On the Record: R Sasikumar, former Lion, football critic, entrepreneur

On the Record: R Sasikumar, former Lion, football critic, entrepreneur

Former footballer and founder of sports marketing agency, Red Card Global, R Sasikumar. (Photo: R Sasikumar)

SINGAPORE: Could a cut in funding actually be good for Singapore football?

R Sasikumar, known for scoring a goal widely dubbed the “Shoulder of God” in the 1998 AFF Football Championship finals, certainly believes so.

That goal led to the Lions’ first-ever international title and brought him instant adulation. After his career on the field, he transitioned to sports entrepreneurship and currently manages the Red Card Group, a sports marketing firm. Among its notable projects is the revival of the Lion City Cup in 2011 and a deal to bring former Premier League footballer Jermaine Pennant to Singapore.

Ever-vocal about the state of local football, Sasi went On the Record with Bharati Jagdish about what ails the sport here, why a funding cut might actually be a positive development and his plan to make football a billion-dollar industry in Singapore.

They started by talking about the race to be Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president in April this year, and why he ultimately stood down. 


R Sasikumar: I had intentions of running. I think that was quite clear even though I didn’t come out in the media to say so myself. But at the end of the day, I realised that this role of being leader can't be an ego trip. It’s not a vanity project. This is a project that I will have to roll up my sleeves for and treat as my own. I will need to dedicate every minute of my waking hours to putting football in the right place. It’s not just about me. It was about assembling a team around me - the vision team and also the execution team. But considering where I am at the moment in terms of my career and my personal life that is not possible. I wouldn’t have been able to give my best and I didn’t want to do something half-baked.  

Bharati: But for years, you have criticised, you have offered solutions from the outside. Why aren’t you willing to do what’s required to fix things? Don’t you care enough?

Sasi: That’s a very good question. I do care.

I admit I'm equally guilty. I'm equally guilty of not contributing enough, not stepping up enough. I would like to take the blame.

If I'm going to say something, I've got to be self-reflective first. I agree that I should do more, but let’s just cite a few examples of me contributing and how I've contributed at least in a small way. I turned a tournament, the Lion City Cup, into an international tournament that was viewed globally, and in that process, we made some national team players like Adam Swandi and the rest. That was my team investing our time and energy and effort, skillsets and know-how to take the Lion City Cup to the top five youth tournaments in the world. I've contributed that. I was also behind the move to bring Jermaine Pennant to Tampines Rovers. I knew that he would have a profound impact on the game.

R Sasikumar at the launch of the Lion City Cup, a tournament he was instrumental in reviving in 2011. (Photo: R Sasikumar)

Bharati: We’ll talk more about Jermaine Pennant too, but still, surely you could have done much more as FAS president. Why not make the sacrifices needed to fix football here?

Sasi: I would say that it’s a combination of time and circumstances. I'm not in a privileged situation to just think about myself. If I were single and had a lot of time on my hands, I can just go forward. I've also got a very young family. I have to think about the long-term game plan with the kids. My kids are four and six. It’s very crucial part of their lives now. I don’t want to lose out on that critical part on when they are growing up. I need to be there as a dad. As it is, I travel almost five days a week. I'm a weekend dad. I'm really annoyed about that. Doing that offers me more than what football can offer to me at the moment.

Bharati: How much of this is about money?

Sasi: I would say it’s a combination. I would be lying if I say it’s not about money. I'm in a comfortable position to do what I want today, but not enough to say that I can afford to not go to work and just get to the FAS office and fix football. I'm not in that position. What is needed of the presidency today, is an “executive president”. It’s the guy who’s in first at 6am and leaves at midnight. That’s what football needs.

THERE IS GOLD EVERYWHERE

Bharati: You said in a media interview some time ago that Singapore football can be a billion-dollar industry. What in this blueprint would help achieve that goal?

