SINGAPORE: Head coach of the Lions Tatsuma Yoshida has resigned from his post, a year before his contract with Singapore’s national football team was due to end in December 2022.
At a media conference by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) on Tuesday (Dec 28), Mr Yoshida said he will be returning to Japan to be closer to his family.
Describing it as “a very, very personal reason” for leaving, Mr Yoshida said: “I made the decision as a father - I have two daughters - and as a husband. Everybody wants to see their family and I also ... know and understand that.”
“Although I will miss the boys, I will miss Singapore, I had to make this decision. It’s for personal reasons. I’m not only a football coach.”
The 47-year-old will be leaving for Japan on Dec 29, as part of plans for his annual leave that were made before his decision to terminate the contract.
He has about 2.5 months of leave to clear, said FAS General Secretary Yazeen Buhari, adding that because of this, “we may not see him coming back”.
His contract will be officially terminated on Dec 31. Mr Yoshida first joined as the Singapore team’s head coach in June 2019.
Mr Yoshida has visited his family twice since the pandemic began. He explained that last year, he already had “several options” to go back to Japan or coach other teams overseas.
“I intended to go back to Japan, I almost made the decision,” he said, adding that his plans to bring his family over to Singapore had been foiled by the pandemic.
But persuasion from the FAS got him to stay, he said, adding that members of the Lions also needed him. In addition, the team had moved on to the World Cup qualifier. More recently, he also wanted to see the team through the AFF Suzuki Cup, which Singapore had won the bid to host.
“OUR RELATIONSHIP IS FOREVER”
On the local football scene he is leaving behind, Mr Yoshida said: “Singapore football is on the way. Of course I will follow, I want to help (with) what I can do ... Our relationship is forever.”
And his parting advice for the team was “very simple”, he said. “I always tell them you must play for yourself, trust yourself ... You must play with confidence, must play with pride.”
He also thanked the team, the association and the fans for their support.
In a separate FAS statement, Mr Yoshida paid tribute to his "second family" in Singapore.
“Even though I will be returning to my family in Japan, I leave behind my second ‘family’ here with an extremely heavy heart ... I will continue to support Singapore football from afar and it is my wish that it will only grow from strength to strength in the years to come.”
Looking visibly emotional, FAS president Lim Kia Tong said: “It’s very disappointing and it’s very sad for us to part ways.”
He said FAS has treasured Mr Yoshida as a “coach of a certain calibre” who brought “a lot of excitement to the football scene”.
Recounting the story of how Mr Yoshida came to be selected as the Lions’ coach, Mr Lim said: “This coach has lived up to ... my wish that at least in the short-term, some success in Singapore football is brought from someone from Japan, and it came in the form of Tatsuma.”
Speaking to CNA before Mr Yoshida’s announcement, team captain Hariss Harun also said that the coach had a big impact on the team right from the outset.
“He believed in the players he had, and tried to develop their style of play. I think this has been crucial,” he said.
FAS’ Mr Lim said that the organisation’s priority is to ensure it takes the necessary steps to keep the team moving forward.
As Mr Yoshida just made the decision to resign on Dec 27, a search has not started for his successor, said FAS’ Mr Yazeen.
But he pointed out that over his tenure, Mr Yoshida has developed a playing philosophy that has been embraced by players and fans.
“I think that is a key point to make. Whoever comes in to replace Tatsuma will probably be able to carry on that philosophy, that way or system,” said Mr Yazeen.
CELEBRATING THE LIONS' EFFORTS
The trio were speaking to the media following an FAS event celebrating the strong performance by the Lions in the AFF Suzuki Cup 2020, where they reached the semi-finals for the first time after nine years. After a hard-fought battle, they suffered a 4-2 extra-time defeat by Indonesia on Christmas day.
FAS’ Mr Lim said that despite bowing out of the tournament, the Lions “won the hearts and minds of Singaporeans - and they did so with aplomb".
“The team also gave Singapore a reason to believe that we can, once again, challenge the very best in Southeast Asia.”
He also commended the team’s resilience, even when they were three men down. Mr Lim said: “Victory may be invigorating, but as Christmas day proved, heroism and tremendous fighting spirit can be galvanising.”
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong thanked the team for giving Singaporeans a sense of pride, and for inspiring a whole new generation of children about “the power of (possibility)”.
“(Singapore) football may not have been the best for the last couple of years, but I think we have an opportunity now to make a real difference,” he said, encouraging players to also “live up” to their new positions as role models for younger generations.
On the Government’s part, Mr Tong said authorities are “committed to ensuring that we support Singapore football as best as we can”.
That includes making sure they “spare no quarter” in efforts to give the scene a boost, in terms of developing a pipeline of talent and looking after players - both during and after their careers.
He added: “(We have to) look after everybody who's around the ecosystem, from nutritionists to physiotherapists, sports scientists, everyone ... We will work together as a family and we will make sure that we leave no one behind.”