SINGAPORE: Following the departure of Singapore national coach V Sundramoorthy last Monday (Apr 9), several prominent coaches – both local and foreign – have cropped up as potential candidates for the job.
With about seven months to go before the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, time is of the essence for the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) as they hunt for a replacement in time for preparation ahead of the tournament.
Local coaches such as Young Lions' Fandi Ahmad and Home United’s Aidil Sharin have been rumoured to be among the candidates being considered.
Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic has also been mentioned as a possible contender, which came as a surprise for the 2014 Singapore Cup winner.
“Every coach dreams of being a national coach one day, after leading a club team,” he said, while acknowledging that the position comes with its own set of challenges.
“It’s not like at a club, where you’re with players daily. The job scope is totally different as a national coach," explained the 52-year-old, who has lived in Singapore for more than two decades.
In the past week, though, a handful of foreign coaches have been linked to the post such as former Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Dave Jones and former Sunderland manager Terry Butcher – both of whom have expressed their interest in the hot-seat.
TOUGH TASK FOR ANY COACH
Having spoken to at least 10 members of the local footballing fraternity, most former national coaches and players Channel NewsAsia spoke to believe that having a foreign coach would be the best solution for the FAS.
“I don’t think a local coach will do well,” said former Singapore international Lee Man Hon. “To be frank, I don’t think even Fandi Ahmad can lift us up at the international level if he were to be the national coach.
“I believe a foreign coach would be a better fit and I personally hope for a good European coach with a proven track record,” he added. “But to be honest, any coach who takes up the job will have a hard time pleasing the fans.”
Former Singapore assistant coach Robert Lim also believes that a foreign coach would bring in fresher ideas which could help the national team.
“In my opinion, the job should go to a foreign coach who is familiar with the Southeast Asian football scene,” he said.
“He must be given time to rebuild the national team because of the Everest he has to climb, and it’s a bumpy and fastidious journey."
Lim, who is now involved in a football academy in Thailand, added: “This present job also needs someone with the feel for the pulse; one who can work with younger players. It is, after all, a national project – one that needs patience, understanding and support.”
A name often suggested by former national players is former Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic, who is currently coaching Kuwaiti club Al-Tadamon SC. The 68-year-old Serb, however, declined to comment when contacted by Channel NewsAsia.
Widely regarded as Singapore’s most successful foreign coach - with three AFF title wins during his 10-year tenure – Avramovic is still highly respected in the local fraternity. It is understood, however, that he will likely reject a return to the FAS in favour of leading the Kuwaiti national team instead.
GOING LOCAL FOR NOW?
Former national striker Noh Alam Shah, however, thinks Young Lions coach Fandi would be the best candidate as a caretaker coach.
“If the FAS is looking only at the Suzuki Cup, then in my opinion it’s best that a local coach takes the national team job,” said the two-time Suzuki Cup winner.
“A local coach would be able to quickly identify the players and know the culture here. It will be hard for a foreign coach if he doesn’t know the footballing culture here well enough.”
He added: “For me personally there is only Fandi, whom I think is our best bet since he is already in the FAS set-up with the Young Lions. He also knows most of the local players playing abroad very well.
“I can’t personally see any other local coach who is any better, solely in terms of the respect he command with the players and his back-end staff. And, since we gave Sundram a chance, then I guess it is only fair to give Fandi a chance to prove his worth.”
Local football analyst Gary Koh also believes that local coaches are still Singapore’s best bet in the short-term, given the looming Suzuki Cup in November.
“Given the present state of football we are in, I believe we should stick with local coaches,” said Koh, a former journalist who has written on local football for more than 10 years.
“The national team is not going anywhere, so for now any eligible local coach would suffice."
While a local coach would be a good stop-gap measure according to Koh, he also believes it may not prove to be a winning formula in the long run.
“The national team head coach's job should be defined based on how he is able to adapt tactically against international opponents - something Sundram fell way short of,” he said.
“Coaches like Sundram and Fandi worked in Singapore and Malaysia, but were routinely exposed against other opponents, even within the region.
“If Sundram was really our best local coach and he could only produce this much - and he could still flop with a much stronger national team, I am not sure Fandi or anyone local can do better."
BEING UPFRONT WITH JOB CHALLENGES
Former national coach P N Sivaji insisted that it would take more than a change of coach to improve the fortunes of the national team.
According to Sivaji, potential candidates must first know what the obstacles are in Singapore that is preventing the country from succeeding in football.
“If he's not local, I do hope the incoming coach is fully briefed on issues such as National Service in particular,” he said.
“Also, let potential targets know that we have had reasonable success this same decade only when we had naturalised quality foreigners to play for us."
Sivaji, who is now a technical director at a club in Myanmar, said identifying what the coach will have to work with - or without - is key.
“For me it doesn't matter who does the job. I think what’s important is to first identify what we have for the national coach to work on,” he said.
“He would have to first be briefed on the players available; brought up to speed on our league; the support infrastructure accessible to the coach and the team dynamics.
"We should then look at the candidates and then decide who has the will to work with what we have.”