Sasi: A lot of people in the industry were laughing at me and they said: “A billion dollars? Are you mad?” You can frame your world the way you want to see it. I see gold everywhere. But some people see coal.

Bharati: So where is the gold? What does this plan involve?

Sasi: We have to start from the top. Let’s say, an organisation like Raffles Medical – the top guy there needs to have some sort of medical background, because otherwise you would never hire him. Let’s say you were a pilot, you need to be qualified to fly the plane. Otherwise, you would never get a chance to take off even. Why is it different with football and why is it different with sport? Why is it that we don’t bring people who are qualified to run the sport or run the game? That’s been the question. And we’ve seen that over the years.

People who have come to run football, what have they actually brought to the table. What skillsets did they bring to make football go forward? And, the answer is very obvious - nothing.

Not because they are bad people or they have bad characters, (it's) simply because they didn’t have the skillsets.

Bharati: Considering the wide range of skills needed to run something like that well, what would you say should be a priority?

Sasi: They need a hybrid of skillsets. Especially when you're looking at a football league, it’s a very different skillset because you don’t just have to please the players and the club owners, you have to please the biggest stakeholders – the fans. We need to think about the fan experience. You need to think about the value you’re going to bring. How are you going to bring people to the stadium?

We've seen around the world, the reason why the English Premier League is what it is, is that they pay a lot of attention to details on how they can keep increasing the broadcast values, the game they experience, everything that comes together. And they are almost scientific about the way they approach things.

But we leave it to chance here. We just think, okay, let’s organise a match and let it happen. I’ll give you an example. Last year, the Singapore Cup final was scheduled to be on Deepavali night. I had planned to bring my son to the game but the competitions department moved the game to Deepavali night, alienating a group of fans and saying they are not important. Which league in the world would make a decision like that? What about the Hindus who are actually hosting people at home?

Bharati: It’s these details that can have a big impact. Do you think the new FAS leadership has the skillsets to address such issues?

Sasi: I think Lim Kia Tong has got his work cut out for him. The reality of is that he's got to spend more time and energy and dedicate everything he's got because at the moment we need leadership. Football needs leadership, someone that can grab the bull by its horns and say: “This is the direction we’re going to go.”

He needs to say: “We’re going to make mistakes and put up our hand along the way.”

Bharati: When we talk about skillsets, clearly the ability to market football and make money should be a big part of the operation too.

Sasi: Yes, we need a commercial director, a marketing director and an operations guy for him. If you look at the organisations today, be it the S.League or the FAS or the clubs, every one of them is a cost centre. Everyone. No one is a legitimate revenue centre. I don't know one club that has a commercial director.

FUNDING CUTS ARE NOT A PROBLEM

Bharati: This is going to become even more vital considering the funding cut that football is likely to see soon. What do you think of the impending cut? Funding could be halved. 

Sasi: Let’s put it this way. Football is fueled by money, especially in a country like Singapore. Facilities are expensive. Manpower is expensive. Without money, it’s going to be a challenge. But then again, you can look at the glass as half-full or half-empty. All these years, I think that the top management at the FAS has only looked at it from one point of view.

They see the funds as their entitlement. They get the money and spend it whichever way they want it. But now is the time for accountability.

I know of FAS staff getting manicures and pedicures done and watching movies during their workday. This is really unbecoming of an organisation. What’s the impact on the organisation? I think that’s been systematically happening in football and nobody really wants to address it. Whoever now sits at the top now has to think about how to be commercially viable. They need to run it as a business. There's got to be accountability and there has to be some sort of tangible output. 

I’d really like to think that the funding cut will now allow football, for once, to stand on its own feet and for people to starting thinking how we can now make this an asset and how we can leverage on it.

There certainly needs to be more accountability when it comes to the money local football are making and how they’re using it. Hougang Football Club very famously made tens of millions. Directly and indirectly, they made that money. But was the money deployed in the right places? Was the money deployed into football?

