Home United’s Indonesian heroics show Fandi and Singapore the way

Newly-minted Singapore head coach Fandi Ahmad will be hoping the Lions can show the same desire as Home United did in the AFC Cup.

It has been an interesting few days in Singapore football and two events stand out. The first is that Fandi Ahmad is now the interim coach of the national team and the second is that Home United went to one of the most hostile and intimidating arenas in the whole of Asia and won. The two are connected.

It was inevitable that Fandi, a legend of Singaporean football, was going to become Singapore boss at some point. Just as Steven Gerrard will, barring disaster at Rangers, take the Liverpool job at some point in the future. It just seems to be his destiny.

Nobody needs telling that the game in Singapore is at a low ebb and the national team is symbolic of that. The sight of the Lions propping up their group in qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup was bad enough. That they took just two points and finished seven behind Chinese Taipei – a team that the Lions would have expected to beat comfortably not long ago at all – was even worse.

Optimists may say that at least there is only one way for Singaporean football to go and that is up. There are not many optimists in the Lion City these days: bumbling along the present route of mediocrity and indifference is just as likely and things can always get worse.

There are plenty of issues surrounding football in the country but if anyone can inject a little feel-good factor into proceedings, it is Fandi. That is obviously what he plans to do as he said on Wednesday at his first press conference in charge.

“We haven’t been doing well in the last few years, it’s not only about football, it’s about the desire, which I think is lacking,” Fandi said. “I think I can motivate them, I’ve done it many times, I know that these boys, if they put their heart and soul to it, they can do it. Technically we might not match (our opponents), but discipline, dedication and determination are what I’ll focus on.”

For an interim coach who has limited time, there is not much else he can do except to restore the fight, passion and desire that was once a given in Singapore. It won’t solve the greater problems but they are necessary first steps.

So Fandi will have been absolutely delighted with Home United’s efforts on Tuesday evening. The Singapore Premier League team were leading Persija Jakarta 3-2 from the first leg but knew that the return match was going to be a real test. The Gelora Bung Karno Stadium is one of Asia’s iconic stadiums. With over 60,000 inside, the atmosphere created by the home fans has to be experienced by anyone with any interest in Asian football. For players however, it can be tough.

Home coach Aidil Sharin told his players to rise to the challenge. “We have to take it positively whether we’re playing in front of a crowd of 70,000 or 100,000.” With that, I hope that they’ll be inspired and looking forward because as a footballer, without fans, it won’t be good to play.”

And his players rose to the challenge. In what was, at times, a frantic affair, Home went to Indonesia and won 3-2 to pick up one of the best results by a Singapore club for some years. It was a performance full of desire, determination and doggedness. It is the kind of performance that Fandi wants from the national team.

If Home can go to Jakarta and win in such a way then there is hope for Singapore. If Fandi can get the same performance out of the Lions as Aidil did from the Protectors then a corner can be turned. The S-League may be in the doldrums, the national team may be in an even worse state but Home showed that passion and desire can make things happen.

They are not enough by themselves of course and there are questions over why Fandi is a temporary boss and not in the job full-time. But there is a small spring in the step of Singapore football on Wednesday that wasn’t there before. A Singaporean legend is now in charge of putting some pride back in the national team and a Singaporean club went overseas to pull off an excellent result on the most hostile territory imaginable. It was reminiscent of the spirit and fight showed by the Singapore team that used to win Tiger and AFF Suzuki Cups.

That is probably still beyond Singapore later this year in the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup but events of the past few days have served notice that whatever happens in the end of year regional bash, Singapore will be fighting to the very end and will not be a pushover. Home have shown Fandi the way.