Lions Suzuki Cup Debacle: Replace Bernd Stange With Local Coach?

The Lions’ ignominious group-stage exit from the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup after Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Malaysia has prompted fans and former national footballers to call for swift changes to local football and its management.

The brickbats came fast and furious after the defending champions’ poor showing, with some calling for national head coach Bernd Stange to resign, while others pointed to issues within the sport that have seen Singapore’s world ranking slide to No 158 this month as well as the S-League’s recent brouhaha with the decision to reduce the number of clubs and implement age restrictions for players.

Former national defender R Sasikumar and veteran footballer Aleksandar Duric have joined in the chorus for Mr Stange to quit. Mr Sasikumar told TODAY: “I don’t think the calls are premature as the coach is there to get a result. It is time for him to go and to let us rebuild with local coaches. Ninety per cent of the public would want V Sundramoorthy or Fandi Ahmad as national coach.”

But Mr Sasikumar — who won the Tiger Cup with the team in 1998 — believes the root of the Lions’ problems lies much deeper. “There are fundamental issues that need to be addressed … The Germans did it after they were kicked out of Euro 2000. It is also time for us to take stock of how we play football and how we approach football and we need to fix it,” said Mr Sasikumar.

“After the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup loss, what was done was aesthetic and we didn’t make changes to the philosophy of football. Right now, we talk about (the Football Association of Singapore) Strategic Plan, but where are the key performance indicators? Is it winning the Suzuki Cup consistently or qualifying for the AFC Cup?

“If you are a private organisation, it’s natural that when you don’t give shareholders (what they want), they will look at the management. Football is no different, and that is accountability.”

Added local football fan Navin Nambiar: “I’m not calling for Bernd Stange to be sacked as coaches need time. But looking at this, will a local coach do any worse? Some local flavour will be good and it would have been nice to see Fandi come up against Malaysian coach Dollah Salleh.”

While players such as Hariss Harun, Shahril Ishak and Shakir Hamzah drew praise for their performances on the field, others came under fire. Former Lions player Rafi Ali attributed the poor performances to the lack of technical ability, saying: “My observation of teams such as Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar is that their technical ability is good. Thailand are very comfortable with the ball, they move the ball nicely and are exciting to watch.

“What is most glaring (about Singapore) is the lack of basic technique, such as passing and movement. We have to look at it and stop giving excuses. The most important thing is to grow the players technically, so the national coach has a lot of players to look at.”

Aside from next year’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers, the next big tournament will be the 2015 SEA Games to be held here from June 5 to 16. The gold medal is the target for the national Under-23 side, and former Singapore international Terry Pathmanathan said: “Players will be under tremendous pressure. They have to identify the players quickly and move them into regular training together.

“I don’t know how much help it is for the Young Lions to play in the S-League as playing there and against Under-23 opponents is different.”

Local fan Yusuf Kay, 39, is not hopeful of the team’s chances just yet, saying: “I don’t expect much for the SEA Games as a lot more needs to be done.”



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