Bharati: But not everyone made that money and the funding cut could have a reverse effect. Some might say that with the amount of funding they have been getting, they haven’t been able to get anywhere. So now with even less, where can they go?

Sasi: Now it’s a question of how the affiliates see this. The affiliates are not blind anymore. I think they’ve got a voice now after many, many years so they will have to now see to it that the leadership does more to take football forward.  

Bharati: But how possible is it to do even more than before with less money than before?

Sasi: I work with quite a lot of football associations around the region, and I look at the way they perform. Let’s look at the Philippine Football League, the Philippine Football Federation. I'm working with them now. I helped them launch the pro-league and I'm quite close to the top management there. The money they get to run the association is a fraction of what we get here. A fraction. And they are the highest-ranked team in Southeast Asia. Of course, we know that they scout for a lot of players who are playing overseas but that’s not their fault, is it? It’s because they’ve got talent to pick from. But considering the population is 100 million, and they are a vast country, there are a lot of logistics involved in travel and stuff like that. But they make it work.

Bharati: How do they make it work?

Sasi: The reality is that people who run football there are invested in the right places. Of course, there are some failings and there are a lot of shortcomings. There are a lot of challenges in their country, but the one thing they’ve really done is that they’ve put their heart in the right place, and they are prudent in the way they run a football association.

"Without money, it’s going to be a challenge. But then again, you can look at the glass as half-full or half-empty," says R Sasikumar. (Photo: R Sasikumar) 

Bharati: You say they are invested in the right places and run the association prudently. Elaborate on that.

Sasi: They are paying a lot of attention to the grassroots. They know they need to pay more attention to the grassroots even though most of their national team players are coming from overseas. They know that they need to create a new crop of local players, and now, they have launched a player registry to track every player, with external help as well.

They are living within their means but they are also trying to stretch their dollar. Every dollar they put out, they're trying to get a proper return on investment.

Bharati: One might say that comparing the Philippines to Singapore isn’t fair. They have more willing sponsors, a larger market, things are cheaper there. These things are problematic in Singapore. 

Sasi: Yes, it’s been a problem. If you talk to any brand manager, they will tell you that Singapore is not a big market. The market place is not big enough to justify millions of dollars being poured into it. That’s their entire marketing budget.

Bharati: So that proves my point, doesn’t it? The Philippines might be able to make it work, but can Singapore?

Sasi: I don’t see why we can't make it work. Football is highly relevant to the people. Football brings Singaporeans together like no other sport if it is done well. Look at how popular EPL is here.

Bharati: The big question is how to have local football make a similar impact. So can we get sponsors, etc. These things determine the quality of footballers, the salaries of footballers, the quality of the game, the fan outreach and experience. These things matter.

Sasi: You’re right. On sponsorships, I don't see a lot of private enterprises coming forward and saying: “You know what? I see this raw diamond. Let me take it.” There might be one or two, but there might not be enough numbers to make it work in the first year.

Bharati:  So considering this, now with funding cuts, won’t it be worse?

Sasi: No, it can work. Let’s be more tactical. A lot of the clubs think that the likes of Toyota, Panasonic or Canon are going to come and give them assured sponsorship as is today. But those are national sponsors so the money that is parked there is for national campaigns. They can’t shoehorn themselves into a Tampines Rovers or Hougang. It doesn't serve their business objectives.

So where can they find the money then? It becomes about how you serve your community.

For example, look at Tampines Rovers. Today, Tampines Rovers is in the Tampines Hub. There must be at least 180 businesses that support the whole of Tampines area. That depends on the community. So if Tampines Rovers becomes relevant to the community they serve, meaning if they become the football hub that now pulls everybody in Tampines together and they take the interaction, the engagement to all the businesses that are relevant around there, it will work.  

So they can go to businesses and say, would you support me by buying tickets, would you support me by giving S$10,000 a season, or S$5,000 a season.

