Last Sunday, Goal Singapore caught up with the effervescent Steve Darby as he shared his thoughts on his rich career, his opinion on match fixing and his thoughts about his boyhood club Liverpool .
The 59-year-old also briefly discussed his views of Singapore football, an area where he was involved in for a period of time in the early 2000s.
When asked in the previous interview whether Singapore has fallen behind the other Southeast Asian counterparts, Darby said that it was impossible to tell as “it’s often cyclical", due to either a group of great players coming through or a national administration being "top class or poor".
In this second part exclusive, we delve deeper into his thoughts on the state of affairs of Singapore football.
Darby’s most recent visit to Singapore came when he was still manager of Kelantan FA in early March, where his 10-man team beat the LionsXII 2-1 with an injury time winner to inflict a first home defeat for them in more than a year in the Malaysia Super League (MSL).
While the result was a shock for most locals, it was his post-match interview in the press conference that really caught the attention of those in the audience.
Speaking after the game, the Englishman shared his belief about the long-term problems that would arise from the creation of the LionsXII to participate in the MSL.
While he understands the concept, he felt sorry for the S.League as he believes the LionsXII players should be playing in the former instead. Darby questioned where the next batch of players would come from and where they would learn from other experienced professionals, such as how youngsters learned from the likes of Aleksandar Duric, Egmar Goncalves, Surachai Jaturapattarapong in the past.
“If you were an S.League coach and you wanted to develop players it must be heartbreaking for as soon as they are turned into a player they are taken off you,” he told Goal Singapore .
“It’s an admirable concept for the national team scenario, but where are the next layer of players coming from?
“But the biggest problem is the number of Chinese Singaporean kids not playing the game. There is such a massive pool of talent not being tapped. Smart kids can play football as well and it’s now a viable career option.”
Bittersweet experience in the S.League
During that fateful press conference, Darby was also asked how he felt about breaking LionsXII’s historical home record, but he instead questioned the significance and value of history in Singapore football altogether.
This was due to his time with Home United, where he led them to a “golden age” in their history as he won various domestic titles and reached the semi-finals of the AFC Cup. However, Darby still got “murdered” by his president for coming second in the league and reaching the FA Cup final, as the latter told him that it wasn’t good enough for Home.
“Yes I said that and still believe it,” Darby replied when questioned about his comments during the post match press conference.
“History on the walls of a club is a great tradition and ex-players who are legends should be remembered and used as role models for young players.
“I had two great presidents, Tan Boon and Lee How Sheng, coupled with a great manager in David Conceicao. For three years it worked great, then changes were made from the top and the incredible social 'bubble’ that we had created was burst and the club was split in many directions.
“It’s very sad as we had been nominated for AFC Team of the Year and made the last three; not bad on a tiny salary cap and only 16 players!"
Despite that, Darby still holds dear his time in charge of the Protectors.
“I loved my time in the S.League,” he said. “The crowds were big, competition was healthy, [there were] great local and foreign players and coaches.
“My only personal disappointment was the managerial change at Home United FC which turned the club backwards in terms of results and stability.
“I didn’t like getting fined either for calling the Beep test stupid! Even though they have now scrapped it as it is a poor indicator of fitness.”
Darby also brought up the difficulties of promoting youngsters to the senior squad, using current LionsXII ace Khairul Amri as an example.
“I saw him (Amri) when he was 16 in our COE team and got him training with the first team right away,” Darby recollected.
“He had vision, balance and pace. I wanted him to learn off Egmar and Peres and Aide and Mani (S. Subramani) but the Football Association of Singapore Technical Director at the time said it was not allowed, as he had to play in an age-appropriate league.
“Good job Everton didn’t do that with [Wayne] Rooney!”
With his brutally honest comments about the LionsXII and the S.League, I had to ask him what would be a better solution and what he felt needs to be done to bring Singapore football to the next level. His answer was simple.
“A strong S.League aligned to a long term national team fixture list and financial investment in the S.League," he concluded.
While it is a succinct response, it remains to be seen whether the league will regain its former glory days.