Rumours have been strife that the national men football team, Harambee Stars, is set to appoint Paul Put as the new head coach to replace head coach Stanley Okumbi who has been under intense pressure of late after losses to Iran and Indonesia in the country’s last assignment. But who is Paul Put?
Put is a Belgian by birth and has coached some of the best known teams in the world of football with experience from Africa to add to his CV. He started his coaching career in his native Belgian with Geel FC though it is not clear in which years; his major breakthrough comes in 2001 when he joined Lokeren, another Belgian team, and stayed there for a period of three years.
After his stint at Lokeren, Put was hired by SK Lierse, former home to Kenyan International Ayub Timbe for a year between 2005-2006 before rounding his Belgian stint with a place at Mouscron for in 2006; the club was declared bankrupt in 2009 and soon ceased to exist.
Put started his African adventure in 2008 when he was appointed to take charge of the Gambian national team and stayed in the country till 2011 before being appointed as manager of Burkina Faso in March 2012.
The Belgian left his role as Burkina Faso manager in February 2015 before becoming manager of Jordan in June 2015. Following a two-week suspension by the Jordan Football Association on 20 December 2015, Put resigned his position as manager of the Jordan national team in January 2016. After the Jordan job, he had been shortlisted to take charge of Guinea and Rwanda, but decided to return to club football where he was appointed as the new coach of Algeria side USM Alger on 30 October 2016 where he has been to date.
Match Fixing Allegations
Before making the trip to Africa, Put had been banned for three-years by the Royal Belgian Football Association for his alleged involvement in the Ye Zheyun match-fixing scandal. According to a report by The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) in 2014, they had found Put among people who had fixed two of 380 matches in Europe. He had been found guilty of fixing the matches while at Lierse.
Commenting on the situation while in charge of Burkina Faso, he remained adamant that he was just a scapegoat and that the practice is widespread.
Does he, then, view himself as a scapegoat? "Yes," the 56-year-old says. "It's the same like Lance Armstrong. It's the same. Everybody is pointing at Lance but without this he is the biggest champion. I don't think this is right. You have to see what's going on in football. There are a lot of big international players who are involved in match-fixing. I think it was worse in the past and these teams have survived."
What is known, according to the Guardian, is that Lierse twice unexpectedly fielded reserve teams in Belgian top-flight league matches in 2005, seemingly as part of a match-fixing ring allegedly organised by the Chinese businessman Ye Zheyun.
Put even admitted that he was threatened by the country’s mafia to fix matches; the threats including his family too.
"The suspension was a decision of the federation. You always have to make an example for the whole world. We were all surprised because they took only one. You know there are more than 40 people. The whole of Belgian football was sick at that time. I was threatened by the mafia. My child was not safe. They threatened me with weapons and things like that. It's not nice to talk about these things but this is the reality.
"I was forced but 'fixing games' are big words. The team at that moment had nothing. It was in a very bad condition. There was no hope, no money, nothing. They made up a crazy story about match-fixing but other teams did the same. You have to see a lot of things and how it came about. It was not by our will. I am not a manager – just a coach.
"This is not a decision of a coach and a player. It is a whole team. If you want to fix a game you don't need 12 players. If you want to fix a game you can do it with one. That's what I don't understand – people didn't speak of the reality," Put said then.
But Put has his highlights too in the footballing world despite his setbacks and scandals. He took Gambia to a record high of 65 in the FIFA rankings. His achievements with Burkina Faso are even greater. Apart from 1998 when they hosted the tournament, the Stallions had never progressed beyond the group stage of the Africa Cup of Nations but in 2013 beat Ghana in the semi-finals of the competition held in South Africa before narrowly losing to Nigeria in the final.