SINGAPORE - Balestier Khalsa's new head coach Peter de Roo has given his charges a straightforward instruction for the remainder of the season: Play like the Tigers you are.
The 52-year-old Dutchman took over the reins of the team after Akbar Nawas resigned to join Thai second-tier side Udon Thani following Balestier's last Singapore Premier League (SPL) game, a 2-1 loss to Tampines Rovers last Sunday.
Ahead of their next match against Albirex Niigata on Friday, de Roo told The Straits Times that he has spent the precious few training sessions he has had trying to impart his philosophy to the players.
"I want them to be brave on the ball, take risks without being reckless, and play possession-based football," he said, also espousing effective use of the ball as well as pressing opponents aggressively in the transition.
It may seem an ambitious style, to put it mildly, for a side that is low on confidence and sitting second-last in the SPL. But de Roo, who served as technical director for the Football Association of Malaysia from 2017 until the end of 2020, is bullish.
"They have the ability to do it, they have shown in glimpses in the games I have seen," the coach insisted.
"I think there is a lot of potential with this team but we have to break that barrier first and start playing more fearlessly.
"Of course, this is down to management skills of myself and the rest of the staff... The most important tool to trigger confidence is by controlling what you can, and in this case that is the process and our performances, not the outcome or results."
It makes no difference to him that Friday's opponents are title-chasing Albirex, who have won 12 of their last 15 matches, losing just once. The White Swans have also won all three prior meetings with Balestier this season, with an aggregate score of 12-2.
But de Roo said: "What I see is a great opportunity for us to test ourselves against one of the best teams in the league. If we want to play without fear, we should want to do it against any team, not just the teams near the bottom."
On a personal level, the coach is also relishing returning to the touchline.
He has spent most of the last 20 years as a technical director instead of head coach, first at Dutch club SC Cambuur until 2008, before moving Down Under to join Football Queensland (2009-2012) and then the Football Federation of Australia Centre of Excellence from 2012 to 2017. After leaving his appointment in Malaysia, he has been based in Singapore, where his wife works at the Netherlands Embassy of Singapore.
He stressed, however, that he was often on the pitch in his roles in Australia and Malaysia, where he oversaw coach education and mentorship, as well as talent identification.
"So the only thing I have missed is being on the field on matchday, all the other skills (for a head coach)... are still my expertise," he said.
"To me, the best thing in football is playing. The second is being a coach. And I know I am a better coach than I was five or 10 years ago."
Young Lions v Tampines Rovers (Saturday, 5.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
Tampines have won four of their last five games and are firmly in control of the race for third place. With six games left, they are four points ahead of fourth-placed Geylang International, with Tanjong Pagar a point further behind in fifth.
On paper, a win over near-certain wooden spoonists Young Lions appears a formality. However, the last meeting between the two teams on Aug 28 was closer than many expected: the Stags only managed to eke out a 1-0 win.
Hougang United v Tanjong Pagar United (Saturday, 5.30pm, Hougang Stadium)
Both sides are staggering on the ropes at the moment, and a loss could be the knockout blow for their hopes of catching up with Tampines in the race for third.
Hougang are coming off a 9-4 hammering by league leaders Lion City Sailors and must shake off the embarrassment, while Tanjong Pagar are smarting after their fifth loss on the trot. But the Jaguars might take heart from the resistance they put up in their 2-1 defeat by Albirex on Aug 27.
Lion City Sailors v Geylang International (Sunday, 5.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
If there is one team that can put an end to the Sailors' goal glut - they have bulged the net a staggering 30 times in the last four matches - it is Geylang.
The Eagles appear to be the SPL leaders' bogey side and are the only team apart from Albirex to have taken points off them more than once this term (one win, one draw) after three meetings.
With striker Sime Zuzul on a hot streak himself - he has 11 goals in the last nine games - it may not be impossible for Geylang to trouble the Sailors and put an abrupt end to their sizzling run.