By Chung Mi Hyun
As we entered the conference room at Home United, Coach Lee Lim Saeng himself brought drinks for both me and my colleague Teo Teng Kiat, who was accompanying me. At this point, I could already see how humble and considerate he was.
This is Coach Lee’s fourth year at the Bishan-based club. As he made a joke with Farah Almuddin, a senior executive at Home, I noticed that he spoke English quite fluently, which impressed me a lot. Throughout the interview, he translated not only his own words but also Lee Kwan-Woo’s words to Farah and Teng Kiat, as the interview was conducted in Korean.
The player himself showed up in a sleeveless top about 10 minutes later, revealing his tattoos on both arms.
Teng Kiat later told me he could easily pass off as a K-Pop idol, what with his looks and “bad-boy” vibes. I could not help but agree when I heard such a comment, as that was exactly what the midfielder was famous for - his attractive appearance, in addition to his true genius in football, which is why Korean football fans called him “Serius”, or “the brightest star”.
Lee is still handsome, even at the age of 35, although of course he is definitely not a bad boy; just like Coach Lee, he was very nice and genuine when answering questions.
Throughout the interview, both were asked about Singapore football, as well as their personal lives, which provided us with opinions from both a coach’s perspective and from a player.
“The Singaporean league is not easy,” they both agreed, when asked about the difference between the K.League and S.League.
“Unlike the K.League, where the teams can have up to 30 players in the squad, we only have 18 players here in Singapore,” Coach Lee, a former international who has participated in the 1998 World Cup, pointed out.
“This makes it difficult, as it gives [us coaches] fewer choices, and allows for less competition.”
The former Suwon Samsung Bluewings coach also added that the footballing culture was different, before going on to explain his own philosophy in the sport.
“I believe a higher level in sports can only be achieved through effort and endurance, which means players themselves have to overcome obstacles constantly,” he elaborated.
“I keep trying to have them [my team] understand this through communication, but some conflicts occur during the process. This is what I keep thinking about: how to improve them by giving them determination to work harder.”
He went on to stress the importance of fitness as well.
“Local players also tend to show problems in their fitness; fitness is in fact very important, especially due to the humid and hot weather of Singapore,” Coach stated.
“Without fitness, it is impossible to play well and technically. This fitness can only be achieved when players are determined to take some hardship, but some players lack this [ability].
“Even after their fitness is improved, maintaining it is another different problem; some of them smoke and drink. I try my best to encourage them to train harder to improve and maintain good fitness.”
Lee, an ex-international himself with 13 caps and one goal, also gave his take on the players’ mentality.
“Players sometimes lose their focus throughout the match,” he observed.
“They have talent naturally, so I hope they can improve their talent and turn them into true capabilities.”
When asked what the S.League could learn from their Korean counterparts, they both gave the same answer: the professional mentality.
As Home has not won the league since 2003, Coach Lee is aware of how much the fans want a league trophy. Stating that their goal is to win the title, he showed confidence in fulfilling the supporters’ hopes.
“Although we are currently ranked at sixth place, differences in the points of each team are not huge,” he said.
“In the beginning of the season, although our performance was promising, we had some problems in scoring, which affected players psychologically.
“However, it is getting better and I expect us to reach higher if we can manage to keep up the pace.”
Lee also seems to have started to settle down after a slow start, putting in some fine performances in the previous matches. However, the playmaker believes he can do even better.
“Of course I cannot be who I used to be at my best, but I think I can improve more,” he asserted.
“I heard Home has not won the League for a long time. Just like other players in the team, I hope to become a good role model and contribute to the team.”
When asked about his decision to come to Singapore, the former Suwon player said he came for a “new challenge”.
“Although I was given chances to play abroad, I have not accepted [such] opportunities,” Kwan-Woo revealed, adding that Coach’s presence at Home influenced his decision a lot as well.
“Due to [the] different environment, different culture and especially a different climate [that] makes it difficult to play in Singapore - this is why I chose the S League.”
Part Two of the interview will be published next week