Frustration over departure of Lions head coach Yoshida
Head coach Tatsuma Yoshida instilled belief in the Lions, helping them overcome their diffidence to record several creditable results over the past 2½ years.
Hence, when the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced Yoshida's resignation on Tuesday (Dec 28), there was a sense of frustration in the local football fraternity.
The Japanese coach, who was appointed in May 2019, will be leaving his post a year before his contract is up in December 2022. He cited the need to be closer to his family - his wife and two daughters aged 11 and 14 - after being apart for most of the pandemic as a key reason behind his decision.
His departure comes less than two months after another top post in FAS became vacant, with technical director Joseph Palatsides quitting abruptly just five months after signing a contract extension until 2023.
Said former Balestier Khalsa coach Khidhir Khamis: "It's a pity that (Tatsuma) has chosen to leave. He's done all he can during a difficult period. At this moment, it has become very start-stop when it comes to our football. There is too much chopping and changing.
"If there is going to be changes at head coach or technical director level, it does not bode well. We need to ensure that we get stability with our next appointments. Five years of commitment is not too much to ask for."
Geylang International coach Mohd Noor Ali commended Yoshida for engaging with SPL coaches during his tenure. Yoshida had invited several local coaches to observe his training sessions.
Noor Ali admitted that he was taken aback by the abrupt nature of the resignation.
He said: "We all saw how good a performance it was in the semi finals. There was a lot of fighting spirit and energy. So it's a surprise. But we need to look ahead now and focus on what we can do to ensure there is continuity."
FAS general secretary Yazeen Buhari said Yoshida's contract will be mutually terminated on Friday (Dec 31), and that the coach will leave Singapore on Wednesday. The FAS will begin its search for Yoshida's replacement immediately and the priority is for the next coach to share the same playing philosophies as Yoshida, he added.
Lions captain Hariss Harun said the squad was "filled with sadness" after hearing Yoshida's decision. Before publicly announcing his departure on Tuesday, the head coach had spoken about his decision with the Lions, who he said are "almost like his sons".
"There is a lot of sadness that the journey has come to an end," said Hariss. "The bond we had with him and the backroom staff was special. He's believed (in) and trusted all the players. Since he has come in, we have progressed and we enjoyed some good moments.
"It's sad to see him go but we have to respect his decision."
Hariss pointed to the Lions' first few competitive outings under Yoshida as a sign of what the Japanese coach was able to bring to the team.
In the early days of Yoshida's tenure, the Lions played possession based-attacking football and yielded impressive results such as the 2-1 wins over Palestine and Yemen in September and November 2019. They were also able to hold their own against mightier opponents as when the Lions (ranked 157th at that time) held Jordan (No.98) to a 0-0 draw.
But the Lions were not able to sustain their style and form after they returned from the Covid-19 enforced break when the full national team was not able to train together or play an international match for almost 18 months.
At the World Cup qualifiers in June, Singapore suffered heavy losses (3-0, 4-0 and 5-0) to Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Uzbekistan.
Said Hariss: "He transformed the team. He's been fearless in how he has approached the games and he put that mentality in us. We went into those games against better countries with the belief that we could do something. We as players saw the magic of the belief he had instilled in our squad. The momentum was disrupted with Covid but even till now, the players have a lot of belief when we go out onto the pitch."
While football experts and insiders reacted with frustration at Yoshida's departure, there is also optimism.
Former international R. Sasikumar said it was not the end of the world and suggested that Yoshida's resignation, coupled with the vacancy of the technical director (TD) role, could give Singapore football a chance to start on a clean slate.
He said: "No one coach or TD is bigger than the organisation. We have two key roles to fill now and what we do with it, will signal our intentions as to how serious we are.
"Indonesia have a coach who has coached at the World Cup in Shin Tae-yong and a club in the Singapore Premier League, the Lion City Sailors have an Asian Champions League winning coach in Kim Do-hoon.
"Let's think big, get the best people for the job and pay them the money they deserve."