SINGAPORE - After a near two-month wait, Mirko Grabovac has received an employment pass to coach Warriors FC - in time for the start of the S-League season on March 31.
The Straits Times understands the Croat, a former naturalised national footballer, got his permit about a week ago. The five-time S-League top scorer, who represented the Warriors (then known as SAFFC) from 1999 to 2003, told ST he was a relieved man.
"There is a long way still to go, and improvements we have to make. But the boys are very nice to be around, and we will work hard," he said during training at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Wednesday.
The 46-year-old arrived in Singapore on Jan 13 after signing a one-year deal. But there was soon talk that his history - he received Singapore citizenship as a candidate of the Foreign Sports Talent scheme but later renounced it - would make it difficult to get the necessary support from local sports authorities for an employment pass.
He said: "I don't want to talk about all these things, only that it took me a little by surprise. I've never made a problem for anyone in my whole life."
Grabovac scored 244 goals in all competitions for SAFFC and then Tampines Rovers (from 2004 to 2007).
He won four league titles and three Singapore Cups and in 2005, was named the Player of the Decade for the S-League, which began in 1996. He retired in 2008 at the age of 37 to return to Croatia.
The uncertainty regarding their coach's future has not affected the team, noted midfielder Ismadi Mukhtar. The 34-year-old said: "In pre-season, especially early on, the priority is to build our fitness, so we were focused on that.
"But since he has taken over, I feel he brings something different. He can be a bit blunt or direct at times, but that is good for us, especially the younger ones, to learn from someone who was as great a player as he was."
General manager Paul Poh said the club were pleased the paperwork was settled and added: "He has made a difference with his training style and methods. You can see the players respect him a lot."