New Singapore coach Stange is a master of value add

Lions' veteran German coach no big name but a whiz with tight resources

When Raddy Avramovic was appointed Singapore's national football coach in 2003, the first impression then was "Raddy, who?".

Similarly, the chatter on social media yesterday was one of bemusement when the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced that Bernd Stange would be the new Lion tamer.

But the FAS and regional coaches insist the 65-year-old is the right man for the job and a look at the German's colourful CV appears to suggest that too.

"Bernd clearly stands out among the candidates," said FAS president Zainudin Nordin. "He is widely recognised for his work by the German football community. His track record convinced us."

He revealed that the FAS received more than 100 applications for the post. The list was trimmed to 15, and then five before the final two were interviewed by a panel comprising officials from the Singapore Sports Council, Singapore Sports Institute and FAS.

Although Stange was never in charge of an A-list club or country, his resume shows that he is an expert in extracting the most out of limited resources.

At Cypriot club Apollon Limassol, he helped them avoid relegation in his first season in 2005 and in the next, won the first division title in an unbeaten campaign.

As national coach of Belarus from 2007 to 2011, he took Europe's whipping boys to their highest-ever Fifa ranking of 36 two years ago after he blooded youngsters and even deployed some players out of position.

He led the team to draws against Turkey, Germany and Argentina and, most famously, a victory over the Netherlands in the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

His ability to do well with limited means would suit 165th-ranked Singapore, where, apart from a limited budget and a small talent pool, Stange must also grapple with player availability owing to national service.

It is why an FAS official believes it has struck a good deal, with the German believed to be drawing less than $35,000 a month, which was Avramovic's reported salary when he was here.

Stange, who starts work on May 22, remains undaunted by the challenge of succeeding Avramovic, who went on to become Singapore's most successful coach after winning three Asean Football Federation Cups.

"I'm always optimistic," he insisted, despite admitting that the Lions are the lowest-ranked team he has ever been in charge of. "There are 3.5 million Singaporeans. That's a lot of young talent. We have the potential to have a powerful national team."

Regional tacticians hailed his arrival. Thailand's coach Winifried Schafer, a German, told The Straits Times: "I want to congratulate Singapore for appointing Stange. He has a reputation as a disciplined and hard-working coach.

"He believes in youth and will always try to improve his teams by giving youth a chance. He is a very good choice for Singapore because it is a small country with a limited talent pool."

Philippines coach Michael Weiss also gave his compatriot a ringing endorsement, noting: "He's always left a good impression and I can speak only with the highest regard for him. I think he's a good choice for Singapore."

More significantly, he believes that Stange is not just a good coach, but also a good man, saying: "He's a very humble, experienced coach who has done a fantastic job wherever he has gone."

A senior FAS official agreed, dismissing rumours about Stange spying on his players when he coached the former East German national team (1984-1988).

"He explained his side of the story and we have no reason to believe that he was a spy," the official said. "He is a very humble man and a delight to talk to."

Stange acknowledged the talk surrounding his past but said: "I've worked in countries that were communist (East Germany) and had a dictator (Iraq). But I've never gotten involved with politics. My job is with football."

There was certainly no shadow of an iron curtain yesterday as he kicked off his job on all the right notes at his unveiling.

Handed a Lions jersey for a photo opportunity, he explained why the No.2 was emblazoned on it.

"The team always come first, the coach is second," he said.

meng@sph.com.sg