SINGAPORE - The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) looks set to continue going down the Japanese route by appointing Kazuaki Yoshinaga as the new national coach for its men's team. An announcement will be made in April.
It is believed that Young Lions coach Nazri Nasir, the interim coach who guided the Lions to wins over Malaysia and the Philippines in March following the surprising departure of Tatsuma Yoshida, could be his assistant.
Yoshinaga is the current coach of Singapore Premier League side Albirex Niigata. He swept all domestic trophies - S-League, Singapore Cup, League Cup and Community Shield - in 2017 and 2018, when there was no League Cup, with a team that was predominantly under-23 and Japanese.
The 54-year-old was named Coach of the Year in both years before going on to coach J2 League's Albirex in 2019. He returned in 2021 to the SPL club as technical director before taking over as head coach this year. He declined to comment when approached by The Straits Times.
In March, ST had reported that the FAS' search had come down to just three candidates - South Korean Lee Lim Saeng, a two-time Singapore Cup winner with Home United, Englishman Stephen Constantine, who led India to the 2019 Asian Cup, and Yoshinaga.
It is understood that the shortlist was then narrowed down to Constantine and Yoshinaga, and the Japanese emerged as the frontrunner because of his familiarity with local football, his ability to groom young players, and lower salary demands, even though he has no prior experience coaching a national team.
Yoshinaga and his club declined comment on Tuesday (April 5), and it was business as usual as he saw Albirex miss out on an opportunity to top the SPL.
In an entertaining 2-2 draw away at Our Tampines Hub, Albirex played their customary possession-based football but were pegged back twice by 10-man Geylang International, whose goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam was outstanding with numerous top saves.
Faizal Roslan was dismissed in the 60th minute after clipping Nicky Melvin Singh on the head near the Albirex dugout, but Yoshinaga kept his cool throughout.
On Tuesday, Constantine told ST that while he has not been informed officially by the FAS that he is no longer in the running, he has been told by "friends within the industry" that Yoshinaga had been chosen.
The Briton said: "I wish them (FAS) luck and I appreciate the fact that they interviewed me. I am not bitter but yes I am disappointed. Do I think they have made a mistake? Absolutely. I am puzzled and in fact it is quite bizarre.
"Does the other coach have international experience? Maybe it's down to the collaboration they have with the Japan Football Association (JFA).
"Ultimately, I think the FAS have done what's best for themselves."
The new coach will take over from Yoshida, who led the Lions to the Suzuki Cup semi-finals for the first time since 2012 last December, before resigning in January.
His first assignment will be the June 8-14 Asian Cup qualifiers, where Singapore will take on hosts Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Myanmar in the hopes of securing a historic qualification. They had played in the 1984 edition as hosts.
The FAS has had a longstanding relationship with the Japan Football Association. Both parties had signed a new three-year memorandum of understanding - their first was in 2011 - in Qatar on Friday.
The collaboration covers areas such as coach education, exchange and attachment programmes, as well as organising friendly and international matches at both youth and senior levels. Other areas of expertise that both parties will look to explore are football science and medicine, referee education, football administration and commercial and business opportunities.