Goal Singapore caught up with the former Home United coach, who was recently dismissed by Kelantan FA as he spoke of his latest plans, Singapore football and match fixing
It came as a shock to most when Steve Darby was relieved of his duties as coach of Kelantan FA after their 4-0 defeat by Sime Darby FC early this month.
The vastly experienced 59-year-old took charge of the 2013 Malaysia Cup winners in the beginning of the season, but his stint lasted for only a few months as president Tan Sri Annuar Musa announced his decision to sack Darby on his Facebook page after a series of poor performances by the club.
As the Englishman draws another chapter of his illustrious career to a close, Goal Singapore caught up with the unequivocal man to talk about what he has been up to and his thoughts on football in the region, as well as in the Premier League.
India, Bahrain, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia.
The common denominator between all those countries is that Darby has visited and coached there before. As such, it is a bit of a challenge to try and describe his nomadic career in a nutshell.
“It’s been enjoyable!” Darby remarked when asked.
“I loved it. I have seen the world doing what I love, met many fantastic people, a few forgettable ones as well but that’s life anywhere. I had some incredible experiences but most of all, I’ve met many life-long friends.”
While being in-between jobs is something he is probably familiar with by now, the former Home United coach revealed that he is filling up his post-Kelantan days as a television pundit.
“The first step is to do some work with Astro TV in Malaysia,” he said.
“And then I have sort out all the professional realities of leaving a place, such as paying your bills! I have to make sure everything is done professionally and amicably.”
Having been around the region for the better part of his managerial career, Darby is no stranger to the disease of match-fixing.
In fact, there had been such recent allegations against the Vietnam side Vissai Ninh Binh, who were pitted in the same group as Kelantan in the AFC Cup. More importantly, their match against Kelantan, where they won 3-2, was adjudged to have been fixed and the club is currently under investigation. However, Darby is not at all concerned.
“I would welcome any investigation as, if you are innocent, you have nothing to worry about,” he said.
“Apparently according to Vietnam media, the game was fixed for a number of goals, not for a win/lose scenario. The key will be to investigate on-field incidents and off-field financial movements, including betting patterns in both countries.
“Obviously, I was at the game. If I were a neutral, the two areas you would have to look at would be the two Kelantan red cards and the referee.
“In this case, I felt after seeing the DVD that the red cards were fair decisions, even though it was maybe harsh. Also, knowing the two players (Shakir Ali and Khairul Izuan), I have no doubt that the incidents were reckless or stupid rather than an attempt to fix the game.
“I can honestly say we tried our best to win the game and we took the lead with 10 men and held it for a long time with nine men.“
Nevertheless Darby acknowledged the difficulty in trying to prove the prevalence of match fixing. Instead of the issue in itself, he feels it’s the perception that is killing the game.
“It’s hard to say how much is going on as it’s so difficult to prove,” Darby admitted.
“Players can make genuine human errors and immediately be accused of match-fixing in a Southeast Asian league. But did anyone accuse [Vincent] Kompany in the Manchester City and Liverpool game? Of course not!
“The problem is, the perception of match fixing is killing the game. I laugh when I read self-appointed experts who have never played pontificate about match fixing. There is only one professional book on the subject written by Declan Hill called The Fix and its recent more academic follow up.
“If you read these books, you will have a real understanding of the subject.”
Born and bred Liverpudlian
It’s no secret that Darby is a fan of Liverpool, having grown up in Merseyside. He is a massive fan of the Reds.
"I was born four streets from the stadium and went past the ground to Anfield Road School every day, and, sadly, used to touch the wall every day!” he recalled.
“So, it’s in my blood. I have great respect for Everton as a club as I have worked for them but in Liverpool, you just can’t change your team!"
Still, just like most Liverpool fans around, even he himself was surprised at how well they have done this season, from finishing seventh last season to being on the cusp of a first Premier League title in 24 years.
“I honestly didn’t think they would do it this year,” Darby admitted.
“Hats off to [Brendan] Rodgers for a fantastic job and being driven by [Steven] Gerrard. The key was the managing of [Luis] Suarez into a world-class player.
Darby was, and perhaps can still be considered a prominent name in Singapore football. Back in 2002, he led Home through what some would call a “golden age” in their history, as he won various domestic titles and reached the semi-finals of the AFC Cup.
Naturally, I couldn’t resist but ask what he thought about the state of affairs of football in Singapore today, especially as to whether Singapore has fallen behind the other Southeast Asian counterparts.
“It’s impossible to say as it’s often cyclical due to either a crop of great players emerging in a country or a national administration being top class or poor," he responded.
That came as a rather surprising comment, as many supporters tend to believe that local footballing standards here have not advanced much in recent years.
While Darby did say plenty more with regards to Singapore football, all will be revealed in the next few days in an exclusive feature.