By Bhas Kunju
Radojko Avramovic will be leading the Singapore national team in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the AFF Suzuki Cup 2012 in a few weeks for his fifth and likely final time.
With the long-serving Serbian reportedly entering his final phase as coach of the Lions, fans have been generally vocal on his successor being a local.
The last Singaporean to take charge of the national team was P.N Sivaji, as caretaker, just prior to the installment of Avramovic. For a permanent appointee, one needs to go back a few years further, and the name Vincent Subramaniam springs up.
A successful coach with Singapore Armed Forces FC (SAFFC) in the early years of the competition, Vincent had started the ball rolling for the Warriors' dominance in local football with back-to-back League titles in 1997 and 1998.
His success would continue at the 1998 AFF Cup when assisting then Singapore coach, Barry Whitbread, to help the Lions to their first international title.
Ascending to the role of national coach upon Whitbread's departure was seen as a natural transition for Vincent, with even the Englishman giving full backing and imploring the need for a local in the role.
However, the three years in the hot seat for the then 43-year-old was one that was wrought with difficulty.
Under the watchful eye of Jan Poulsen the Director of Goal 2010, Vincent's spell as national team coach was under intense scrutiny at all times by media and fans alike, especially given the raised expectations following the surprise success at the 1998 AFF Cup and the launch of Goal 2010, the ambitious plan to get Singapore into the 2010 World Cup.
Shortly after the disappointing outing at the 2000 edition of the AFF Cup when Singapore, as defending champions, crashed out at the group stages, Vincent took leave.
"No time is easy when you are a national coach," he reflected.
"Fans want the team to win. I was successful in clubs because I had the time to work with the players. You do not have time with the national team. This was the biggest hurdle for me.
"Today, I can understand why Raddy demands the time he needs and is rightfully granted but in my time the FIFA clause was applied and they were right then but they have realised now that the ground realities are different between Asia and Europe."
A year after his departure from the national team role, Vincent moved to Bangalore, India, with his family in March 2002, securing a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) status.
"I secured PIO status for my family and myself as my mother and grandparents were freedom fighters and had served the Indian National Army (INA)," he explained.
"I have been an AFC instructor since 1998 and have conducted many courses especially in this South Asia region. I enjoyed the travel and the experience. I met many distinguished people, established contacts, made new friends."
Vincent would make his way back to Singaporean shores in 2006, accepting a role with Home United in the S.League.
"My son was enlisted for National Service in 2005 and he was alone and getting distracted," said the 57-year-old.
"Home United FC (HUFC) offered me a coaching position in mid-2006 and I was eager to accept. HUFC is very similar to SAFFC, well organised, good machinery behind the team and absolutely no interference from the management. We delivered; the results were good, and we could have clinched the title but lost out on a single point. We lost only three matches in the league with a relatively new and young team.
"[After that] I went back to conducting courses for AFC and FIFA so I had my hands full but I enjoyed the work. It gave me great satisfaction to teach and pass on my experiences to young, eager coaches.
"The region recognised me as a good instructor but very strict at times. I look at coaching courses as an education process, some will pass now and others later but eventually they will all pass. No teacher wants his students to fail, it can only mean the teacher does not know how to teach them differently to help them understand and deliver their session."
Vincent would then have a brief and reportedly tempestuous spell in the Indian League with Churchill Brothers as head coach in August of 2010.
"I was reluctant to take the job as the club modus operandi and my spiral tempers will never match, but I was persuaded by a dear friend who knows Mr.Churchill," he told Goal.com.
"Make no mistake, they are a wonderful family with a strong passion for the game. A defeat means a tragedy, so they could not help themselves getting involved. I was in-charge for 19 matches and fortunately we lost only two."
Currently a FIFA Technical Development Officer for FIFA Development Office in Delhi and also doubling up as AFC Regional Technical Director, with both appointments focused in South Asia Region, Vincent spoke of the possibility of a local following in his footsteps as national coach.
"Did we invest and groom a local to be the next national coach?" he queried.
"Look at our government's model of how they identify potential candidates [for office] - train them, invest in them, guide them, provide expert tutoring, attach them for mentoring and when ready they appoint him or her and we are all confident that he or she will perform.
"You cannot pick one from the hat and hope. We think that Sundram is ready, some think Pathma (Terry Pathmanathan) is ready, some will say Kadir (Yahya) should be given a chance and the guessing and gossiping will go on."
"Robin Chitrakar was very promising during the AFC “A” course which I conducted but since then what did we do to groom, guide and educate him to realise his potential?
"Today, I can confidently deliver lessons on how to train young players and what we need to do to develop good coaches but that is because FIFA/AFC continuously provided me with opportunities to attend courses, seminars, workshops, attachments and some at my own expense. It all did come in a bowl."
Inevitably, Vincent was also pressed on his opinion of Richard Bok as a possible candidate for the national coaching job, having worked with Bok when he was a player and a fledgeling coach.
"Richard was a very good player," he said of the departing SAFFC coach.
"I was fortunate to have him assisting me during the days. He has proven and shown abilities to hold the reins himself. He should give it serious thoughts but does he have the desire?
"Richard needs to come forward and I am sure FAS will give serious considerations."
Read Part 2 of the interview here.