By Edwin Yeo
If you’re a Singapore football fan, the past week has been fodder for your social media posting, as every armchair critic of Singapore football came out to talk about the resignation of one Joseph Palatsides, the Football Association of Singapore’s Technical Director (TD) who only just extended his contract with the FAS in May this year for another two years.
For those who missed the news, here’s the TL:DR version.
Palatsides signed a new contract with FAS in May for another two years until 2023. He went back to Australia a couple of months later to see his family whom he hadn't seen for nearly two years given the COVID-19 circumstances. He was due back in September, but travel restrictions meant he had to delay his return. His resignation was announced this week, with health and personal reasons being cited for his departure. Australian club Melbourne Victory then announced a day later that they had appointed Palatsides as their new head of academy coaching - a role which would see him oversee all coaching across their youth academy.
The news hit the football fraternity like a Mike Tyson punch to the face, and out came the critics - both in the media and on social media - with the general sentiment being that this was but the latest chapter of the Association’s failure in managing football in Singapore. Many also criticised Joe for having contributed very little to football development in Singapore in his two years plus on the job.
So of course, Football Siao had to get FAS’ General Secretary Yazeen Buhari to clarify exactly what happened. Over tea near the Jalan Besar Stadium, Yazeen kicked off the interview by saying that the reaction to the news was totally understandable.
“A Technical Director’s work is largely invisible to football fans. Unlike the national team coach, where one is expected to deliver results on the field, a TD’s work is generally to uplift the technical aspect of football development, including improving coaching quality as well as development of youth players. And while it is rightly expected by fans that some short-term goals can be achieved within the span of two years, there are other objectives that require a more long-term approach before the results can be seen to fruition,” said Yazeen, who acknowledged that this was not an excuse, but simply the reality of a TD’s role.
He added that the COVID-19 outbreak had made it all the more challenging. Due to restrictions, a lot of the plans, which included execution on the ground, could not happen.
Sure, but to many fans, that sounds like we paid two years of salary for basically not much development, right? Yazeen said he understood that sentiment but provided some facts for context.
“I am no technical expert, but from an organisational standpoint, there were two priorities I placed on Joe when he first arrived. The first was to familiarise himself with the local fraternity, the coaches and the environment, and the second was coach development, because if football is to further develop in Singapore for the long-run, then you need to enrich teachers who are equipped with as much knowledge and know-hows relevant to what football is today.”
And to do so, he ensured that Joe would start his job by establishing relationships with the football fraternity. He started the Continuous Coaching Education (CCE) program, not just for existing football coaches, but made it an open invitation to anyone who had wanted to participate in these sessions, including those in grassroots coaching.
After six months, however, the pandemic hit, and Joe had to take the CCE programs online. But it was a different experience, because there was no way to continue that education on the pitch. Despite that, more than 1,200 attendees still took part in webinars last year when Singapore underwent the circuit-breaker phase.
On top of that, in March this year, under the directive to elevate the coaching certification in Singapore, Joe implemented the pro-diploma course for about 20 coaches, the majority of whom were from the Singapore Premier League (SPL) clubs, of which the FAS had subsidised the course fees for those who could not afford it.
Upon the launch of the Unleash The Roar! (UTR!) national project, Singapore’s roadmap towards raising the level of the football ecosystem in Singapore, Joe was responsible for putting together the football curriculum and its implementation, of which the programme’s technical development would follow. Joe had made tweaks to the 11-point plan previously put together by the former TD Michel Sablon, to ensure that there would be no disruption to programmes that had already commenced based on Sablon’s plan.
“The curriculum has been completed and the details of its implementation across the fraternity will be announced to the public soon,” said Yazeen, emphasising that the delivery of the curriculum is not dependent on just Joe alone.
All that said, Joe’s sudden departure surely put a spanner in the works. It boggles the mind that the FAS couldn’t see this coming, given that his contract was renewed just five months ago.
“Out of respect for Joe, I can’t go too much into the circumstances surrounding his health and personal issues, as it’s not my place to discuss this publicly if he doesn’t wish to do so. But another key factor that impacted his final decision to leave the FAS was, upon returning to Australia after nearly two years, he came to a realisation that he needed to be with his family, as the uncertain situation with the pandemic would make it difficult for him to be close to them if he had returned to Singapore. While it’s not ideal for us, especially since he was involved intimately in the UTR! project, our objectives cannot take priority over Joe’s well-being and focus,” said Yazeen.
However, Yazeen clarified that while Melbourne Victory had announced his appointment, Joe doesn’t start working with them until January 2022, and he will only officially depart his role as TD on 31 Dec this year with a proper hand-over.
As for the past year or so, much of the work Joe has done has been online, due to work-from-home enforcements, and that has made it possible for Joe to never take his foot off the pedal even when he was in Australia.
Regardless, Joe is the FAS’ third foreign TD in a row, and the success of doing so has been somewhat muted. There are elements in the fraternity that think FAS should start looking for a local TD instead.
To that, Yazeen said: “I don’t want to add to the foreign vs local debate, as I don’t think that type of polarisation is healthy for the sport. Instead I will say this. The next TD must be able to commit to the long haul, understand and acknowledge the landscape that exists here and see through a plan.
“He needs to be able to, in the shortest time possible, understand our culture and our community. He also needs to acknowledge what is possible to tweak and what cannot be done. Singapore has unique circumstances that may not be present in other countries’ football development ecosystem, but it is something that the new TD would have to navigate.”
He added: “Can a local not do this? Of course there is a possibility, and foreign expertise, if need be, doesn’t necessarily need to be in the form of a full-time personnel. That, to me, would signal a good investment in our own.
“We will not be rushed into appointing a replacement for Joe, as it is important to note that we have a capable interim Technical Director in Philippe Aw. He has been closely involved in the developments of UTR! together with Joe since its inception which makes him the ideal candidate to ensure its continuity. As I have said before, UTR! is greater than the sum of its parts, is a whole of Singapore effort for the long-term, and is exactly why it is designed to sustain any personnel or leadership change.”
This article, "FAS General Secretary talks about that Technical Director issue", originally appeared on Football Siao – Singapore’s craziest EPL website.