Weeks of speculation about the future of Fandi Ahmad ended yesterday, when the local legend committed himself to the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) most likely until 2022.
In a hastily assembled press conference at the FAS' headquarters at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the 54-year-old was unveiled as the country's head coach (youth) in a three-year deal with an option for another three years.
Fandi's new role, which takes immediate effect, sees him oversee the development of national players aged 18 to 23. This includes taking charge of the 2018 Asian Games, 2019 and 2021 SEA Games teams and leading the squad that will attempt to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. All are Under-23 competitions.
He will work in tandem with Richard Tardy, who is head coach of national youth teams and responsible for players aged 13 to 18. The Frenchman will lead the 2017 SEA Games team before handing over the reins to Fandi. Both will report to the FAS' technical director Michel Sablon, the Belgian tasked with overhauling the Republic's youth development pipeline.
Fandi, who holds an Asian Football Confederation Pro Diploma, said: "We have only six local S-League clubs, plus the Young Lions, which I don't think is enough of a number to create the base of players needed for the national team. We have to search for talent outside, create more opportunities and avenues for youngsters.
"At the age of 17, 18, we lose 100 to 150 boys... I want to encourage them - especially the Chinese boys - to play football, they are the majority...
"There are so many good players I see at school tournaments but after 16, 17, 18, they give it up."
The former national captain has a successful track record working with younger players. He coached the Young Lions, then essentially the national U-23 team, from 2003 to 2006 and led them to two third-placed finishes in the S-League, their best-ever showings.
Fandi will likely work with a pool of about 25 to 30 players and his ability to identify and develop talent will be invaluable, Sablon told The Straits Times.
"If he tells us this is a good player, we know okay this is a good player... If together we can improve the youth teams, hopefully to play at the same level as Thailand, South Korea and Japan, then we did a very good job... But you need time and consistency in following a plan," he added.
FAS vice-president Edwin Tong said that it has essentially offered Fandi a six-year contract that brings "continuity and a stable platform".
He was appointed in 2013 as coach of the now-defunct LionsXII and led them to the Malaysian FA Cup last year.
Negotiations with Fandi, whose current FAS deal ends in December, began about six months ago. He had sought a multi-year deal and assurance of support for his long-term plans.
The FAS was also mindful of approaches from abroad, with ST reporting last month that he was mulling over an offer from Malaysia Super League side Pahang.
He had played for the state team in 1991 and 1992, winning the Malaysia league and Cup double in 1992. He also enjoys a good relationship with Pahang FA president Tengku Abdul Rahman Sultan Ahmad Shah.
Pahang, his "second home", had made a serious offer, Fandi confirmed yesterday, but his heart belonged to Singapore and he "believed in this long-term project and that the future of Singapore football will be bright".
He will continue to assist former Lions team-mate and current national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy to prepare Singapore for the Nov 19-Dec 17 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
Despite his appointment and new role, Fandi noted that he still harbours ambitions to manage the Lions one day. He said: "I believe one day, after four, five years, after all these projects are finished and hopefully we achieve our aim, I'll be ready (to become national coach).
"For now the best for me is to develop more youths for the national team, to make them into better players."