The golden boy of Singapore football is looking forward to his latest adventure as Head Coach of LionsXII
SINGAPORE, 7 December 2013: So the wait is over.
After months of speculation, the man tasked to spearhead the LionsXII’s campaign in 2014 has been unveiled – he is none other than Mr Fandi Ahmad.
The structured recruitment process saw a total of more than 70 coaches applying for the job, before it was cut down to a final three. As part of the rigorous process, the final shortlisted three applicants, including Fandi, had to go through a series of tests and interviews.
Subsequently, the panel had to deliberate and discuss several times as it was not easy to select one from three equally-qualified candidates who had all impressed.
Eventually picked as the man to succeed V Sundramoorthy in this hot seat, the golden boy of Singapore football expressed his delight to be back serving the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) again.
“I’m really happy to have applied for this job,” said Fandi, who left FAS in 2006 to coach Indonesian club Pelita Raya.
“The opportunity is there for me to come back and be part of Singapore football. Thus, I was excited to be among the final shortlist of three candidates. Although it was a long process, I was quite happy given how it was strategized and structured.”
Returning to Singapore football had always been part of his plans, even though he did not exactly express that desire explicitly in the past.
In response to a question over the comment he had made against the FA earlier this year, Fandi said: “My earlier comment was made solely in relation to the Association’s search for the new national coach.”
“However, FAS has since shared with me that they had, through their network of contacts including FIFA and UEFA, already identified possible candidates to succeed Raddy, and that the subsequent appointment of a recruitment agency was aimed at supplementing their own efforts to select the best available person for the job.”
Mr Ridzal Saat, Deputy Director, Development & Planning at FAS elaborated: “We appreciate the opportunity to explain to Fandi our processes and procedures relating to the search for Raddy Avramovic’s successor.”
“As it was a high-profile and key position, we commenced the search for Raddy’s successor, via our extensive network of contacts, once we were informed that Raddy would not be renewing his contract. As part of the rigorous process, we also appointed a recruitment agency with the objective of supplementing our efforts in identifying and selecting the best candidate. We are pleased to have eventually appointed Bernd Stange, an experienced international coach who has a good record.”
“We are heartened that Fandi now fully understands and accepts our position and processes. We look forward to welcoming Fandi and we will support him to the best of our best abilities as we strive to further raise our footballing standards,” said Mr Ridzal.
With his predecessor setting the bar high by clinching the Malaysian Super League (MSL) last season, Fandi admitted it will take some effort to replicate Sundram’s feats.
“Sundram has done a good job in helping us win the league, which is a difficult task,” he said.
“The LionsXII kept improving in the last two seasons, and thus, it’s no easy feat to follow what he has done.”
“I did have some discussions with him one and a half months ago and even before I applied for this job. He gave me feedback that I would need to beef up the squad a little. Hence, I’ll be looking for some players to strengthen the squad. I’ll need one or two more experienced players.”
The task will be even harder considering the fact that key lynchpins in Baihakki Khaizan, Hariss Harun and Shahril Ishak have already left for clubs across the Causeway.
However, the former national skipper is keen to focus on the remaining members of the squad as they gear up for yet another tough campaign in the MSL – with the FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) having announced earlier that each team can register up to four foreigners, one up from last season.
“We can’t dwell on players who have gone across to play for Malaysian teams,” he said.
“I believe we’re good enough mentally with the current players we have. We’ll try to structure a game plan to suit our needs.”
“It will be tougher this coming year with the additional foreigner rule, but we’re focusing on our local boys. We’re looking to give more playing opportunities to youngsters like Zulfahmi (Arifin), Shahfiq Ghani and Aqhari (Abdullah) for them to gain exposure.”
“We want to unearth some talent and further develop them so that they can progress to the national team. Some of them are already there, with five to ten caps, and they can improve a lot more. I’m sure they are all waiting for the new season to come.”
The ever-ambitious Fandi has also set a target of retaining the MSL title, while pinpointing the returning Khairul Amri as the key man for those silverware hopes.
“We have got to finish in the top three,” he said bullishly.
“Personnel-wise, barring any injuries, we will finish in a good position. Amri is the key man for us. It will be important to get both Amri and (Khairul) Nizam to play together.”
The 51-year-old, of course, had good memories of playing in Malaysian competitions, as player in the 1980s and 1990s. Re-joining Singapore after a number of years plying his trade for Malaysian clubs, he helped the Singapore team secure promotion to the top tier in 1993 before achieving the memorable Double (Malaysian League and Malaysia Cup champions) the following season.
Pinpointing the intense rivalry between clubs as the key attribute of playing in Malaysian competitions, Fandi wants his boys to keep composed especially in away games.
“Some of these players have already played in high-level international matches, but the Malaysia Cup and League competitions are different,” he said.
“The rivalry between state clubs and Singapore has been there for 30 to 40 years. In the last two years, you can feel the atmosphere whenever our LionsXII played there. They got to be calm and composed, always believe in themselves and work as a unit because playing away.”
“It will be tough this year with the addition of Sarawak (FA) where the atmosphere is intimidating. There are also big teams like Johor and Kelantan (FA) which have huge rivalries with us. Furthermore, we have to defend this title. There’ll be ups and downs along the way and we have to manage it carefully.”
Scoring goals is obviously a big component of football. With Fandi being a former striker himself, he wants to see his forwards hit the back of the net more often.
“We’ve been starved of top strikers in the last two years,” he said candidly.
“You don’t see any Singaporean scoring more than 15 goals in the S.League on a regular basis. Scoring goals is an art and we can polish them (in that aspect). They need lots of good training in finishing.”
“It’s about working extra hard, being disciplined and it also depends on how far they want to improve.”
With the majority of the squad away in Myanmar for the nation’s quest for a first SEA Games gold medal in this sport, the new gaffer is “taking it easy for now”.
“I don’t want to put so much pressure as they need to focus on the SEA Games. I’ve worked it out… If they go through to the next stage, we have a maximum of three weeks to prepare for the new season which kicks off on January 17. They’ll also definitely need a break when they come back.”
“Hopefully I can plan a short tour, maybe for less than a week where we can play two to three friendly games.”
“The most important thing to do is rehabilitation – as the majority of them had been playing for the whole year and I foresee the fitness going down after the Games. It’s about how we maintain their condition and recovery work; hopefully they do not sustain any injuries.”
Having gone through an eventful two years in charge of a star-studded Johor Darul Takzim side before taking up the LionsXII post, the 51-year-old feels that he has grown a tad wiser as a football coach.
“Everything which I’ve learnt there was good,” he said.
“Every journey, every venture and every bit of pressure are learning experiences to me. Decisions are made because of such experiences. Above all, I believe I’m a passionate person when it comes to football. I want to go forward and I want everyone to be on the same page as me.”
“The players are great and they respect each other. Whatever transpired in the press (regarding the reasons for my departure) wasn’t right; the players and I were very close to each other. It’s just that we don’t have the luck and I can only say ‘money can’t buy everything.”
Some seven years after he went overseas to pursue a new challenge, the Football Association of Singapore warmly welcomes Fandi back to the family and we will support him fully as he embarks on a new LionsXII adventure!