EVEN the new 4-G (fourth generation) Cabinet reshuffles were recently announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and yet the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) is still mum for a prolonged while to who will be the next Lions coach – the hottest seat in the sporting arena.

V Sundramoorthy, the first Singaporean national coach in 16 years since Vincent Subramaniam, who took charge from 1998 to 2000, diplomatically parted ways on April 9 after a sorry string of no-results for close to two years. I mentioned in an earlier article, he was just introduced as a “caretaker coach”, positioned at the wrong time and wrong place.

The discreet media musical chairs are however shifting along the corridors of the FAS Jalan Besar headquarters to who will take over with faraway aspirants like former England skipper Tony Adams (Arsenal), Terry Butcher (Sunderland) and Dave Jones (Wolverhampton Wanderers) throwing their British-made fishing rods for an Asean coaching jaunt they probably have no clues about.

What I find surprising, if not mysterious, is the dead-silence from the FAS leadership where after winning last year’s first-ever democratic elections, the new playmakers, under President Lim Kia Tong, promised transparency and a strong willingness to engage and candidly explain “bola” decisions to Singaporeans.

Their abnormal refusal to entertain any question can be ranked as a “huge disappointment” as The New Paper journalist-editor Leonard Thomas says and, as he rightly pointed out “worryingly, seems to be a move right out of the playbook of previous regimes”.



Pray tell me who’s out of line and the screwy silence appears to be beyond all football-reasons.

The sporting principles in probity and purity are missing. The fortrightness and straightforwardness in decision-making appears to be misplaced.

And the die-hard fans from Bukit Batok to Bedok, Woodlands to Whampoa want to know: What calibre of national coach is the FAS looking for? Another “angmoh” (white man) with a smoking pipe or an AFC-qualified Pro Licence coach (the highest Asian Football Confederation certification)? 

Pray say if he will be a caretaker or a serious long-term signing and if he’s assured of sensible support and not given the boot if he doesn’t deliver at the most crucial event of the year – just six months down the road, the AFF (Asean Football Federation) Suzuki Cup, where the Lions have been drawn in a catastrophic group with defending champion Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Brunei or Timor Leste (the final pre-tournament qualifier).


A few credible non-Singaporean names instantly come to mind, who can sincerely smell the Jalan Besar Stadium terrain: Favourite, on credibility and reputation, may well be former AFF Suzuki Cup-winning Serbian ringmaster Radojko Avramovic, who turned the Lions into a respected outfit in Asia as he led them to three Asean titles.

The 68-year-old is recognised as the Lions’ most successful coach with AFF titles in 2004, 2007 and 2012 during his nine-year tenure, although it must go on record that majority of the players were from the FTS (Foreign Talent Scheme).

But Kuwait has now thrown a big carrot to Avramovic, who also recently coached Myanmar, and he remains a popular figure in Kuwait football, having helped the Under-23 team qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games together with South Korea and Japan. He’s currently managing Kuwait Premier League side Al-Tadhamon,.

I fancy the results-based Steve Darby, the S-League title-winning coach of Home United (S-League and Singapore Cup ‘double’ in 2003, Singapore Cup 2005 and also semi-final spot in the 2004 AFC Cup), with strong recent national team groundings in Thailand and Laos, and handling top Indian clubs Mohan Bagun and Mumbai City FC and Malaysian states of Johor, Kelantan and Perak.

Darby, 63, who holds a Bachelor (Hons) in Physical Education from the University of Leeds and post-graduate qualifications in Sports Administration from the University of Canberra, is also highly respected as an Asian-class pundit with ESPN Sports. He’s generally hailed as a “players’ coach with classic man-management skills” during his four-year tenure at Home United at Bishan Stadium. But I understand he’s now on the throes of recovery after a recent hospitalisation.

Another popular name on the radar is 49-year-old Australian, Scott O’Donnell, who played and coached in the S-League, worked with the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and was Technical Director of AIFF (All-India Football Federation) for five years. He was S-League 2003 ‘Coach of the Year’ with Geylang United FC (2003-2005). The former Cambodia coach (2005-2008), who also played for five-times champion Tampines Rovers and Marine Castle United FC and Kuala Lumpur FA (Malaysian League), is now Technical Director in Australia, Capital Football (the State Association for ACT).

