SINGAPORE – It could well be sayonara and konnichiwa for the national football team, who could be bidding farewell to head coach Takayuki Nishigaya while welcoming another of his countrymen.
The search is on for a replacement for Nishigaya, with the wheels already in motion before the second round of the World Cup qualifiers on Nov 16, when the Lions were beaten 5-0 loss by South Korea.
Sources have told The Straits Times that members from the Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS) executive council have spoken to several candidates, some of whom have coached here.
They include Albirex Niigata coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga, who won a record fourth Coach of the Year in 2023. At the FAS Awards Night on Nov 23, the 55-year-old told ST the post “is certainly something I would consider” if the opportunity arises.
Another familiar face in the running is Englishman Alex Weaver, who led former Singapore Premier League club Warriors FC to the 2014 league title. He also coached Hougang United in 2013 and left Singapore after the 2015 season to become an academy manager at Swiss side Yverdon Sport.
The 46-year-old then had stints at other Swiss clubs like FC Lausanne Sport, Grasshoppers and FC Basel, before returning to Yverdon as assistant manager in 2022. The team were promoted to the top-tier Swiss Super League in 2023.
Weaver told ST: “Call me old-fashioned but I never liked to talk about other coaches’ jobs when they are still in the job, I find that disrespectful.
“When results of a team are not going well, there will be names put about, and it’s normal that my name is mentioned, given my success in Singapore.
“What I’ve learnt from being in Europe and Singapore is there is a big ‘thinking’ problem in Singapore. It is so negative in that so many think Europe is another planet to Asia. Football actions are the same anywhere in the world and with the right environment, Singapore players are capable of some very good things.”
There are also others with international pedigree on the shortlist. The frontrunner for the top job is understood to be 57-year-old Japanese Tsutomu Ogura, who is currently an assistant manager at Tokyo Verdy, who are currently third in the J2 League.
He was Japan’s assistant manager from 2006 to 2010 and was part of the Samurai Blue’s 2010 World Cup team who lost to Paraguay on penalties in the round of 16. He was then appointed assistant manager of Japan’s Olympic team from 2010 to 2012, when they finished fourth in London.
Ogura is said to be more fluent in English than Nishigaya, whom some national players feel do not inspire the team and is unable to “get his ideas and tactics across effectively” due to his poor command of the language. In training, he communicates mainly through assistant coach Koichiro Iizuka.
Another candidate is Park Hang-seo, the former Vietnam national coach who was also an assistant coach with South Korea and coach of the Under-23s. According to reports from South Korea, Park – who won the 2018 Asean Football Federation Championship with Vietnam – is one of the candidates that the FAS had sounded out.
But owing to financial constraints, it will surely baulk at the South Korean’s salary demands, which should be close to the US$50,000 (S$66,500) salary he drew with Vietnam.
Former Manchester United and Liverpool midfielder Paul Ince – who had managerial spells with Blackburn Rovers and most recently Reading FC in the Championship – was also in preliminary conversations with the FAS, although it is understood that those talks did not amount to anything.
It remains to be seen who will take over from Nishigaya, who despite a respectable record of eight wins, five draws and eight losses, has never quite won over the hearts of the local fans the way his predecessor Tatsuma Yoshida did. This was in spite of the latter having an inferior record of six wins, three draws and 11 losses.
Speculation over who will fill the hot seat in Singapore football has heated up, particularly after the Lions’ 3-1 loss to Thailand in a World Cup qualifier on Nov 21. Nishigaya, who was hired on a two-year contract in April 2022, said post-match: “I don’t know if I will be in charge in March, but I’m fully committed if I am.”
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