SPL bottom team Hougang replace head coach Firdaus Kassim with Marko Kraljevic
After delivering just four points from eight matches as his side slipped to the bottom of the table, Hougang United’s Firdaus Kassim has become the Singapore Premier League’s first coaching casualty this season.
On Monday, the Cheetahs informed the team that Firdaus, 35, will be redeployed to take charge of one of their youth teams, and assistant coach Marko Kraljevic will take over the reins as interim head coach.
It is understood that the decision was made before Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Tampines Rovers, which extended Hougang’s winless run to seven games since their opening 3-2 victory over Balestier Khalsa. It was also the fourth time they have dropped points after scoring first this term.
But the switch became official only on Monday to allow Kraljevic sufficient time to prepare for their next SPL match against leaders and defending champions Albirex Niigata on May 6.
Hougang general manager Matthew Tay explained the move to promote from within is to ensure continuity and stability.
He added: “In deriving this decision, the club acknowledges that the performances and results of the team this season have been below par, with the club unacceptably rooted at the bottom of the table.
“With last November’s victorious campaign in the Singapore Cup, expectations were rightly high for the club to continue where it left off, with adequate investment being made by the management in ensuring this season’s squad is capable to challenge on all fronts, including in the AFC Cup campaign.
“The management of HGFC is committed to developing both players and local coaches but believes that a change is necessary at this juncture to hopefully bring about better results for the team.
“We would like to sincerely thank Firdaus for his contributions to the first team and we look forward to him nurturing our youth players.”
Kraljevic has been involved with the SPL since its inception in 1996, playing for Balestier, Tampines and Jurong, before making his name as a coach with the Tigers, guiding the modest club to Singapore Cup success in 2014, when he was named Coach of the Year.
The 57-year-old German-Croat, who joined Hougang in 2022 as their head of youth, affirmed the capabilities of his predecessor, who guided the team to a historic Cup triumph last season.
He said: “Football can be cruel and sometimes when you are unlucky, many things don’t go your way. I have been working closely with Firdaus and he is a good coach.
“Now that this decision has been taken, I hope to bring back confidence and belief to the team. Look, we matched Tampines and could have beaten them. This shows we are still a good team. We just need to work together, string together a few wins, catch momentum and we will be fine.
“There are two rounds and 16 games left, and I am very confident we can still finish in the top half and do well in the cup competitions because we have the quality.”
When contacted, Firdaus declined comment.