Football

Christophe Gamel: A Failed Experiment

The Frenchman has cited family issues as the reason for his departure, which is understandable—family comes first.
30 Aug 2019 18:32
Christophe Gamel: A Failed Experiment
Outgoing Vodafone national football head coach Christophe Gamel(left) with captain Roy Krishna during their tour to Singapore. Photo: Singapore Football

Analysis:

The controversial Vodafone Fijian football coach, Christophe Gamel, has resigned after two-and-a-half years at the helm. When Gamel arrived he revealed big plans to bring cultural and style changes to the way football was played in the country.

In a 2017 interview with footalloceania.com, Gamel said he wanted to bring the “European style of play” to Fiji – to move away from long balls in favour of possession-based, pragmatic football.

But the coach now leaves with little to show for his time here, with a string of underwhelming performances on the pitch, and serious questions about his alleged conduct as national coach.

The Pacific Games campaign in Apia, Samoa last month was a failure in many respects.

The platform for a gold medal push had been set early with 3-0 and 1-0 victories against New Caledonia and Mauritius respectively in March.

But Fiji fizzled out at the Pacific Games and settled for a feeble bronze finish, extending their gold medal wait to 16 years.

The Frenchman has cited family issues as the reason for his departure, which is understandable—family comes first.

But his position became untenable anyway after the team’s poor showing at the games.

Fiji Football stuck with him, but soccer fans were clearly frustrated and fed up with excuses.

The games were supposed to be Gamel’s big moment and when his team didn’t measure up, it must have become harder to face the public.

The team to the Pacific Games was supposed to be one of the best prepared in recent memory.

They marched into camp almost two months prior to the start of the competition, with FFA postponing all Vodafone Premier League matches from June 26 to ensure there were no distractions during preparation.

The return on investment, however, was below what was expected.

Despite all the talk of possession football, Gamel’s approach against stronger sides like New Caledonia was to defend for the most part and rely on Roy Krishna to nick something on the counter.

It was hardly the first time the Frenchman’s football know-how came under the spotlight.

Besides, there were the off-field controversies.

In January, national youth and women footballers levelled serious allegations against Gamel.

Five national Under-23 players – Amena Bola, Kalaveti Sivoi, Kini Madigi, Simione Nabenu and Sekove Finau– alleged that Gamel assaulted them at the Sahu Khan Academy in Ba after they allegedly tested positive for an unspecified drug.

Three national women’s team players, who spoke under the condition anonymity, alleged that the coach demeaned them for their looks and on-field performance on several occasions last year.

The parents of one female player also alleged that Gamel stormed into their Ba home last year and threatened to slap their daughter if she did not attend training.

These accounts were corroborated by seven parents in a Fiji SUN investigation, but a hastily convened

Fiji Football committee investigated the claims and cleared Gamel.

According to Fiji FA president Rajesh Patel, the allegations made by the women were not investigated because they did not lodge official complaints.

The manner and outcome of the Fiji Football investigation were widely questioned by activists and parents alike.

This included the independence of the committee.

The Fiji Sun established that FFA president Patel, his son Dilan and the FFA solicitor Samuel Ram were part of the investigation process.

Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre coordinator Shamima Ali and Amnesty International’s Roshika Deo labelled the findings “unacceptable” and called for an independent inquiry.

The coach, who is paid with public funds by the Fiji National Sports Commission, stopped speaking to local media for some time after the allegations first surfaced despite several attempts to get a response.

He did, however, tell Radio New Zealand that the allegations were part of a “big campaign against me to destabilise the work that is done because I tried to put the things in order.”

Gamel’s appointment was a surprise, to begin with, given his lack of experience coaching at a national level.

Prior to the Fiji job, Gamel was the assistant coach of the Paris Saint Germain (PSG) women’s side.

Before that, he was the assistant coach of the Qatar Under-17 side in 2009 and a fitness trainer for low-ranked Hungarian club Diósgyóri in 2007. Gamel was chosen ahead of more experienced applicants like award-winning Slovenian FIFA coach Ivo von Sajh-Scheich, who had previously led the Indian, Myanmar and Tuvaluan national teams.

The French coach’s impending departure means the FFA will need to find a replacement before next year’s 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

It also means that Fiji will play in October’s U23 Olympic qualifiers without a national coach, with Marika Rodu expected to take the reins.

How that will affect the team’s performance is an open question.

But the new appointee will have to succeed where Gamel failed and bring about philosophical and structural changes to the game in Fiji and lift player morale.

There is huge potential for Fiji to become the dominant force in regional football.

It remains to be seen if that potential will be realised.
Edited by Leone Cabenatabua

Feedbacksheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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