Saturday, June 24, 2017


Should Singapore Be Turning Japanese?

With Indonesian football shut down for a couple of weeks to mark the end of the fasting month my thoughts have turned to Singapore. For a while now I have been meaning to do an article about the state of the national team and the need for a new mind set and a result from last night, plus a dearth of stories locally, has forced my hand.

Stipe Plazibat's brace helped Home United defeated Albirex Niigata 2-0 last night, inflicting the first loss of the season on the SLeague champions. Prior to that defeat the Japanese side had gone 11 games unbeaten, winning 10 and scoring 37 goals along the way. Even after last night's defeat they have conceded just eight goals in the SLeague.

Last year Albirex managed a full house, winning the Community Shield, the League Cup, the Singapore Cup and of course the SLeague. They began 2017 in the same way, retaining the Community Shield. In 2015 they won the League Cup and the Singapore Cup.

In simple terms they have won seven out of the last nine trophies on offer in Singapore suggesting someone somewhere within the football club has the measure of the local football DNA.

Albirex Niigata are of course as Singaporean as I am. They are a Japanese owned football club, a subsidiary of Albirex Niigata in Japan. They are coached by Japanese and have only Japanese players most of whom see Singapore as a stepping stone in their career back home. An example of this is Naoki Naruo. 

He spent two years playing for Albirex Niigata in Japan among other clubs before first moving to Singapore in 2009 to coach. He returned in 2016, won everything and within hours of being crowned Coach of the Year was heading back to Japan where he is coaching the Albirex Niigata Under 18s.

Yep, the guy who came to Singapore and won everything was allowed to return to his own country to coach an age group side. Perhaps Singapore was glad to see the back of him, this pesky foreigner who breezed into town, won the lot and buggered off home again. I'm left wondering whether anyone at the FAS could place a name to the face?

Into Naruo's place has come Kazuaki Yoshinaga and he has continued in his predecessors footsteps.

Meanwhile the national team chugs along in its own sweet way. An impressive 0-0 draw away to Bahrain was followed up by a 2-1 loss at home to they even have a professional league? The Lions were knocked out of the AFF Suzuki Cup scoring just one goal in their three games. They have lost twice against Afghanistan in the last 15 months. 

Since the start of 2016 they have played 19 games, winning just three and scoring just 10 goal. Two of those wins and four of the goals have come against Myanmar!

The coach of the national team since May last year is V Sundramoorthy. The former international who spent one season playing in Switzerland was highly rated as a player, earning the nickname The Dazzler for his silky skills. He also had the distinction of playing for the national team during the halcyon 1990s when everyone supported the Lions in the Malaysia Cup. The golden age of Singapore football, the aura of that team has left its mark on the modern game with players all too often being unfairly compared with the great and the good, the legends of that time.

Given the almost saintly scent that surrounds the players from that era the FAS often feels the need to call on that generation when it feels under pressure to act feeling, rightly or wrongly, such an appointment will buy them time and or ease pressure on them to make the necessary tough decisions. A 90s vet will nearly always be met with chest bursting headlines from nostalgia driven hacks who have a name they can relate to at last. But nostalgia doesn't win trophies. Last year Naoki Naruo won trophies. Lots of them. 

It makes you wonder, doesn't it? If the old FAS had been in charge of Arsenal in the mid 1990s then the chances are they would have appointed Liam Brady as manager and not Arsene Wenger. But then the FAS don't have anyone of the calibre of David Dein, a one man LinkedIn. 

It is easy to imagine the outcry had the FAS thought out of the box and tried to find a way to involved Naruo within the national team set up but results don't lie. You can't run football through the prism of a glory age a generation ago. The world has moved on and yes football has moved on. Hopefully a new FAS will have the courage to look beyond the 1990s, and foreign journeymen, when it comes to appointing the next Singapore coach. A youthful approach embracing new ideas might be just the ticket Singapore football needs. 

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