Go with a smile!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Radojko Avramović

It’s the end of the road for Raddy Avramovich.

If you remember, almost 10 years ago there was one of the most terrible nights for Singapore football. Singapore got beaten 4-0 by Malaysia at Kallang. I remember going to the office on the day after that pummelling and one of the older colleagues – old enough to not only remember the very short Malaysia Cup craze of the early 90s, but also the 60s and 70s. He was cursing and swearing at Jan Poulsen, who came to Singapore with a big reputation, having been assistant coach of the Danish team that won Euro 1992, but left with his tail between his legs.

Not much was known about Avramovich when he came. But within two years he helped to secure what seemed to be an extremely unlikely Tiger Cup win in 2004/5. And he managed to defend it in 2006/7. Those were two great achievements that should cement his reputation as Singapore’s best coach since Choo Seng Quee. It was very surreal – the first time Singapore won that trophy in 1998, it was seen as a very big fluke. The second time, luck was on our side a little. The third time, we were basically expected to win it and we did. Two years later in 2008/09, I was also at the National Stadium when the Vietnamese beat us in the semi-final match, and in retrospect, I probably witnessed the moment when things began to fade for him.

Two years later, in another Tiger Cup, Singapore even failed to get out of the group. Although things got a little better somewhat when there was a World Cup Qualifying play off against Malaysia (who won the last Tiger Cup) where we beat them.

Other than those two wonderful Tiger Cups, though, there were a lot of disappointments. Singapore never won the SEA games gold in football – largely because we were playing with youth teams and for some reason the youth teams never prosper. Singapore never qualified for the Asian Cups, and looked even less likely to do so now. There were times when we went agonizingly close. The time when Jordan beat us 2-1 to clinch Asian Cup qualification in 2011 was probably the knockout blow. Yes, Singapore got to the third round of qualifying for the World Cup twice - something that hadn't happened before. But the last time this happened, our abject performances against China, Iraq and Jordan probably didn't help much.

These days we struggle to get past the Philippines. Funnily, it seems that the days of Singapore and Thailand dominating Southeast Asian Football are over – the real contenders are Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

During those two Tiger Cup wins, I felt that Singapore played like Bolton Wanderers the Sam Allardyce Bolton Wanderers. The game revolved around pumping the ball up and having bigger and taller players to dominate in the air. It was also important that we had around three naturalized citizens to boost our numbers. It was a fairly unlovable form of football. But for a while we accepted it because there was so much excitement and drama to our winning those two cups.

But we did not capitalize on that step forward and things slid back after a while. For some reason there will always be idiots who think that Avramovich was a bad coach. One of the key issues is that there was one season when a lot of Singapore football players went to a newly-rich Indonesian league to play, and somehow got fat and lazy. The standards dropped after that. Singaporeans are really blasé about Avramovich’s achievements. As though those two Tiger Cup wins didn’t matter as much as those three Malaysia Cup finals we reached in the early 90s. I think that we will miss him when he’s gone, although it is true that he has taken the team as far as it can go.

Let’s survey the Singapore football landscape. Things look very bleak. The future of the S-League? Who cares about the S-League? Even though I’m sure that the S-League played a very big part in expanding our talent pool to find the players with whom we could win the Tiger Cup. The problem is that the public doesn’t really care for the S League. The brawl between the Young Lions and the Beijing B team was a nadir. The Malaysia Cup? I don’t know if Singapore will ever want to go back to the Malaysia Cup. I think it’s a step back if Singapore were to have only one team that could compete in the Malaysian league. I’ve always thought that there could be two possible solutions. One of them was that the Malaysia Cup be expanded to allow one or two teams from the S-League to compete. Another possible solution would be that S-League would merge with the Malaysia Super League. But either of them would spoil the magic of the Malaysia Cup for Singaporeans – the magic was that there would only be one Singapore team, just like Newcastle has only one football club.

The only glimmer of hope is that the Singapore team has done well in the Malaysia Super League, finishing runner-up. They are in the semi-finals of the Malaysia Cup now, facing the prospect of being knocked out by the Army team. Unfortunately Lions XII are fairly depleted right now with so many injuries, from what I understand. It will be sad – I don’t care if Lions XII gets beaten in the finals by either Selangor or Kelantan, but they have to reach the finals. The Malaysia Cup final would not be much fun without Singapore in it. Not only from the perspective of Singaporeans but also Malaysians.

The next coach? Sundramoothy doesn’t look like a bad choice, although his strength so far has been in moulding a young team into a competitive unit. The Singapore national team would be a big step up for him and possibly he might want to take on that job a few years later. Fandi? I don’t think Fandi’s as good a coach as Sundram. Maybe if he achieves something with Johor FC he’ll be in with a shout. And anyway he has since spoken up to refute the possibility of being the next coach. Other than those two names, there are coaches who have won the S-League before, even though I don’t really know their names. Maybe a possibility is to appoint Sundram and let a bright young Singapore coach take over Lions XII. Maybe another possibility is to let Sundram have a dual role as Lions XII coach and an assistant to some bright foreign talent.

There has to be somebody who wants to take on the role of Singapore coach. However tired Avramovic feels right now, there is no doubt that it is one of the more exciting jobs in football. I wouldn't blame him if he feels unappreciated but if somebody can come in and lift Singapore football for a few years, it will be exciting.


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