word in the grapevine then had it Put was swept with the electrical broom by the defunct GFA despite enjoying backing from national team players over fears by his employers the Belgian had the blessings of erstwhile leader Yaya Jammeh making him increasingly untouchable. How true was this belief is a matter for the then football leaders to shed light on, however, off Paul went and Bonu hired as his ‘temporary replacement’.
The latter phrases suggest the ex-Gambia U-20 coach was aware he would be replaced once a foreign coach, vetted by the sports ministry and GFF, was found.
However, this wasn’t the case, according to an insider, implying the former Gambia Ports Authority gaffer was leapfrogged from the senior team managerial post and unwillingly made way for Mancini in a role reversal drama to avoid courting undesirable attention to the squad just days before Gambia’s 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
The situation meant understudy Mancini being promoted tcoach and Bonu stepping aside as his deputy in a change of hierarchy talkers of the game felt represented demotion to Gambia’s most revered local gaffer.
Mancini, then 56, was unveiled under the watch of Normalisation Committee vice-chairman Omar Sey presided by Mambanyick Njie in his mantle as permanent secretary for youth and sports at the GFA’s Kanifing base.
Earlier, on Monday of that gathering, the GFA met Italy’s football vice-president Carlo Tavecchio, part of a package the nation was to benefit in areas relating to technical, administrative, medical, refereeing, coaching and infrastructural aids.
In the space of few days, the dust settled on Luciano’s stagy rise as coach and the business campaign of the 2014 African World Cup qualifiers began. But there were some noticeable setbacks amid lingering questions how the Italian would cope considering he was new to players and vice versa and most perplexingly, he spoke through an interpreter.
Authorities defending this deduction claimed football is a universal language, and, ruled out any possibility of a language barrier being posed on account the coach would be dealing with foreign-based Gambian players.
However, burden of going back and forth to bark instructions at players could be traced in the Italian’s first training session with Mustapha Jarju, Momodou Ceesay and Abdou Jammeh forced to step in as senior dressing room figures to help with arrangements.
Morocco became Mancini’s first assignment – a hurdle he passed with a 1-1 draw courtesy of an Abdou Jammeh’s opening goal before erstwhile Al-Arabi and Genoa midfielder Houssine Kharja equalised later for the North Africans.
Two substitutions were hauled in that fixture; the tired legs of Yankuba Ceesay coming off for right-back Lamin ‘Basmen’ Samateh and winger Saihou Gassama for new entrant and defender Pa Modou Jagne.
Running concurrently on the same day of the qualifications, opponents Ivory Coast slalomed past Tanzania 2-0 to sit at the apex of Group C on a complete three points. The Taifa Stars (Tanzania’s nickname) later played hosts to Gambia in Darusalam for Mancini’s second outing. Momodou Ceesay would net on that occasion after eight minutes ticked in the first period but the East Africans will nick it all in with a goal from Kampobe and a Nyoni’s penalty in the 61st and 85th minutes as the Scorpions gaffer’s days began numbering.
By this time Mancini’s net-minder, the retired Christopher Allen, had gotten shipped three goals before this sum soared to six in the 3-0 battering to Yaya Toure’s Ivory Coast – a disastrous walloping even by the home-based Ports Authority goalkeeper’s standards.
Incredibly and strangely at the same time, The Elephants under Didier Zakora’s flagship received three bookings yellow cards) as against Gambia’s one coming in the form of Sanna Nyassi’s foul tackle.
Trouble simmered after Yaya Toure’s second for Ivory Coast before Salomon Kalou’s 70th minute dazzling drive not only sealed Gambia Mancini’s fate but confirmed the Italian increasingly questionable tactics.
Of positive, if any, from this shambles, is it was on this game Samger FC product Sulayman Marreh leaped to prominence, shinning against Ivory Coast’s midfield powerhouse comprising Manchester City’s Yaya, the late Chiekh Tiote of Newcastle United complimented by Serie Die.
Marreh, fresh from a trial at Inter Milan, climbed off the bench to replace the limping Momodou Ceesay as a then 18-year-old Hama Barry came on for Saihou Gassama with Omar Colley taking the place of unlikely playmaker of the day Abdoulie Mansally in the 46th, 63rd and 80th minutes respectively.
Alieu Darbo who claimed to have signed for Wigan was conveniently packed aside.
Foroyaa Sport understands each Scorpion was lavished D15, 000 each as appearance fee to instigate an upset against The Elephants. That undertaking, at gingering up the stars by the sports council with the aforesaid sums, spectacularly backfired as Gambian players received, kick after kick after kick in the bum in a brilliant routing for the hosts.
Bonu Johnson would later be elevated as coach following Mancini’s save-facing resignation after just three games in charge. The subsequent three points assured by Mustapha Jarju’s brace in the final qualifier day against Tanzania was Bonu’s best result that term. Before that match, Gambia got humbled by Morocco 2-0 in Rabat as Sanna Nyassi went berserk at being replaced with Mustapha Jarju, the stand-in-captain in the 53rd minute at a time Nyassi felt was too early to head down the locker room. The Colorado Rapids’ forward (Sanna) will pay for his shenanigans as a no-nonsense Bonu overlooked him in the ensuing final episode against Tanzania.
Peter Johnson spoke of optimism in the Tanzania game’s aftermath harping of what could have been, however, damage was already done as Gambia continued to rummage for an answer for its non-qualification yet again.
This blip though aside, to merely give negative assessment to the Italian’s entire reign in Banjul, could be perceived as gross as some ounce of good came out of Mancini’s association with The Gambia.
Acquisition of his services was part of a bilateral agreement allowing Gambia youth team’s participation in the Perugia U-19 tourney out of which Lamin Jallow, Ali Sowe ended up inking deals with then Serie A outfit Cheivo Verona with the former going on to become the first Gambian to star in the Italian top tier.
Sulayman Marreh was also spotted by Inter Milan scouts in this Perugia exhibition – an edition Gambia won with Bonu as manager. Jallow and Sowe are today regulars for the senior team.
All said and done, Mancini, who departed Gambia eight years on today, will be best remembered as the coach who never lasted beyond three outings, zero wins with one point to boast of in a bizarre appointment majority football pundits described as farcical.