Football: Yoshida-san, restore the Lions' semangat, boleh?

Tatsuma Yoshida was unveiled as Singapore's new national football coach on May 30, 2019.
Tatsuma Yoshida was unveiled as Singapore's new national football coach on May 30, 2019.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - Dear Yoshida-san, welcome to Singapore.

Having taken up arguably the hottest seat in Singapore sport, I hope you know what you are in for with your first international assignment.

Your credentials have already been questioned and your command of English criticised but you can still prove them wrong.

I actually admire and appreciate how you were game enough to field questions in a foreign language at Thursday's press conference, even though you had a translator.

In any case, our most successful ringmaster ever was a chain-smoking Serb Radojko Avramovic who sometimes left people guessing what he just said with his gruff and mumbly diction.

He affectionately called Singapore fans "five million coaches", as there is no lack of persons, qualified or not, with an opinion of what the national coach should or should not do. Yet, Raddy delivered three Asean titles. So, ignore the haters and let your football (coaching) do the talking.

Like you said, communication will be key. And knowing English, and consequently Singlish, is not your first language, may I take the liberty to introduce you to some key words in our football lexicon.

 

There was a time when our Lions roared on the regional stage. But after three straight group-stage eliminations from the AFF Suzuki Cup, we have been reduced to whimpering pussycats of late.

We are looking to you to restore the semangat - which is similar to the Japanese concepts of seishin and tamashii - and revive the energy and enthusiasm, soul and spirit in the team.

You will have ideas about how Singapore football could improve, perhaps through the use of technology for example, but you may meet with a response that has frustrated previous coaches.

It is essentially known as money no enough.

Sport in Singapore generally does not enjoy as much corporate financial support as it does in your country. Vissel Kobe midfielder Andres Iniesta's $38.5 million annual salary tops the Football Association of Singapore's budget, for about four years. And football is the most well-funded sport here.

As a result, you will learn to make a little go a long way. And that applies to human resources too.

Ideally, you will have your best players at every Fifa international window, but next week, you will already miss having two of the nation's top young players - Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi - for the international friendlies against Solomon Islands and Myanmar.

They will play in the U-22 Merlion Cup instead. The situation may well be replicated during the subsequent Nov 11-19 window, when the duo is likely to play in the SEA Games, another U-22 tournament.

The SEA Games gold, which Singapore have never won, is prized by local sports authorities, who rightly or wrongly, sometimes place more importance on than the national team's endeavours.

It results in a biennial tussle for players. At least three players could not join the Lions for that memorable 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw in Japan because they had to stay with the SEA Games team in 2015.

But this is just how things are in Singapore - different people express patriotism in different ways.

One of them is national service, in which all Singaporean males have to be conscripted for around two years. This includes your talent pool, who may not be able to train and play regularly.

Agreeing to the initial two-year contract means you are essentially saying boleh, that you can deal with all these constraints and challenges and try and establish for the Lions a football identity that has been missing for years.

Given adequate time and support, I hope you will realise and internalise the spirit of our national anthem Majulah Singapura, which means "Onward Singapore".

You have astutely asked for unity among administrators, coaches, players, and Singaporeans in general. Hopefully, these various stakeholders can live up to the lyrics "Marilah kita bersatu/dengan semangat yang baru" which translates into "Come, let us unite with a new spirit", as we usher in a new football era under your reign.

Good luck and ganbatte.