Saintfiet leaves Africa for Asia to take on Philippines role

February 26 – Tom Saintfiet has been appointed the new manager of the Philippines as the Southeast Asian nation eyes a return to the Asian Cup. 

Following a first-round exit at the Africa Cup of Nations, Saintfiet departed The Gambia, but the Belgian did not have to wait long for a new role as on Monday he was unveiled as the new manager of the Philippines.

“I was in need of an ambitious task – a project,” said Saintfiet at a news conference. “My experience in national team football is that it’s not always the best players who win games. It’s personality, commitment. Playing for your country is the highest you can achieve.”

Saintfiet succeeds Michael Weiss and in March he will debut with a double header against Iraq in World Cup qualifying.  The Philippines sit third in Group F with one point from two matches.

“In the short term, we would like to create a team who believes still in that opportunity to be top two (in the group),” said Saintfiet.

“We are two points behind Vietnam. We need to steal points from Iraq. I have to see which players are available. We spoke in the last months with many players. Players who have played already and some players who will hopefully make their debut against Iraq.”

In the long run, Saintfiet will seek to both qualify his team for the 2027 Asian Cup and win a maiden AFF Cup.

In 2019, the Philippines debuted at the continental finals under Sven Goran Eriksson, but they missed out on the 2023 tournament. A nomad, the Belgian has a wealth of experience with spells in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Malawi, Togo and Trinidad and Tobago among others. He rose to fame when he led The Gambia to the last eight of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2022.

“One of the most important things for us with the national teams is for us to have consistency and stability,” said national team director Freddy Gonzalez. “That’s something we’ve lacked in the past, from the coaching staff to the player pool. Coach Tom is gonna be here for a while. This is a long-term project. We have him contracted for quite a bit.”

“(It’s the) same thing with the pool of players. We intend to build a pool of not only overseas-based players but also local-based players that are gonna form the pool for the next number of years.”

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