SINGAPORE - Lions head coach Tatsuma Yoshida has resigned and will be leaving his post a year before his contract is up in December 2022, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced on Tuesday (Dec 28).
Yoshida cited the need to be closer to his family – he is a father to two daughters aged 11 and 14 – as the key reason for his decision.
"I know I will miss the boys and Singapore, but I had to make this decision (for me) personally... I'm not just a football coach," he said.
He revealed he also had options to join teams in Japan a year earlier, and was keen to go – also for family reasons – but eventually decided to stay after conversations with the FAS top brass.
FAS general secretary Yazeen Buhari said they will mutually terminate Yoshida's contract on Dec 31, and that the coach will leave Singapore on Wednesday.
He added that the FAS will begin its search for Yoshida's replacement immediately and that the priority is for the next coach to share the same playing philosophies as Yoshida.
The head coach spoke with his team on Tuesday before publicly announcing his departure. Yoshida said at a press conference: "I told them you must believe and trust in yourself. I tell them before every match."
Turning emotional as he talked about his charges, he added: "I love my boys. They are almost my sons. They accept me even though my English is poor."
The announcement was made after a reception hosted by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong at the Jalan Besar Stadium to recognise the efforts of the team at the AFF Suzuki Cup.
They were the first players to reach the semi-final of the biennial regional tournament since 2012 - when they last won it - but were eliminated after a controversy-riddled semi-final second leg tie with Indonesia on Dec 25.
Yoshida had said in an interview with The Straits Times a day after the team's exit that he had received several offers from clubs in his native Japan and an unnamed Asian country.
Reports from Japan have linked him to a return to J.League 2 side Ventforet Kofu, where he coached in 2017.
His current contract with the FAS, which was extended in February, runs until next December.
In the interview, he declined to commit to whether he would see out the contract, and said he "cannot say anything about my future".
He added that he had neither discussed the issue with FAS nor made a decision yet, and could not "make any promises".
The 47-year-old was appointed Lions coach in May 2019.
He has a record of six wins, four draws and 10 losses from 20 matches.
Singapore entered the biennial Suzuki Cup, which they have won four times, on the back of five straight defeats but rose above the poor run.
They finished second in their group behind Thailand and qualified for the semi-finals, after group-stage exits in the last three editions.
Singapore's next competition is June's third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification, with the draw in February.
Most of the players, including defender Shakir Hamzah who is recuperating from a serious knee injury and needed the aid of crutches to walk, attended the reception. The team's coaching and backroom staff were also present.
They were welcomed to the pitch by a guard of honour formed by Mr Tong and members of the FAS council.
In his address, Mr Tong thanked the team for inspiring a whole new generation of Singapore football fans by showing them the "power of possible".
"You have left a mark not just on the minds and hearts of football fans, but of the average Singaporean," he said.
"Sports can do this like no other… You can't teach this. You can only see and experience this, and all of you have given us a lesson on what it means to play for each other… and to have team spirit."
Addressing the team and staff, FAS president Lim Kia Tong said: "I am immensely proud of you.
"Thank you for capping off (the) year by ushering in joy and hope not only for the next year but for years ahead."