In return, we provide a fan experience that will bring more people out into the neighbourhood, more customers for businesses possibly.

A very classic example is a club in Japan, in a very small town and they're probably one of the most profitable clubs in the J-league because they have 250 sponsors because they serve the community well.

CENTRALISED CONTROL

Bharati: How to ensure that whatever money there is, is used in the right way – possibly to pay players better, to market the clubs effectively so that they can generate even more revenue, and so on?

Sasi: So we need to start from the beginning. The league needs fixing. In the past, almost S$800,000 was given to the clubs. The chairmen of the clubs liked the idea of being chairmen, but they didn't really move the clubs forward. The reality is that S$800,000 is the biggest subsidy any club can get in any league in this region. Clubs in Malaysia, clubs in Thailand, clubs in Indonesia don't get anywhere close to this. Granted, things are more expensive here, but even if you compare relative to costs, the clubs here are in fact blessed.

I think the league should control everything, meaning to say, do not give the onus back to the clubs. For instance, let the players now come under the contract of the league. Aggregate the marketplace. So the league can decide even which player goes into which bracket, so the league can now dictate how the football club is run now.

Centralise everything, from marketing to commercial to operations to technical.

Bharati: Why do you think centralised control is the way to go?

Sasi: Then the money can be divided and put in the right place.

You can then share resources from marketing, commercial, operations to broadcast. Do this instead of putting money into the hands of someone else who could mess it up, meaning the individual clubs.

Bharati: What would this mean for individual clubs’ revenue generation efforts? You gave some suggestions about getting grassroots sponsors.

Sasi: That should still happen. This is how you generate revenue and you still need to reach the whole community to let them see the relevance of coming to the game. I think everybody has to be invested in it. You can’t say just because it’s centralised now, we can take the foot off the pedal. It’s not going to work that way. Everyone in the system has to push forward now.

Bharati: What type of results would you like to see before this model is changed?

Sasi: As soon as we see the product improving on the pitch - meaning better football, better fan experience, results on the pitch in the national team level and we see more revenue coming through - these are signs, these are indications that there can be a change in the model. I think whatever is visual, whatever results are visual, that’s the point in time you take reviews on what to take do next.

Bharati: So once that happens, then what? Should privatisation be the goal?

Sasi: Yes, but I don't think that we are ready to be privatised now because I don't think the authorities are ready. The complete loss of control of football is not possible in this country.

Bharati: Why do you say that?

Sasi: I still believe that the powers high up don't want to let football chart its own path in the sense that you don't let an owner of the club do what he wants. I think they're not ready for that because you're taking funding from the government in some sense. How can it then become a private venture and people gain profit from it? These are the things that have been happening in the last 24 months when we’ve been talking about it. 

Bharati: But should that be the eventual goal?

Sasi: I think so. The majority of football clubs around the world are all privatised, the leagues are privatised.  I was a huge advocate of privatisation before, but today I think that would be putting the cart before the horse. We need to do it in stages. Also, my own thinking about this - and I'm sure I'm going to get a lot flak for this - is that the foreign clubs should be not allowed to participate in the S.League.

“NO” TO FOREIGN CLUBS, YOUNG LIONS AND NFA SYSTEM

Bharati: Why not?

Sasi: Let’s be honest. I really don't think they add any value. Take Albirex for example, the fact that it is relevant to the community - they serve, they run as a football club – is not really significant. Did you really expect anything less from them?

Coming all the way from Japan, they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. But you don't get a medal for doing what you're supposed to do. You don't give a postman a medal just because he delivered your mail. That’s his job.

But have the foreign clubs developed any local players? No. Have they contributed to the success of the national team? No.

We must also make sure we disband the Young Lions programme.

Bharati: Why?

Sasi: We need to put the boys out of their misery.

Bharati: FAS technical director Michel Sablon maintains that disbanding them would be a mistake, a bad decision. He said in a media interview: “If we send the players to the clubs and then they don't play, we would lose a whole generation of players.”

