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FAS: All we ask for is a S'pore team that makes us proud

Tsutomu Ogura’s appointment as the Singapore national coach on Feb 1 saw the former Japan national team assistant become the Lions’ third consecutive Japanese tactician at the helm. At Ogura’s unveiling, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Bernard Tan denied an agenda behind hiring another Japanese coach.

On The Straits Times’ podcast series Hard Tackle, Tan speaks for the first time about the hiring process while Ogura tells sports reporter Deepanraj Ganesan about his observations and plans before his first game in charge on Mar 21 against China in a World Cup qualifier.

This is an excerpt from their discussion.

Q: When did the process to replace coach (Takayuki) Nishigaya start and what is this process like?

Tan: If you look at the history of our coaches in Singapore, very rarely do we actually terminate the services of a coach prior to the completion of the contract. I think you can trace back to many, many years, and usually we allow the coach to see through the contract.

The fact that we actually had terminated coach Nishigaya’s contract six months before the end of his term shows that this was something that was taken outside normal processes. Once the decision was taken that it was good to replace our existing coach early, then we had to start the process (to hire a new coach)

Q:Was there any point in the process where you thought about not appointing a Japanese coach just so that you can avoid this claim of bias from people?

Tan: I must say, I’m actually quite surprised by the issue of being biassed. We did have two Japanese candidates, but we (also) had a Spanish person and two Englishmen that we seriously considered. In terms of the pedigree of coaches in Asia, it would not be surprising to you to know that the Japanese and the (South) Korean coaches are in high demand throughout Asia.

I think any fan in Singapore can look around the region and admit that the Japanese have got the ecosystem right, they have been on an upward trend and their team is ranked 18th in the world. There’s a lot to learn from the Japanese ecosystem.

And to me, it was natural that more of the candidates would come from Japan. But I didn’t have a desire to just avoid a Japanese coach. I think to do so would hamper the whole process. Was there a bias or a deal? No, the answer was no.

Q: You have the two matches against China coming up very soon. What is the plan before those matches?

Ogura: At the moment, we have no friendly games but we will start centralised training in a small group. Because the overseas players will not be joining (initially) till the Fifa window, we will train with local (based) players for about four or five days.

First, I would like to share my concept, the Singapore national team concept with the coaching staff, and then the players. The players must believe in our football, then we will get confidence. This is very important. Belief is very important. It is not just about one or two players believing in it. Everyone, including all the coaches, has to believe in it and then we can improve.

Q: What is your message to fans ahead of the matches against China later this month? What would you say if you could speak to them directly?

Tan: What is the expectation that the average Singapore fan has? It’s to see a team that has a style of play that makes us proud, to have players who are giving their all and are organised in a way that makes it very difficult for a superior team to beat us and gives us a chance to beat a superior team.

We know where we stand in football today. There’s still a long way to go. Anybody who thinks that in a click of our fingers, we appoint a coach and instantly a result will come out is fooling themselves. But what we expect from our boys in red is a performance that we all can be proud of.

And that’s the challenge I give to coach Ogura and his entire team. And I trust that he has the same philosophy in his heart. So, all I’ll ask for is a Singapore team that makes us all proud.

Q: Is it realistic to expect Singapore to get something from the matches against China?

Ogura: In the AFC Asian Cup, everyone said Japan and (South) Korea are the best teams. Neither of them were in the final. This is football where we don’t know (what happens).

At [his former club Tokyo] Verdy, no one thought about us getting promoted. If we say that a draw is enough, we won’t get a draw. We must challenge ourselves. The aim must be correct. The target is always the same, it is always to win. I am looking forward to (the game) against China.