Singapore's new national football head coach Tsutomu Ogura: 'I want fans to believe in the national team'

The Japanese admits it will be challenge to lift the Lions out of doldrums, but wants "bravery and courage" among the national players

Newly-appointed Singapore national men's football head coach Tsutomu Ogura (centre) poses with a national jersey with FAS president Bernard Tan (left) and general secretary Yazeen Buhari. (PHOTO: Chia Han Keong/Yahoo News Singapore)
Newly-appointed Singapore national men's football head coach Tsutomu Ogura (centre) poses with a national jersey with FAS president Bernard Tan (left) and general secretary Yazeen Buhari. (PHOTO: Chia Han Keong/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — The Singapore national football team will have a third straight Japanese head coach, after former Tokyo Verdy assistant coach Tsutomu Ogura took up the hot seat on a two-year contract on Thursday (1 February).

The 57-year-old was unveiled by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) as the director of national teams at Jalan Besar Stadium, three days after previous head coach Takayuki Nishigaya was sacked after producing results that were below FAS' expectation. Besides leading men's senior team, Ogura will also oversee the performances of the national Under-23/22 team and their coach.

With Singapore languishing at No.156 in the Fifa world rankings, and having failed to advance out of the group stage of the AFF Cup in four out of the past five editions, Ogura faces an uphill task convincing Lions fans of his capability, especially coming after Nishigaya's less-than-stellar tenure.

Nonetheless, Ogura insists he is ready for the challenge, speaking in English at the media conference of his unveiling on Thursday, "I have come to Singapore because it’s a big challenge for me. It’s an adventure for my career.

"For me, what’s important is the future. Whether the Singapore players are young or experienced, it doesn’t matter. What is important is technique and tactics and the fighting spirit. You must be brave, you must have courage, in order to play for any national team.

"Football fans expect to win – I promise to fight, show it on the pitch and that the players will show fight and courage. I want the team to bring more fans to come to watch the team. I want fans to believe in the national team."

Credentials as coach in Japan national team and league

Ogura was a former assistant coach of the Japanese national team from 2006 to 2010, and also for the Asian football powerhouse's Olympic team from 2010 to 2012. In 2010, Ogura was part of the coaching staff during the Guangzhou Asian Games and the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, where Japan reached the round of 16.

He also served as second head coach for Japan’s Olympic national team, contributing to their commendable fourth-place finish in the 2012 London Olympics. Following those stints, he worked at several Japanese clubs as assistant coach, but his one and only head coach stint was a short-lived, 13-match one with Omiya Ardija, where he won just three times.

It was with Yokohama F. Marinos in 2019 that Ogura produced his biggest club achievement as the club's sporting director with current Tottenham Hotspur manager Ange Postecoglou as the head coach. The duo oversaw the club’s first J1 league title in 15 years in 2019.

Ogura subsequently joined Tokyo Verdy in 2022, and helped the team finished third in the J2 League last season, winning promotion through the play-offs to the top tier of Japanese football. He left the club in January this year.

The Japanese will begin preparations for Singapore’s next two games of the 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifiers against China in March. His most important assignment, according to FAS president Bernard Tan, will be the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup regional tournament at the end of the year.

No agenda in picking 3 consecutive Japanese coaches

Responding to questions at the media conference, Tan dismissed speculations that FAS had an agenda to choose only Japanese candidates as national head coach, given that Ogura would be the third consecutive coaching hire from Japan, following Nishigaya and Tatsuma Yoshida.

“We actually interviewed people from multiple nationalities, but Japan had the most advanced ecosystem for football in Asia, and the adaptability of the Japanese coaches, as well as their knowledge of ecosystem and of football, would probably place them in high demand," he said.

When asked if Nishigaya's hire was a mistake, given that the Japanese had struggled with language and lack of international experience throughout his tenure, Tan said, "In football, there are many very good managers. But in the wrong time, wrong place, wrong circumstances, they find it extremely difficult to deliver on what is expected

"So I'll put Nishigaya in that category and leave it as such."

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