Sasi: But that doesn’t need to be the case. Coaches are now infusing younger players into the system because they don't have a choice. They have to. Is he saying it would be a mistake because he just wants to protect his mates who are in jobs? Or does he have empirical data to say why we shouldn't disband this team? He has not said anything about data.

Bharati: What damage do you think the Young Lions project has done?

Sasi: You've bunched a group of players together and told them they are the next best thing in the country. You’ve given them the false hope that they're all going to be great national team players and they progress even if they are not good. Nobody else can come in even if they are better. They have not been getting results. You’re not giving them the winning spirit. Has the Young Lions project given us anything at all? The National Football Academy (NFA) system is no better. Take the players and just throw them back into the system.

R Sasikumar on the set of a SEA Games television special in 2015. (Photo: R Sasikumar)

Bharati: So what’s the alternative for youth development?

Sasi: Let's decentralise that. Let it be the clubs’ job because everywhere around the world, it's the clubs’ job to develop players. Under centralised control, it can be the league’s job so that there’s a trade going on. They develop the players. They sell the player. While we might not be ready for such a transfer and trade now, who's to say in five or six years, we won’t be. We need to start somewhere.

When it comes to NFA and the Young Lions, I always ask this question: 'Are they really the best players?' There are some who are there because they are connected to someone and it's very evident. Very evident.

That has to stop. Make them go back and play with the clubs, play in the competitions. Make sure the national selectors are going there and picking the players and make sure they come back with the best players we have. Don't just promote players in the NFA or Young Lions regardless of whether they are the best.

Bharati: So what else is needed to make this a billion-dollar industry?

Sasi: Coach education. I think that’s really, really crucial because you can have the best players in the world but if the coaches aren’t good, there’s no point. It’s like going to a school where the teachers are not really motivated to teach you. You're going to be a bad student. Today, we have coaches in the S.League who have never kicked a ball or won championships, so the players don't look up to coaches. We need to make sure that the coaches are always improving.

Bharati: There’s been a debate over whether local coaches would make better coaches than foreign ones. Where do you stand?

Sasi: I don't care if the coach is foreign, a martian or whatever. Whatever it is, it’s got to be the right guy for the right job. Let’s just assume that Sundram and Fandi are the best coaches in the country, but what has the organisation done to improve them as coaches? Things are changing all the time and they need to keep up. They have to move to Italy, France, Germany, England, spend two years there, learning the system, improving themselves, speaking another language, looking at different systems.

They can then come back and give to the other coaches. If memory serves me right, none of them have actually done that. But we still have the expectation that Fandi is going to win the SEA games for us and Sundram is going to take us to the World Cup qualifications. These are meaningless expectations.

MAKING SENSE OF JERMAINE PENNANT

Bharati: Some have suggested that no matter what is done, we will have challenges because in general, we’re not a sporting nation. Parents don’t encourage kids to go into sport, football isn’t played regularly. How do you think this can be addressed?

Sasi: They have a point. But why is this happening? The problem is we don't have a pathway. The pathway also includes the education of coaches.

The Jermaine Pennant experience was a great one and we collected bit of data around him. When he came in, he was clearly two or three levels above the players. That was the start of the season. Towards the end of the season, he wasn't playing games. He was on the bench. Eventually, he left saying all those things he said. I can tell you for a fact that if you take a good player and put him in an environment that’s not going to help him thrive, that’s what’s going to happen. So you can have the best players in the world coming, such as Messi. Even Messi will be a “nobody” at the end of it because the environment is toxic.

Bharati: What exactly did Jermaine Pennant tell you?

Sasi: He was telling me stuff like when he was giving everything and training, the other players would say: “Slow down. Don't do more than what you're asked to do. Don't have to go that fast.” They were unmotivated. When he was hacked down by players from the back, the referees didn't want to protect him.

