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Singapore national football head coaches since independence: Who are the greats? Who are the flops?

There were legendary ones who inspired national pride with stirring triumphs; there were also those who failed spectacularly

National football head coaches who brought success to the Lions: (from left) Choo Seng Quee, Jita Singh, Douglas Moore and Raddy Avramovic. (PHOTOS: Facebook)
National football head coaches who brought success to the Lions: (from left) Choo Seng Quee, Jita Singh, Douglas Moore and Raddy Avramovic. (PHOTOS: Facebook)

SINGAPORE — It is the proverbial "hottest seat" in Singapore football - the head coach of the men's national team, charged with lifting a nation of football fanatics with inspirational performances by the players on the National Stadium pitch.

Win, and the head coach will earn wide adoration. Lose, and he will be criticised and scrutinised like no other sporting job in the city-state.

Since Singapore's independence in 1965, there have been numerous success stories as well as spectacular failures among those appointed as Lions head coach. With newly-appointed Tsutomu Ogura officially taking up the hot seat on Thursday (1 February), here's how his predecessors stacked up:

Choo Seng Quee (1964 to 1967, 1971, 1976 to 1977)

Known affectionately - perhaps even fearfully - as "Uncle Choo", Choo Seng Quee was arguably the biggest reason why the Singapore national football team formed an inextricable bond with the public. An inspirational force, a smart tactician and a tough disciplinarian, he unearthed numerous football talents and shaped them into winning outfits during his three spells as head coach. Most memorably, in his final year in charge in 1977, an ailing Choo still inspired Singapore to win their first Malaysia Cup title since 1965, igniting the "Kallang Roar" at the National Stadium. A fiery and vital figure in the history of Singapore football.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Lozan Korcev (1967 to 1968)

The first expatriate to coach the Singapore team post-independence, the former Bulgarian national coach was appointed by then-Ministry of Social Affairs' sports department on a one-year contract.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Yap Boon Chuan (1968 to 1971)

A former physical education lecturer, Yap Boon Chuan introduced physical training to the national squads, and guided the Singapore team to fourth place at the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok - still the best finish for the Lions at the quadrennial event. However, he was unable to replicate that success at the annual Malaysia Cup, and resigned in 1971 due to pressure of work.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Mike Walker (1972 to 1974)

Mike Walker had played and managed in English non-league football, before arriving in Singapore in 1972 and setting his sights on guiding the Lions to win the 1973 Southeast Asian Peninsular Games and the 1974 Malaysia Cup. He did neither.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Sebastian Yap (1977 to 1978)

After a turbulent few years when Singapore went through a series of caretaker coaches such as Ibrahim Awang, Hussein Aljunied and Trevor Hartley before finally going back to Choo Seng Quee, Sebastian Yap was offered the head coach job in December 1977 after Choo was forced to step down due to amputation of his gangrenous right leg. He lasted just six months, quitting after the Lions lost 0-8 to England at the National Stadium.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Jita Singh (1979 to 1984, 1989)

A former army regular, Jita Singh had a knack of finding talents and getting the best out of them. He was the Lions' youngest-ever head coach when he was appointed in 1979 at age 29, but quickly guided them to Malaysia Cup triumph in 1980. Jita will be remembered for giving national call-ups to up-and-coming stars like Fandi Ahmad, V Sundramoorthy and Malek Awab.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Hussein Aljunied (1984 to 1986)

A former national forward, Hussein Aljunied served as assistant to Choo Seng Quee during the triumphant 1977 Malaysia Cup season, and also as head coach from 1975 to 1977. He returned to the head coach role despite a car accident in 1981, and guided the Lions to the Malaysian League title in 1985 despite the absence of Fandi Ahmad, who was playing in Europe.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Seak Poh Leong (1987 to 1988)

The former national team captain was given a two-year deal to coach the Lions to Malaysia Cup glory but could only manage two quarter-final finishes despite having V. Sundramoorthy in his team.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Robin Chan (1990 to 1992)

Another former national player, Robin Chan guided Singapore all the way to the 1990 Malaysia Cup final, but the Lions lost 1-3 to Kedah. However, that would be his most successful outing as Lions coach, and as results waned, he stepped away quietly.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Milous Kvacek (1992)

The idea was good: get the coach behind Kedah's 1990 Malaysia Cup victory over Singapore. In reality, Milous Kvacek was not a good fit with the Lions, and did not extend his one-year contract with FAS after a pay dispute.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

P.N. Sivaji (1992 to 1993)

The affable P.N. Sivaji was assistant to Kvacek, and was promoted to head coach after the Czech left. He arguably overachieved by leading a strong Singapore side to another Malaysia Cup final appearance in 1993. Again they tripped up at the final hurdle against the same opponents Kedah, losing 0-2.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Ken Worden (1994)

A disaster of a hire, Ken Worden had found coaching success in Australia and with Selangor FC, but the abrasive Englishman resigned just three months into his Lions tenure, right before the start of the Malaysia League season. No official reasons were given.