Dutchman Robert Alberts, 63, who was a junior and reserve team player at Ajax Amsterdam, ranks with a tactical distinction, too, after he was named Indonesian ‘Coach of the Year’ in 2016 with Sulawesi-based PSM  Makassar.


Prior to being South Korea Under-17 coach (2002-2004), he took S-League clubs Tanjong Pagar (1996-1998) and Home United (1999: S-League champion) and also did stints in Malaysia with Kedah (1992-1995: Malaysia Premier League & Malaysia Cup champion 1993), Sarawak (2008-2009 & 2011-2015: Malaysia Premier League champion 2013) and also Malaysia Under 19 (2007).

Notably, Alberts, with a regional reputation as an astute winner-coach, managed Indonesian champion Arema Malang in 2009-10 and became the first foreign manager to win the Indonesian championship title in the first season.

Some may say that this quartet of Singapore-experienced “ang-moh” names, know the Lions at the back of their hands. But they may have second thoughts to return, most poignantly, because the modern-day Lions are simply ordinary S-League-calibre footballers.

The so-called professional players, according to reliable FAS sources, are a far cry from the 1970s and 80s “Kallang Roar” Lions, who probably can’t come close to polishing the boots of Majid Ariff, Quah Kim Swee, Samad Allapitchay, Eric Paine, Arshad Khamis, Quah Kim Song, M. Kumar or S. Rajagopal.

The hard truth is that they don’t have the genuine fire in the belly to be regionally-competitive, primarily in match-fitness and tactical-awareness, and appear more keen to the lure of the dollar as Uber or Grab freelance drivers or in the part-time restaurant  business, rather than performing as thoroughbred football professionals,.

Their professional report-card shows more red than black. The Lions’ FIFA ranking of 172 is also one of the lowest ever (Lions were No 73 in 1993) and in Asean, they stand as No 8 after Vietnam (FIFA No 103), Philippines (FIFA 113), Thailand (FIFA 122), Myanmar (FIFA 135), Indonesia (FIFA 162), Cambodia (FIFA 168) and Malaysia (FIFA 170) – an appalling position after 23 years since professional football was introduced here in 1996.

Now let’s seriously look at the home-grown national-coach possibilities: Fandi Ahmad is holding on to a long-term contract to lead the Under-23s in a gold-medal quest at the 2019 South-East Asia (SEA) Games. And seriously, touching hearts, asking him to juggle two portfolios of such weight is close to a ‘harakiri’ (a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment).



Kadir Yahaya, the YOG (Youth Olympic Games) coach, and Aidil Shahrin, the Home United coach, have the paper-credentials, perhaps not the regional reputation or experience, and I fear they may face the same fate as Sundramoorthy, considering how at least six of the Asean neighbours are right now on ultra-turbo mode in preparations for the Suzuki Cup – realistically, Asean’s version of the World Cup.

Let me make it clear: I will never advocate to a potential fly-by-night foreign coach of Tony Adams, Terry Butcher  or Dave Jones calibre unless they have a serious long-term development plan and sincerely know the Singaporean-football culture. In my opinion, they lack credible international experience, too, and let’s be honest, the British-style of football have grievously faded since ‘The Three Lions’ (England’s nickname) won the World Cup 52 years ago at Wembley 1966.

There’s no quick fix to the Lions’ sorry predicament and almost every FAS team, from junior to senior levels, have got their buttocks whipped in recent regional tournaments, going down even to Timor-Leste (FIFA ranked 190) in this month’s Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (Asean Youth Under 21 Tournament). And it stands out more than just a seriously-injured sore thumb simply because the Lions have no bona fide regional-class exposure or experience.

FAS Belgian-famed technical director Michel Sablon’s work at the grassroots have yet to bear fruits and I know he’s concerned that the NTC (National Training Centre), for longer-term youth development work, may well appear to be a prolonged pipe-dream.

I pray the newly-minted Singapore Premier League (SPL) will produce talent with the new Under-23 rule for clubs. But, rather pragmatically, after years of limited focus on youth development, there’s a gross short supply of talented footballers of the calibre of Hairis Harun, Irfan Fandi or Adam Swandi, which led Sundramoorthy to the slaughter-house with just three wins in 22 official outings – all coming in friendlies.


