REPORTING FROM KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
Results are what matter at a competition such as the SEA Games and the sporting event should not be used just for exposure.
That is the opinion of Mike Wong, the Singaporean coach of the Laos Under-22 football team currently taking part in the SEA Games 2017. The 51-year-old is currently the technical director of the Laos Football Federation and oversees all aspects of youth development.
In a 30-minute interview with Yahoo News Singapore on Thursday (17 August) at the Swiss Garden Hotel in Kuala Lumpur where his team are staying, Wong expressed his surprise over Singapore’s losses to Myanmar and Malaysia.
“I expected more from them actually. Singapore has prepared themselves well and structurally they (have been) there for quite some time,” said Wong.
When asked if he felt that the SEA Games is a competition meant for exposure, Wong said that it should not be that case.
“Obviously, for youth development you look at the level of performances. When it comes to competition at a higher level such as the SEA Games, we cannot talk about development anymore – we talk about results,” Wong offered.
“People will look at the results, and you have to be fair to the fans also. When we play football, it also depends on the fans.”
“I think if you come here, you shouldn’t talk about exposure. If you want exposure, then you should go for an international friendly tournament instead. This is a tournament, not a friendly,” he added.
Wong said that despite having about 75 per cent of his team available for the next SEA Games, he is not thinking about what they can do there just yet. Instead, he is only focusing on the current edition.
“We are now here, let’s talk about now,” he emphasised.
‘Losing is contagious’
Wong is a coach with vast experience, having lifted the Singapore Cup as coach of the S.League club Geylang United (now Geylang International). He was the also assistant to former Singapore coach Raddy Avramovic when Singapore won the 2012 Suzuki Cup.
Before moving to Laos, he served as the technical director in Brunei for two and a half years.
At the youth level, it is important for players to have a taste of what winning is like, Wong explained.
“If you keep losing, it will become a disease. I went through it when I was with Geylang,” he said.
“Losing is contagious, it will keep coming. At the youth development stage, the mental strength of the boys is also important. I believe with these boys having those set-backs mentally, you have to find another way of overcoming them.”
Sympathy for Singapore coach
Still, Wong sympathised with Singapore’s coach Richard Tardy, whose team Laos will face on Friday at the Selayang Stadium.
Tardy and his Singapore side have been facing criticism from fans back in Singapore following their two consecutive defeats. Fans have felt that the team have been playing too defensively and are underperforming.
Following the losses, Tardy had claimed that the Singapore players are improving and that only individual mistakes in the first game against Myanmar and a lack of fitness for a 10-minute period in the second game against Malaysia ended up costing them points.
Tardy had downplayed expectations before the tournament began, although he expressed more confidence in Singapore’s chances following the football draw.
“Tardy has a big task to do. There’s always big pressure to be in Singapore (as a coach),” Wong said.
“They are so tech-savvy and everybody is talking and talking, sometimes, you have no time to really focus on what you want to do. I’m sure Tardy is experienced enough but maybe, after reading (what people are writing), your mind may sway in some direction.”
Still, Wong felt that his team needed to be wary of taking things lightly against a Singapore team that have been down on their luck.
“We are the least prepared team in the group… we only prepared this team two months ago and only had three weeks of intense training before the start of the competition” Wong revealed.
“Our target here is to be as competitive as we can, just like we were against Myanmar… we will definitely give Singapore a very competitive game.”