Bharati: Some critics said he didn’t try hard enough. He was a flash in the pan.

Sasi: We’re in a position now that we can't choose. We don’t have the privilege of choosing who we want to hire. Our league can't attract Malaysian players, we can't attract top players. We just can't. So the fact that Jermaine Pennant came here from where he was playing, for the fee that he signed for, it was a bargain.   

People speculated about his salary being S$25,000 or S$30,000. It was nothing close to that. I think it's only professional courtesy that I shouldn't say how much he was paid, but if you look at his profile as a player, you look at what he can bring, it actually translated. We paid him “X” amount, his first game alone he brought thousands to the stadium. He consistently brought in more than 3,000 fans for at least three to four months, then everything went pear-shaped because nobody followed up on the momentum.

Bharati: We’ll talk about momentum in a moment, but while Jermaine said the environment here didn’t allow him to thrive, couldn’t he have done more himself to be a better role model, to have an impact on the local guys?

Sasi: Yes.

I must admit I think he could have done more. Jermaine came at the wrong time of his career.

He was already winding down, and we all know that Jermaine came with his own baggage. He was not a role model. He had his own demons to fight. He came here to repair his career, not to inspire anybody else. But he sees it now. I read a great article about him the other day. He's coming out to say that now he needs to be a role model.

Bharati: It’s unfortunate that this didn’t happen while he was here. So let’s talk about momentum. Since you brought him in, why didn’t you do more to capitalise on this?

Sasi: The club obviously had very limited resources. They had already spent a lot of money on him, bringing him here. So I went to the S.League and told them: “You’ve got a great player. Let's now bring it to the next level.” The answer I got was no, that's the club’s role. The league didn't see it.

Bharati: Couldn’t you have done more?

Sasi: Yes. I'll go back to the point of reflecting inwardly and I think as the people who brought him here, we didn't do enough. We needed to go to the grassroots, to schools, be at every assembly session talking to kids about his life. He could have gone to visit people from lower incomes because that's where he came from. Because when you start seeding those things, then the relationship becomes long-term. The moment we recognised that that's not happening, we should have gone into action. We should've activated our own channels. On hindsight, everyone's a genius, but reflecting back, like I said, I want to put up my hands and say we should've done that, we should've done that for football when he was here.

Bharati: Why didn’t the sponsors come forward voluntarily?

Sasi: You always have to keep your momentum with them going too. You can’t just expect them to make the first move.

Bharati: How would all this have benefited the other clubs?

Sasi: Well, if this had been done better, maybe more fans would be asking why the other clubs aren’t signing more such people. Clubs can then take it to the sponsors and show them there is a desire for this and there could be high returns for sponsoring such players.

PAUL SCHOLES?

Bharati: Clearly, one swallow does not a summer make. Why wasn’t any momentum built in terms of other international players of high calibre showing interest in coming to Singapore?

Sasi: Yes, everywhere around the world, they were talking about Jermaine Pennant actually signing for a club in Singapore and we were already talking about getting other players. There was interest from other players. They were wondering why Jermaine was playing in Singapore.

There was supposed to be momentum.

In fact, a couple of years ago, we had the pleasure of working with Paul Scholes from Manchester United. He said he would love to live in Singapore, the weather is great and he would do it for one season.

Bharati: How much did he want for doing this?

Sasi: The number he put to me really, really astonished me. Again, I can’t discuss the exact number but I would say that we would've made every dollar back or more before he even kicked the ball if we had announced that he had signed for one of the clubs.

Bharati: So it wasn’t as high as you expected it would be.

Sasi: Yes. For some of them, it goes beyond money. They’re coming for a lifestyle and that's what Singapore can offer. A lifestyle.

Bharati: Okay, so why didn’t this happen? Why isn’t Paul Scholes here?

Sasi: It’s a lack of skillsets at the league and club level. Somebody needs to make it happen and I'm from the outside and there's only so much that I can do from the outside. I have the connections, but I can't be the guy that's hunting, cooking, eating, serving and wiping their mouths. I can't be doing that.

