Zainudin to step down as FAS chief by 2015

Football supremo keen for others to take up position and offer new ideas to run the sport

In two years, Singapore football could go on to achieve something that no generation of footballers have done.

In 2015, the Football association of Singapore will find out if its twin goals - of winning a first-ever SEA Games gold and making it to the top 10 of The Asian football rankings - will be realised.

Succeed or fail, the man behind these two bold objectives will not be there to enjoy the fruits of his labour, or to wonder where it all went wrong.

FAS president Zainudin Nordin will step down after three two-year terms in Singapore football's hot seat.

He told The Sunday Times: "I would safely say this will happen within the next two years.

"Whatever I could do, I have done my best. It will be good for somebody to inject a fresh perspective into the landscape."

Since lawyer N. Ganesan's tenure at the helm ended in 1982, FAS supremos have always been Members of Parliament - from Teo Chong Tee, Abbas Abu Amin, Ibrahim Othman, Mah Bow Tan to Zainudin's predecessor, Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee.

At last month's FAS' annual general meeting, MP Edwin Tong was appointed as its new vice-president, leading to speculation that the lawyer is next in line for Singapore football's top job.

"Never assume," Zainudin replied with hearty laughter.

For someone who seldom grants interviews, the MP of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC was cheerful and relaxed throughout the discussion at the FAS' office in Jalan Besar Stadium.

Since his appointment in 2009, however, the 50-year-old has polarised opinions.

There have been highs.

With a bunch of rookies on their rosters, neither the national team nor the LionsXII were expected to win last year's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup and this season's Malaysian Super League (MSL) respectively.

But the inspired tactics of coaches Raddy Avramovic and V. Sundramoorthy's brought home those two trophies, arguably the sweetest moments of Zainudin's tenure so far.

But even as the Lions stood on top of the Asean pile after the AFF Cup triumph, the FAS chief came under fire on social media for being in France, instead of cheering the team on in Bangkok and at Jalan Besar during the two-leg final against Thailand.

Zainudin replied: "People need to understand that the stars of the day are the players. They are the ones who won and they need to be the ones to be given the attention.

"It just happened to be a family holiday that I couldn't get out of. It was unfortunate."

The FAS chief has also come under fire for the Lions plummeting down the world and Asian rankings.

Singapore are currently ranked 29th in Asia and 155th in the world. When the FAS' strategic plan was launched in April 2010, the country was placed 20th on the continent and 127th worldwide.

And in an infamous Malaysia Cup group game last year, the LionsXII's negative tactics to earn a 0-0 draw against Johor FC at Jalan Besar to qualify for the quarter-finals prompted one disgruntled fan to storm up to Zainudin.

"I was walking out of the stadium and this fan was so upset and angry," he recalled.

"People are affected by such things. Honestly, the less said about that game, the better, because I myself was a bit perturbed by such things."

Regardless, Zainudin continues to speak to the fans, as he tries to put a finger on the pulse of Singapore football to find out what ails the sport.

Football, after all, runs deep in his blood.

He was a keen player in his school days. As a midfielder, he represented Tanglin Technical School, Jurong Junior College and his post-graduate school in France, the Ecole Superieure d'Ingenieurs en Electronique et Electrotechnique, where he obtained a Masters in engineering in 1990.

The father of three was also the former football master at Nanyang Polytechnic. In 2002, he joined the FAS as its vice-president, having been identified as a possible head honcho by former president and cabinet minister Mah, before succeeding Associate Professor Ho.

Of the vociferous Lions fans, he said: "These are diehard supporters, defending Singapore football no matter what, and scolding me and blaming me.

"I'm OK with the criticism as long as they don't use vulgarities or insulting language. These are people whom we want to nurture because they are the ones who will be the defenders of our product. Why should I be worried?"

Three years ago, stories about indiscipline, tardiness, smoking and keeping late nights in the Lions camp leaked out, giving the fans more ammo to fire at the FAS.

When they limped out of the 2010 AFF Cup at the group stage, five of the squad were fined for playing cards after curfew during the tournament in Vietnam.

In January 2011, Zainudin dropped a bombshell: The entire Lions squad would be disbanded. Every single player would have to work hard to be recalled.

"I never felt it was a bad decision," he said. "The players' places in the national team are not permanent positions. Over time, people tend to forget that.

"I wanted to remind the Lions that playing for Singapore is a privilege. They must wear the flag on their chest and make the country proud, it is not a right.

"I must have the courage to make such changes, to remind some people by sending this message."

And although Singapore has toasted the AFF Cup and MSL successes in the last 12 months, the joy was tempered by the departures of Avramovic and Sundram, again prompting criticism of the FAS for not doing enough to retain talent.

But Zainudin explained that the Serb chose to leave his post after nine years and he accepted Sundram's decision to challenge himself by attempting to lead relegated Negeri Sembilan back to the MSL.

And the supremo revealed that the FAS' Memoranda of Understanding with Japan and France will be used to good effect as prestigious attachments to these two footballing powers could potentially sway want-away coaches to stay.

Zainudin remains committed to further engage the media and fans, even if it means getting more brickbats.

He replied: "If I'm not able to win over the critics, then I wouldn't be doing my job properly. At least, I must try.

"People always say some things are not transparent... cannot see, cannot hear, don't know why. I cannot say I will open the door and show everything that we do. But whenever we can, we should share with the fans and media.

"People may not agree with us but FAS is trying its best for Singapore football. It's nothing personal, nothing about individual glory."

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