Keeping eyes on the prizes

Singapore's Chow Jing Lun (No. 9) squares off with Hungarian club OSC Budapest's Juhasz Zsolt (No. 5) in a friendly match at the OCBC Aquatic Centre on Jan 6, 2016.
Singapore's Chow Jing Lun (No. 9) squares off with Hungarian club OSC Budapest's Juhasz Zsolt (No. 5) in a friendly match at the OCBC Aquatic Centre on Jan 6, 2016.PHOTO: ST FILE

The new coaching appointments are meant to take S'pore water polo to greater heights

Singapore's most successful sport at SEA Games level will undergo a coaching overhaul with an eye on success beyond the biennial regional meet.

The national men's water polo team, who have won gold at every edition since 1965, are set to have Serbian Dejan Milakovic as their new head coach.

Milakovic, whose last appointment was head coach of Malta team ASC Sliema, joins on a two-year contract. He will take over from Lee Sai Meng, who will take over the reins of the national women's team.

Former national captain Eugene Teo, who was coaching the women's team, will assist Milakovic.

The changes come just months before the Aug 19-31 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.

But Singapore Swimming Association vice-president (water polo) Samson Tan, who confirmed the impending appointments, is confident the reshuffle will take Singapore water polo to the next level.

He told The Straits Times yesterday: "Dejan has coached the Serbian national youth teams before and has the knowledge and experience to bring us to the next level.

"He will also help come up with a coaching framework to improve coaching at all levels of the game."

Serbia are powerhouses on the global stage. Their men's team are the Olympic champions and they have won the world championship thrice, including the last edition in 2015.

On Lee's redeployment, Tan said: "I've seen Sai Meng work with the women's team before. He can really help us and the aim is to recapture the SEA Games gold medal."

Singapore lost 4-5 to Thailand at the 2015 SEA Games.

Milakovic, whom Tan said was recommended by legendary Serbian coach Igor Milanovic, who led Italian professional outfit Pro Recco to a historic treble (Champions League, Serie A1 and Italian Cup) in 2015, is no stranger to the local scene.

Last December, he conducted a coaching programme here and spoke to the fraternity. He also trained the national team for a few weeks when he was here again early this year.

A former professional player who represented the former Yugoslavia at youth level, Milakovic will be tasked with improving a Singapore side who finished fifth out of seven teams at the 2014 Asian Games.

The Republic's best showing since clinching a bronze medal in 1986 in Seoul is a fourth-placed finish in 1990 in Beijing.

National captain Loh Zhi Zhi said the team have already benefited from their short spell with Milakovic.

Loh said: "He is very meticulous and places a lot of emphasis on fundamentals like fitness and technique, which he said would all add up.

"He's also told individual players what he wants to see improved. We had a video session and he was very sharp, pointing out some things we had been doing wrong.

"Where he's coming from, naturally he has high expectations of us. Credit has to go to coach Sai Meng for preparing us well.

"We're looking forward to testing ourselves at the SEA Games and (next year's) Asian Games."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2017, with the headline 'Keeping eyes on the prizes'. Print Edition | Subscribe