School sports

Living his ambitions through his players: Meridian JC football coach Fabio da Silva

Fabio da Silva, 42, has coached football for 12 years at Meridian Junior College, winning eight A Division boys' titles.
Fabio da Silva, 42, has coached football for 12 years at Meridian Junior College, winning eight A Division boys' titles. ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Between them, they have almost 70 years of combined coaching experience in Singapore school sports and together have captured more than 60 national titles. But winning trophies was never the priority as Adrian Chong (rugby), Kok Mun Wai (netball), William Chua (volleyball) and Fabio da Silva (football) tell The Straits Times. First and foremost, they are teachers and the most important lesson offered on the sporting field is a simple one; success requires hard work.

Growing up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Fabio da Silva had the same goal as every Brazilian boy in his neighbourhood; to become a professional footballer and travel the world.

That dream took shape when he signed for local club Desportiva FC at the age of 15 and it expanded in 1995 when da Silva received his first overseas offer and arrived in Singapore to play for Police FC (now S-League side Home United).

He spent nine years in South-east Asia, winning the top-flight Malaysia Premier League 1 with Penang in 1998 and playing in the 2002 Singapore Cup final for now-defunct Jurong FC.

 

The journeyman midfielder retired in 2003 and took on a coaching role at Canadian Pizza Football Academy the same year.

The 42-year-old said: "I played under people like Jita Singh and (V. Sundramoorthy) who had a big impact on my career. I was influenced a lot by them and thought it was only right I try my best also to coach up-and-coming footballers."

In 2005, da Silva was approached by Meridian Junior College (MJC) to train the boys' team. Both the school and team were new - formed in 2003 - but that did not stop him from quickly overturning the A Division pecking order.

That season, MJC beat defending champions Victoria Junior College (VJC) in the final. They added a second championship in 2008 and became an established force. From 2010, they won six of the next seven A Division crowns.

A large part of the success stems from da Silva's meticulous planning. He also shows his players video clips of Spanish clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid to explain tactics.

His team's winner against old rivals VJC in the final earlier this month was a case in point, he noted.

"We practised that set piece for over a month and it paid off at the best time. Whenever the boys step out on the field, I treat them like the best team in the world. I want them to play like a top side and act with discipline."

Having someone like da Silva believe in him was crucial, said former MJC striker Faisal Raffi, now on the books at S-League outfit Balestier Khalsa. The 20-year-old added: "He gave me the freedom to express myself in games and developed me as a team player."

Nothing could be sweeter to da Silva's ears. He said: "I began as a footballer and had a good career.

"Now I want to continue in this sport by coaching young ones and to see them grow up to be successful players."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2016, with the headline 'Living his ambitions through his players'. Print Edition | Subscribe