After the departures of Martin Russell and Dave Robertson from Limerick and Sligo Rovers respectively, a former international manager has expressed an interest in both roles.
Balls understands that Belgian manager Tom Saintfiet has emerged from left field and applied for both jobs, having left his post as manager of Trinidad and Tobago in January of this year.
The colourful 44-year-old boasts a resumé largely composed a few thousand miles off the beaten track, having managed a host of African and Asian nations along with clubs in the Faroes, the Netherlands, Finland, Qatar, Germany, South Africa and Jordan.
It's understood that Saintfiet has thus far received a response to his application from Sligo, but is yet to hear back from Limerick. The former Togo boss is keen to return to European club football having originally cut his teeth in Belgium's lower divisions before embarking on a quite remarkable 16-year tour of lands further afield.
In 2004, after short club spells in the Faroese and Dutch second tiers and a season at Qatari side Al-Gharafa, Saintfiet steered the Qatar under-17s to third place at the Asian Championships, losing 7-6 on penalties to North Korea in the semi-finals before pipping Iran 2-1 for bronze. His Qatar side also qualified for the U17 FIFA World Championships in 2005. Tangentially, his predecessor in the Qatar 17s role, former France manager Patrick Revelli, had taken the reins from current FAI Technical Director Ruud Dokter in 2002.
Saintfiet became manager of the Namibian senior national team in 2008, and steered them 34 places up the FIFA rankings to 116th with a string of impressive performances. Once christened 'The Saint' by Namibian football fans, he left the role in 2010 to much controversy, citing the lack of support from the Namibian Football Association, as well as the lack of training camps and pre-AFCON friendlies, in his decision. It soon emerged that he had accepted an offer to manage Zimbabwe, but work permit issues put paid to his new role despite a 1-1 draw with Cape Verde and a 3-1 win over Mozambique, the latter of which he was forced to watch back in Namibia.
In 2011 while managing Ethiopia, Saintfiet was linked with a shock return to the Namibian managerial position. A report in The Namibian Sun read:
Some are speculating that current Ethiopian and former Namibian coach, Tom Saintfiet, might make a shock return to these shores... Saintfiet, though, did not make many friends when he left the Brave Warriors in the lurch following that 3-1 defeat to Gambia last year.
At the time, the Belgian mentor was said to have received an offer to coach Zimbabwe but couldn't take up the position after encountering problems with his work permit. Although Saintfiet does boast an impressive repertoire of results as coach of Namibia, amongst them a 4-1 win over Zimbabwe in 2009 and a 1-1 draw with Bafana Bafana in South Africa prior to that country's hosting of the 2010 World Cup, it is doubtful Namibia's football fraternity has forgiven him sufficiently to welcome him back.
Saintfiet departed his role as Ethiopia manager after guiding them to a famous 2-2 draw with African giants Nigeria and a 4-2 win over Madagascar during his first two games, with the Ethiopian FA admitting they simply didn't have the budget to pay his salary.
He was Togo manager as recently as April 2016 but was replaced by Claude Le Roy despite a decent start to AFCON 2017 qualification. A year prior, and just a couple of months after his appointment, he blasted Emmanuel Adebayor after the then-Spurs striker arrived late to his national squad for a friendly with Ghana - this ahead of their crucial qualifier with Liberia. Adebayor was stripped of his captaincy for Togo's 2-1 victory over Liberia and then refused to be called up by Saintfiet again, only returning under Le Roy a year later.
Despite his perceived shortcomings at Togo, the Nigerian Football Federation confirmed in June of last year that Saintfiet was one of three candidates they would be interviewing with a view to hiring as national team manager. They received over 20 official applications but Saintfiet joined Frenchman Paul Le Guen and Salisu Yusuf in their final shortlist. Caretaker manager Yusuf, who had led the team to two friendly wins against Mali and Luxembourg a month prior, was eventually selected over both former manager Le Guen and Saintfiet.
Having narrowly missed out on a career-best role in Nigeria, Saintfiet's month-long tenure at Trinidad and Tobago six months later both started and finished in farcical circumstances. At his unveiling last December, TTFA president David John-Williams told the assembled media that Saintfiet was not his first choice but was merely the most affordable person on the shortlist (incidentally, the TTFA's 'first choice' was another very familiar name to Irish football fans: Philippe Troussier). John-Williams also promised to sack his new coach within three months if Saintfiet didn't deliver four points from two World Cup qualifying games against Panama and Mexico:
He was not our first choice—for sure. Our first choice was way out of what we could have afforded. And I make no apologies for saying that. And I can tell you who our first choice was as well. Philippe Troussier. And Tom knows that.
I will also tell you this… if he doesn’t get the job done on the 24 and 28 of March, he will be looking for a job. And I make no apologies for saying that. He is laughing but we’re very serious.
Because if we don’t get the job done on the 24th and 28th of March, we might as well kiss our campaign goodbye.
Unsurprisingly, after a number of high-profile spats with the Trini powers-that-be, Saintfiet resigned from his position.
Currently out of work, the 44-year-old has, rather bizarrely, now applied for the vacant Limerick and Sligo jobs less than a year after being named a leading contender to take charge of Nigeria.
More to follow.