For starters, I hope Lim Kia Tong will break his silence and daringly, with a sincere heart, tell Singapore fans they will never allow the national coach to be in the same situation again. leading the spring-chicken-like Lions to be the whipping boys of Asean football.

Home-grown or “angmoh” coaches, the element of leadership is definitely a vital ingredient, something which is sorely lacking in the FAS leadership. A high-performing Lions, capable of improving the FIFA ranking, will only be the result of an inspiring and experienced leader.

In simple words, picking the potential coach goes beyond leadership qualities and his (or even her) tactical competence. But to know how to mentor the Ahmads, Leongs, Samys and Davids and to get the home-based players (and not depend on the FTS, Foreign Talent Scheme) to gel as a rousing and fighting unit and to bring back the “Kallang Roar”, which, with every passing day, looks like a pipe-dream.

As former FAS general secretary Steven Yeo rightly says: “The coach is not the problem though an experienced coach helps. The Lions don’t need an overhaul. The FAS needs a thorough overhaul.”

Former Singapore skipper Razali Saat (1984-1993 with 53 ‘A’ international caps), who is also FAS Vice President, hinted that the national-coach target is a “great motivator and tactician”. He adds: “A local for now as we don’t have the bulk of players, who’re overseas, until the international window in September.”


Steve Darby, too, leans towards a “home-grown coach”. He explains: “They would’ve the knowledge of the players (both ability and character) and an understanding of the culture of the game plus unique features such as NS (National Service). I would go for ex-S-League stalwarts Aidil Shahrin (Home United) or Darren Stewart (now coaching in Maldives), both very good young coaches with the right character.”

He warned of the danger of going for a foreigner, perhaps with a little more experience, but “they get conned by a ‘name’ and someone can come in and see it as a two-year holiday in a great place to live”. He reminds: “You must get a person who wants the job and not just ‘grin and bank it’.”

Darby, who also coached the Australia women’s team in 1984 and 1989-91, had another piece of honest advice for the FAS: “I strongly believe the Lions should be the best players irrespective of age. It should not be a development process but the ultimate honour for a player. The aim is about winning, not developing.”

He fears that particularly the social media may rush towards a hurried job for a national coach. He says: “The FAS and players must start to ignore the growing influence of social media. The people who choose the coach must understand football and the Singapore environment and not either go for a fan-choice or a name to make them feel important.”

On the Lions’ crummy FIFA ranking of 172, Darby says: “The rankings are such a complex issue. My best advice: Just work on winning games and the ranking looks after itself. But if you’re clever, like India, you can manipulate the rankings by choice of opponents.”


Significantly, in 2015, Darby was appointed as Technical Director of the Laos Football Federation (LFF) and later as National Coach preparing for the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers. In this time Laos obtained its first World Cup points and the highest-ever FIFA ranking of 167.

My final question to Darby, who in a three-decade coaching career also coached in Bahrain, Australia, Singapore and Vietnam, and was assistant to both (former England internationals) Peter Reid and Bryan Robson with the Thailand national team: Won’t you throw your name into the hat to be the newly-minted Lions’ coach?

Smilingly, he answers: “If they want you, they will come and get you!”

Now back to the FAS and the sinister silence to name the new Lions coach.

Yes, in my opinion, the die-hard fans deserve to be told the truth. They are crying out for a high-performing Lions and the answer starts with the FAS leadership showing bold fire-in-the-belly by first putting in place a clear communications channel.

Pray break the silence, Lim Kia Tong, as the continued state of dreaded mum will surely be interpreted by the fans as a bummer lack of confidence in the football leadership.

For the moment, the hottest seat in the sporting arena still remains cold until the FAS plays ball with the fans and media to who will succeed Sundramoorthy.

Come May 9, it will be one full month of blackout. Perhaps this famous three-letter acronym may give you a favoured hint.

FAS = Fandi Ahmad Singapura!

Your guess is as good as mine. – By SURESH NAIR

  • Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who has covered FAS matters for over three decades.


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