SINGAPORE - Local footballers and teams have to step out of their comfort zone and up the tempo of the game if Singapore football wants to progress to the next level, said Lion City Sailors coach Aurelio Vidmar.
Having played in the Dutch Eredivisie, J-League and A-League, coached the Australian national and Olympic teams, and taken Adelaide United to the AFC Champions League final, Vidmar knows a talented footballer when he sees one.
Among the promising players he has observed during his year-long stint here include Sailors midfielders Shahdan Sulaiman, Adam Swandi, Saifullah Akbar and Naqiuddin Eunos, who he says can make the cut in better leagues overseas.
But the general mentality has to change. "This is one of the things I noticed when I first came here - many players are comfortable where they are at, they don't really want to extend themselves to achieve their goals," he said. "It's not just going out on a Sunday and have a little kick around for 90 minutes and expect things to happen."
Vidmar noted that the actual playing time in games here are around 40 to 43 minutes, compared to the 60 minutes of in-play football in top-level matches.
He added: "The tempo and actual playing time have to lift. There are definitely players here who have potential to play overseas, but if they are going to play this slow, it makes it very difficult."
Revealing that he had turned down the Sailors' overtures once before agreeing to join the club after he was convinced by the management that their football philosophies are aligned in terms of style of play, as well as championship and continental ambitions.
But the uniquely Singaporean environment was an eye-opener, with the under-23 player quota for the Singapore Premier League (SPL) a new concept to the former Socceroos skipper.
Another instance is how some players miss training as school sometimes only finishes in the evenings, whereas Australian students finish school at 3.30pm.
Vidmar also expressed his dismay at how some SPL teams play an "anti-football" style despite having capable players.
He added: "Having a much more positive mindset, and trying to play a bit more attractive football, you have got a better chance of developing players for the next level.
"And also, actually enjoying your football, rather than just sitting there and waiting until the opposition makes a mistake, that's not football in my mind."
After overcoming a difficult start in which they were held 1-1 by comeback boys Tanjong Pagar United and thumped 4-0 by fellow title contenders Tampines Rovers, Vidmar seems to have steadied the ship with convincing wins over Geylang International (4-0), Young Lions (5-0), Balestier Khalsa (7-1) and Tanjong Pagar (6-1).
Shahdan said his coach never wavered despite the unconvincing start. The 32-year-old playmaker said: "He continues to encourage us to take risks in the final third in terms of movement, distribution and shooting... It is obvious how much knowledge and experience he has and wants to impart."
Vidmar also shared how his passion for football is helping him rediscover himself after losing his elder sister, father and mother in three years since leaving Bangkok Glass in 2017. He missed his mother's funeral in March due to Australia's border controls during the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: "I have been fortunate enough to live this passion since I was just a young kid. I love coming to training, I love working and communicating with the boys."
The Lion City Sailors play Hougang United on Tuesday (Nov 17), 7.45pm, at Hougang Stadium.