Jermaine Pennant happened only because it was the right place, at the right time. I was actually trying to help Izwan Mahbud. I met him in Tokyo. I was talking to Jermaine’s agent to get him to help Izwan. He said: “If I were to help your player, can you help my player? Jermaine Pennant.”  

So I told him to manage expectations. The money would be less, etc. I'm a good friend of Krishna Ramachandra, then-chairman of Tampines Rovers. We were business partners before, and we are close friends and I called him. He was a visionary and he agreed to let Jermaine try out. Jermaine paid his own way by the way, for the tryout at Tampines Rovers. They signed. All of this happened within 24 hours because it was the right time, right place, and more importantly, we had a leader who believed in it.

Bharati: Clearly, if you believe that good foreign players are the key, it needs to go beyond waiting for the right time and right place. It needs to be a more deliberate effort.

Sasi: But if I speak to a stone wall who doesn’t get it, doesn’t have the skillsets to imagine the possibilities, then I'm wasting my time.

It brings me back to my point that we discussed earlier about the centralised system. When it's centralised, one group decides that this is the direction we are going to go, we are going to allocate a budget for this, there's going to be systemic scouting, activating networks to see that who are the players who are going to come and make the most impact. And then when the players actually come how can we actually leverage it.

Bharati: This group of people needs to be able to make the right decisions.

Sasi: Yes, they need to have what it takes. Also, when it comes from one body, it's easier to control. If we again, leave it to the clubs, it may not happen.

R Sasikumar lifting the trophy at the 1998 AFF Football Championship finals after scoring the winning goal. (Photo: R Sasikumar)

THE IMPACT ON LOCAL PLAYERS

Bharati: All this focus on famous foreign players. What impact would this have on the morale of local players? Might they feel like they’re unimportant?

Sasi: I think the framing has to be right. We need some of these foreign guys to come in, so that we can get the sponsors to come in, then local players can be paid well too. They need to be educated and advised, told that these things need to happen for them to do well, because it is an equal system. Nobody in a football team works on their own. I myself benefited from this when I was playing. 

If they don't realise that this guy is actually good for me, and it will lead to more sponsors, more fans which will lead me to getting paid more in the end, then they don't deserve to be there.

Bharati: You can’t blame them for thinking this way considering that getting Jermaine Pennant in also didn’t have a lasting impact.

Sasi: With proper management, it would have. And with proper youth development, our own players will get better too.

Bharati: The big-name foreign player also needs to bring value to the local players in terms of helping them improve their own game.

Sasi: Yes, if done long term, that’s a natural by-product. But today, you look at a foreign player that comes and plays in the S.League. How inspiring is he to the next? In fact they are worse than our local players.

Bharati: Is what you’ve described so far really all that’s needed to make this a billion-dollar industry?

Sasi: Absolutely. I truly believe that.  I have some other tactical things that I want to do, but that’s a trade secret for now.

Bharati: How long might this take?

Sasi: We have a lot of bright minds. The moment we smell something is going to happen, we can scale fast. So I would say between three and six years. All you need is a few brilliant guys come together, see the vision, and get involved.

Bharati: There have been suggestions that the S.League be scrapped. Since the talk of funding cuts started, some have said it should be suspended temporarily. What do you think?

Sasi: That’s throwing in the towel. The way I play the game, I never give up. To me, even suspending it is losing. Rally your team and come up with Plan A, B, C, D, all the way up to the worst-case scenario, because I run a business, that's how it's supposed to be.

If you have less money, develop a mentality of collaborating. Let's see who would come forward and say they don't need the money, but they’ll collaborate with you because they love the game. It's just a matter of asking. Put the ego aside and ask. Football deserves more than what it's getting at the moment. It’s doing badly now not because there's no love for the game. There is.  

Source: CNA/bh

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