Rating: 0 out of 5

Douglas Moore (1994 to 1995)

Originally appointed as Football Association of Singapore (FAS) technical director, Douglas Moore was suddenly thrusted into the head coach job after Worden's resignation. What seemed like a panic moved turned out to be a masterstroke as Moore proved a steady presence in guiding the Lions to Malaysia Cup triumph in 1994, punctuated by a glorious 4-0 thrashing of Pahang in the final amid 80,000-odd fans at the Shah Alam Stadium.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Barry Whitbread (1995 to 1998)

Like Moore, Barry Whitbread was a technical director, but moved to the head coach role after Moore was appointed chief executive officer of the S-League in 1995. He was initially not a popular choice as an ageing Lions squad struggled for results, but got his vindication by leading Singapore to their first major international title at the 1998 AFF Tiger Cup, beating hosts Vietnam 1-0 in the final.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Singapore national men's football head coaches who flopped: (from left) Ken Worden, Jan Poulsen and V. Sundramoorthy. (PHOTOS: Facebook/Getty Images)
Singapore national men's football head coaches who flopped: (from left) Ken Worden, Jan Poulsen and V. Sundramoorthy. (PHOTOS: Facebook/Getty Images)

Vincent Subramaniam (1998 to 2000)

When Whitbread stepped down citing family reasons in 1998, FAS turned to Vincent Subramaniam, who had guided the Singapore Armed Forces FC to back-to-back S-League titles in 1997 and 1998. However, the disciplinarian coach failed to lift the Lions, as they crashed out of the 2000 Tiger Cup in the group stage. He was sacked soon after.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Jan Poulsen (2000 to 2003)

Having previously found success in converting technical directors to head coaches (see Moore and Whitbread), FAS tried again in appointing Denmark's Jan Poulsen following Subramaniam's departure. This backfired spectacularly as Poulsen oversaw a 0-4 thrashing by arch-rivals Malaysia at the National Stadium in the 2002 Tiger Cup. Unsurprisingly, he was let go after that debacle.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Radojko Avramovic (2003 to 2012)

Unheralded when he arrived in Singapore, Raddy Avramovic departed as one of the best head coaches the Lions have ever had. Quiet, soft-spoken but with a steely glare and temperament, the no-nonsense Serbian built a mentally-strong, tough-to-beat quality among the Lions, as they enjoyed their finest period in international football, winning three AFF Championships during Avramovic's reign (2004, 2007 and 2012). His brand of football might not be beautiful, but it sure was remarkably effective.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Bernd Stange (2013 to 2016)

After almost a decade of defensive-minded football under Avramovic, the FAS decided to inject more style amid the national team. Enter Bernd Stange, who had promised to play a more expansive, entertainment style of football. In the end, not only did the German failed to engineer any "tiki-taka" football among the Lions, but he also could not find success. The Lions crashed out of the 2014 AFF Championship in the group stage, and while they did beat Syria 2-1 in the 2013 Asian Cup qualifiers, Stange was unable to win enough to continue in his job.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

V Sundramoorthy (2016 to 2018)

A fleet-footed, tricky winger in his heyday, Sudramoorthy had found success as the head coach of the LionsXII team, winning in the Malaysia Super League in 2013. Inexplicably, he was unable to replicate such success among the Lions, instead producing dour and ineffective football. With only three wins from his 25 games in charge, Sundram stepped down after three years in charge.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Fandi Ahmad (2018)

Rudderless after Sundram's dismissal, the Lions needed a steadying hand ahead of the 2018 AFF Championship, and FAS turned to Fandi Ahmad, Singapore's most famous footballer. Fandi's short-lived stint was unmemorable - while there were no heavy defeats, he was unable to lift the Lions out of the group stage of the AFF Championship.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Tatsuma Yoshida (2019 to 2021)

By the time Tatsuma Yoshida was appointed as Singapore's first Japanese head coach in 2019, the Lions were in desperate need of any sort of revival as their talent base waned. Yoshida proved a solid hiring, finally guiding the Lions out of the group stage of the 2021 AFF Championship before falling to Indonesia in the semi-finals. Yet, just as there were signs of revival amid the national team, Yoshida quit abruptly, citing family reasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Takayuki Nishigaya (2022 to 2024)

Stunned by Yoshida's sudden exit, FAS turned to another Japanese for the national head coach job. However, Takayuki Nishigaya proved to be overmatched for the job, with his lack of communication skills and international experience becoming massive hindrances to the Lions' progress. Another group-stage exit at the 2022 AFF Cup, coupled with poor performances at the 2023 AFC Asian Cup and 2026 World Cup qualifiers, and Nishigaya was sacked.

Rating: 2 out of 5

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