|FROM JALAN BESAR STADIUM
By Khalis Rifhan
The wait for a new Singapore coach was finally over on Wednesday evening, as Singapore football fans welcomed former Belarus manager Bernd Stange as the man to lead the Lions.
The 65-year-old German was unveiled at a press conference held by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) on Wednesday evening at the Jalan Besar Stadium, ending a four-and-a-half month search.
While his predecessor Radojko Avramovic was a man of few words and always kept his thoughts to himself, the new man in charge appeared to be full of energy and character, and not short of opinions.
Stange revealed why he chose the city state as his latest destination in an illustrious coaching career that has seen the former Hertha Berlin and Perth Glory coach take charge of East Germany, Iraq and Belarus, the last of whom he guided to an impressive Fifa ranking of 36th in 2011, up from 90th spot in 2008.
“For more than three months, I was impressed with the professionalism and vision, the ideas and strategy of the Football Association of Singapore," the East German native said.
“The goals from the association are absolutely clear and I appreciate that they [will] give me a little bit of time to rebuild the national team for the upcoming years, and that is very important.
“I am very happy that the federation agreed to prepare maybe an international coaching seminar with some of my colleagues and friends who are highly respected coaches, like Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink.
“To ask some of these coaches to come to Singapore and coach us to show the way to the bright future - that is why I chose to come here and not to Cyprus, Russia or any other teams.
“I used to work for Iraq after the wars when they had no leadership, but we achieved a lot and here we have professional leadership in the federations [so we should be able to do better].”
Although Stange is optimistic about the path ahead for the Lions, he put in a word of caution and hopes that fans will not be too eager for success.
“We soon have to play with Oman, Syria and we [have] had an unlucky start in this qualification, but we want to rebuild our national team and bring in some new young players and [for that] we need patience," he asserted.
“We will have to perform and win but there is no team that wins all the matches in the world.
“We need to have realistic goals for the future and [it is] always exciting to recruit a new team, when old players step down and in come young players.
“There are lots of young talents, we have 3.5 million citizens and that is why there should be enough potential for a powerful national team.”
Just when Stange’s opening address was threatening to become a bit of a drag, looks of curiosity appeared all round when he took out a stone from underneath his table and proceeded to give an overview of what was to come in Singapore football.
“I believe in team work," he started off. "You can’t lift this pebble with one finger - it is impossible and you need your whole hand; if better, both [hands].
“Singapore football will be a rock in the future. We need lots of power and we need everybody - the S.League chairmen, players, staff, FAS employees - and I think it is very important to ask the former internationals who have lots of knowledge about your football [to help].
“They have to support us, not only to criticize and of course the true VIPs in football are the fans and all these are important to lift the standard of football in Singapore.”
Although Stange officially will be in office on Wednesday, May 22, he has begun his research on how to improve local football with his colleagues in his homeland ever since he was shortlisted for the job in March.
“All the programmes that I have got over the last three months, it’s a conflict with our world ranking," he declared.
“We are 165th and we have to improve this position. There are a couple of islands left at the end and we are Singapore, which is why I think it should be the next step [to improve the ranking].
“I have analysed national team matches with experts in Germany, including the S.League matches to find out the gap with the international standard and [then] find a way together with colleagues to close the gap in the near future.”
Stange’s first assignment will be to lead the Lions in the annual two-legged Causeway Challenge against arch-rivals Malaysia in June.