Singapore’s top two women’s football teams hire rookie head coaches, Latest Football News - The New Paper

Singapore’s top two women’s football teams hire rookie head coaches

A player of the year and a coach of the year gong won by the same individual at an annual awards gala could be possible in Singapore’s Women’s Premier League (WPL) this season.

Albirex Niigata’s reigning WPL player of the year and the league’s golden boot winner Kana Kitahara will assume a dual player-head coach role for their women’s team in 2024. While there is no official announcement when the new campaign kicks off, The Straits Times understands it is likely to start in March.

Kitahara scored 17 goals in 13 matches for Albirex as they finished second in the 10-team competition, nine points behind champions Lion City Sailors.

This might be her debut on the WPL touchline but she is aiming high. Speaking through a translator, Kitahara, 35, said: “I have never heard of the best player winner also being named best head coach. That is unprecedented. But to be honest, this will require the effort of everyone.

“A lot of the work will be done on the training pitch but during matches, I have good and reliable coaches with me and we will all do our best to achieve our goal of winning the title.”

Kitahara, who holds a Japan Football Association B Licence, will be assisted by former Singapore women’s team head coach Melisa Ye and former Singapore men’s Under-17 assistant coach Toni Teo.

Her on-field experience is unquestioned. Kitahara has played in midfield and attack for Albirex and was deployed as a defender for the Japan national team that finished runners-up at the 2015 World Cup.

Albirex chairman Daisuke Korenaga said his main goal is to elevate women’s football here and that amongst several Japanese players with World Cup experience, Kitahara was his first choice when he convinced her to relocate in 2022.

She was also hired on a coaching contract which saw serve as the assistant of the U-17 Albirex men’s team that competed in the Football Association of Singapore’s Centre of Excellence U-17 league and as a coach in the Albirex Singapore Football Academy where she coached girls and boys from the age of six to 17.

The Sailors themselves will have a new face in the dugout after promoting their goalkeeper coach Daniel Ong, 34. He takes over from Yeong Sheau Shyan, who led the side to back-to-back undefeated title-winning campaigns and was WPL Coach of the Year in 2022 and 2023.

Yeong is now head of the Sailors women’s programme, tasked with ensuring the development of players from the club’s girls academy through to the WPL team.

Ong, who is also the women’s national team goalkeeper coach, oversaw his first game in charge on Jan 12 in the Sailors’ 4-2 win over second-tier Women’s National League champions Royal Arion in the Cafe Football Charity Cup 2024 at Our Tampines Hub.

The job comes with “big pressure”, he admitted, but said he is looking forward to the challenge.

“I feel blessed. Not everyone can take up this role but coach Sheau Shyan has trusted me and I want to do well,” he added: “Of course it is a big pressure given the team has been undefeated but I see this job as being one where I will be focused on making players better. As a team, they are good but individually, there is a lot to improve.”

Women's Premier LeagueFootballSingapore Football