Football is about scoring: Fandi Ahmad

Young Lions coach Fandi Ahmad talks about his plans for the S-League, Asian Games and SEA Games, the most pressing issues facing the team, and whether he would consider taking on the role as national team coach.
Fandi Ahmad, 55, does not expect an easy job transforming the fortunes of the Young Lions but believes that he is up to the task.
Fandi Ahmad, 55, does not expect an easy job transforming the fortunes of the Young Lions but believes that he is up to the task.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Fandi aims to make Young Lions a force in attack and targets SEA Games medal

He is taking over a team that won only three times in 49 games in the past two seasons, scored just 34 times and conceded 135 goals.

Under the tutelage of one local and one foreign coach, the Young Lions crashed out in the group stage at the last two SEA Games, and have never made it to the knockout rounds of the Asian Games football competition since it became an Under-23 tournament in 2002.

But this is Fandi Ahmad we are talking about. The man who has brought so much joy to Singaporeans over the years as a footballer flying the Republic's flag in Asia and Europe and as a Lion with 55 goals in 101 appearances is ready to deliver as the new coach of the developmental team.

"For the S-League, we want to win more games and finish better than we did in the last few seasons," the 55-year-old told The Straits Times.

"We want to play in an attacking way... we need to score more goals because football is about scoring.

"Our target for the 2019 SEA Games (in the Philippines) is to get back to the podium (Singapore last won a bronze medal at the 2013 SEA Games).

"As for next year's Asian Games (in Indonesia), we will arrange a test match on March 14 against Thailand who were fourth at the last Games. If we fail to beat Thailand, we will play Jordan or the UAE.

WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER

I was born to take this pressure. Win or lose, I take it, but I don't put pressure on myself. I just want to do well for the team. As a player and now as a coach, I'm a team player. I want everybody to do well.

FANDI AHMAD, new Young Lions coach, stressing his inclusive management style.

STRONGER BONDING NEEDED

We have heard complaints of ill discipline on and off the field. So hopefully the coaching staff can tackle these problems; the camaraderie between the coaching staff and the players must be strong.

FANDI, on instilling good behaviour among players.

"Our target, if we are allowed to go to the Asian Games (pending approval from the Singapore National Olympic Council), is to clear the first round because we want to improve."

Fandi coached the Young Lions more than a decade ago when he led them to their best finish - third - in the 2004 and 2006 S-League seasons. The current crop is, however, nowhere near the golden generation featuring Hassan Sunny, Baihakki Khaizan, Shahril Ishak and Khairul Amri, who went on to become multiple AFF Suzuki Cup winners.

Is he confident of injecting more bite into the Young Lions?

"Pressure has been part of my life for over 35 years," said a grinning Fandi, who still gets stopped on the streets by Singaporeans, even in London and Cape Town where he recently went for a family holiday.

"As a youngster, I was converted from a defensive midfielder to a striker and people always depended on me for goals.

"I was born to take this pressure. Win or lose, I take it, but I don't put pressure on myself. I just want to do well for the team. As a player and now as a coach, I'm a team player. I want everybody to do well.

"I'm very excited about this major project. It's not going to be easy, but I like challenges.

"This is one of the toughest challenges in my football career. I hope we can produce and develop better players for the national team."

Roping in fellow centurions - former national skipper Nazri Nasir and defensive stalwart S Subramani - as his assistants, the trio are "confident" of an upturn in fortunes for the Young Lions.

Fandi did not shy away from addressing the lack of professionalism, fitness and mental fortitude among young local footballers.

He said: "It is a different generation now, but there are still good players in the team.

"Whether they are able to focus on their work ethic, ability and discipline remains to be seen.

"We have heard complaints of ill discipline on and off the field. So hopefully the coaching staff can tackle these problems; the camaraderie between the coaching staff and the players must be strong.

"We are a young team, so we should run at the other teams. We got to work on our fitness so we can play a high-pressing game.

"Most important for me is the players' mentality. We have to change them. It's all about mental toughness, courage, a willingness to die for your country on the field.

"I want to remind the players that their places in the Asian Games and SEA Games squads are not guaranteed. We will monitor players at other clubs and call-ups will be based on merit."

Fandi is allowed to sign 33 players for his S-League squad, but he is not going to fill the roster despite having to contend with some of his players' school and national service commitments, as he wants to provide a fair share of playing time.

 

He also feels his cause is aided by the S-League revamp, which made it mandatory for senior local clubs to sign at least six Under-23 players, three of whom have to start and complete at least the first half.

"I know some people wanted the Young Lions to be scrapped, but it is necessary to develop younger players as a team and give them international exposure," said Fandi, who coached SAFFC (now known as Warriors FC) to the S-League title in 2000 and 2002.

"Clubs must understand these players will go to them when they are past 23 and have had international exposure and experience.

"Hopefully, the players with us now will blossom into better players that people would want to watch when they go to the S-League clubs.

"We hope the fans can give us a chance, give these youngsters a chance like how I was given a chance as a 14-year-old to play in the Kaki Bukit first team in the national league 40 years ago."

This story has been edited for accuracy. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2017, with the headline ''Football is about scoring''. Print Edition | Subscribe