Football: Lion City Sailors appoint Vidakovic to steady their ship

Risto Vidakovic was most recently coach of Melaka United, winning just one of five Malaysia Super League matches. PHOTO: LION CITY SAILORS

SINGAPORE – After failing to retail their Singapore Premier League (SPL) title last season, the Lion City Sailors have named former Serbia assistant coach Risto Vidakovic as their head coach in a bid to steady the ship and turn the tide for the 2023 season.

In a media statement on Tuesday, the Sailors announced their appointment of the 53-year-old Serb, who had worked with clubs in Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia in recent years.

Vidakovic said: “The people at the Sailors are very professional – the club is taking things very seriously with the construction of the new training centre and everyone here is working on the same goal of building something very powerful in the region.

“I know the club is targeting continuous improvement and optimisation.

“I see this as a huge and exciting challenge to come in to make something special at the club.”

He takes over from interim head coach Luka Lalic, who is also technical director of the club’s football academy, and will link up with the Sailors in January for pre-season preparations.

Vidakovic was most recently coach of Melaka United, where he lasted less than four months, winning just one of five Malaysian Super League matches. He left the team in April.

His previous appointments were more successful. These included winning Maldives’ top-tier league with Maziya in an unbeaten 2020-21 season.

In a four-year stint with Philippine side Ceres-Negros, he also helped them become Asean zone champions in the 2017 AFC Cup.

Previously, the Uefa Pro coaching licence holder had managerial stints in the Spanish third tier with Ecija Balompie and Cadiz in 2009 and 2010.

In 2008, he was assistant to Javier Clemente at La Liga club Real Murcia. The duo had worked together in the same capacities for the Serbia national team from 2006 to 2007.

During his playing career, he was a defender for La Liga sides Real Betis and Osasuna. He also represented Yugoslavia and helped them qualify for the 1998 World Cup, but was not selected for the showpiece.

Of his football philosophy, he said: “I like to play offensive football and it’s obvious in all the clubs I’ve worked with before... It’s important that the fans enjoy what they’re seeing from the team.

“While I have my philosophy, it’s also key that my players feel comfortable and happy with their positions and their roles within the team so I have to adapt as well.”

Since the Sailors were privatised in 2020, tens of millions of dollars have been pumped in to improve the club, building training facilities and investing in sports science and a data analytics department.

While they won the 2021 SPL, the Sailors have gone through turbulent times recently, as their owners – Singapore’s largest consumer Internet firm Sea Limited – took a big hit in their valuation in 2022 with a US$150 billion (S$205 billion) plunge, although its third-quarter revenue did climb 17.5 per cent.

In an apparent cost-cutting measure, the experienced local quartet of Gabriel Quak, Faris Ramli, Shahdan Sulaiman and Hassan Sunny were released. While Brazilian playmaker Diego Lopes and Belgian winger Maxime Lestienne will still be around next season, several members of their backroom staff had their contracts terminated.

Sailors chairman Forrest Li backed Vidakovic to take the Sailors forward. He said: “Risto is a serial winner in the region and has proven that he can work European knowhow into the football culture in South-east Asia – and this in varying challenging circumstances as well. I’m confident he is the right man to take the club forward.”

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