Fandi Ahmad

From Rags To Riches

With the Asia Cup pre-qualifiers upon us and 2003 S-league season just about under way, Urbanwire sits down with the man who made the impossibly smooth transition from soccer star and golden boy to coach, guiding last year’s S-League champions, Singapore Armed Forces Football Club (SAFFC), to their 2nd title in 3 years. Terence Ng shoots the breeze with Fandi Ahmad to fathom his thoughts on “kelong”, his targets for the new season and the married life of “Singapore’s favourite son”.

“Kelong” In The S- League

Last month, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) hauled up S-League players and officials to investigate possible cases of corruption, colloquially known as “kelong”, once again.

The term evokes fond, albeit controversial, memories of Singapore’s days in the M-League.

Fandi, though, was quick to dismiss any thoughts of corruption of the kind that his former strike partners Abbas Saad and Michael Vana were found guilty.“I think I [need] to make it clear. [The reason] players [were] called up is not due to any crime like corruption but it’s because of betting on [the] SCORE [system].”
According to Fandi, while some players and officials indulge in such activities for fun, others do it because there is a large amount of money involved or because of peer pressure.

“The rules [are] there for us, we shouldn’t bet on SCORE. Unless they want to buy Toto, [then] we cannot say anything. We [have] got to be disciplined and [should neither] tarnish our image [nor the] football image in Singapore,” warns Fandi.

The level of corruption now has lessened, says Fandi, compared to the 70s and 80s. Those were the days when international players like Paolo Rossi, the top scorer at the 1982 World Cup, reportedly accepted bribes to influence the outcome of games.

Although Fandi has no suggestions on how to stamp out betting, especially with the SCORE system being a source of revenue for the local football industry, he urges players and officials alike “to remain strong” and to mix with the right group of people.

“As professional players, they can’t jeopardise their team, their country, their friends and fans. I think it’s wrong.”

Despite this early setback to the S-League, Fandi suggests we put all these aside and look forward to the new season.

The new season

Armed with 2 S-league titles in 3 seasons at SAFFC, and the Coach of the Year award in his debut season, Fandi’s modesty belies his ambition as he looks forward to the new season with a mix of optimism and cautiousness.

“Obviously we want to retain the title, but we know it’s going to be tough… because we lost 7 to 8 players to the National U-23 [team]… as well as Therdsak Chaiman, our playmaker.”

Yet Fandi, who recently returned from a training tour of Thailand with SAFFC, remains confident that Therdsak’s replacement, Ante Hrgovic, is more than capable of filling his predecessor’s boots.
Ante, who hails from Croatia, has scored 3 times in 5 friendlies for SAFFC and can count on fellow countrymen, Mirko Grabovac and Nened Bacina, to help settle in.

Fandi, who aims for SAFFC to do well in the Singapore Cup and the Asian Club Championships, also hopes to maintain his team’s unchallenged record of having scored the most goals in the S-League since the 2000 season.

Nevertheless, he maintains that “it will be difficult” as he lists the potential challengers to SAFFC’s crown.

“I’ll pick Home [United FC] as the favourite, Woodlands [Wellington FC], Tampines [Rovers FC] and even…Jurong [FC] to fight for the title.”

The inclusion of 2 new teams to the S-League, Sinchi FC and the Singapore U-23s, has drawn praise from Fandi as it means “a good challenge for the local teams”.

As for the Singapore U-23 team, Fandi said, “[They] will gain a lot of experience and exposure in the league because they will play against foreigners [from the clubs] and a foreign team. I think you can [gauge] whether we have the players to make it… [for] the Asian Championships towards 2010. By then, you should realise whether the dream [of Goal 2010] is just a dream or a reality . . ..”

For the future, Fandi suggests Singapore send young talents overseas for training and exposure.

“When I came back from Europe, I [had] so much experience and I [passed] it to my teammates in Singapore, in Kuala Lumpur, in Pahang. I think it was a good exposure for me.”

However, Fandi says that these young players have to have the attitude, discipline and the willingness to make crucial sacrifices for the benefit of the game.

Future national coach?

Talking about the future, many in the Singapore football circle have been calling for Fandi’s appointment as national coach, a nomination that enjoys strong support from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).

Fandi (far right) may be barking instructions to our national players in future
However, Fandi feels his abilities are inadequate as he is still learning the ropes of football management and lacks experience.
For this month’s Asian Cup pre-qualifiers, Fandi reveals that he and national coach PN Sivaji plan to inject new blood into the senior team and to look into the morale and commitment of the players, after last year’s Tiger Cup debacle.

“I think we shouldn’t have a problem qualifying and we are playing at home and with these players, I think they can do better than [in] the Tiger Cup.”

Fandi confirmed that the controversy surrounding national captain Nazri Nasir’s retirement is false. “Nazri will still be there,” he said.

Fandi Ahmad

Prior to Urbanwire’s interview with Fandi, a controversial article about his wife, Nur Sarah, better known as Wendy Jacobs, was on the cover of news tabloid The New Paper. Her comments, a la Victoria Beckham, centred on their private life as well as Fandi’s appointment as assistant national coach.

However, Fandi maintains that all is well between them despite Wendy’s comments about her “[wearing] the pants in the family”.
“For me, everything is relaxed. She can say whatever she wants. She knows me, I’m very simple.”

Still, her barbed remarks about Fandi’s appointment as assistant national coach might not go down to well with the FAS.

Fandi Ahmad

The New Paper quoted her saying, “Did the nation help you when you were in trouble? Is the nation going to help you when you can’t pay your son’s school fees?”

Fandi is certain that all she said will not affect his long-standing relationship with FAS. Moreover, both parties have not sat down to discuss anything.“Happy Birthday, Urbanwire!”
On his views on Wendy appearing in photos for men’s magazines, Fandi replied, “She’s a model. She’s paid to do certain shows. It’s part and parcel of life and the understanding when I chose her.”

Speaking to Urbanwire about his plans to pursue the Asian Football Confederation Professional Coaching Diploma, Fandi says that, while he is away for the 9-week course, spread over a year, he “hopes that she will be there to take care of the family”.

Fandi Ahmad

So Like Fandi

Just before he left to prepare his charges for the new S-League season, Fandi promised UrbanWire the first interview if SAFFC retains their league title and added, “Hey, you can film [us training]”. That was typical of Fandi: jovial, thoughtful, and obliging.

* Stand to win a mini Topper 2003 calendar soccer ball autographed by Fandi Ahmad!
Email us and tell us how many times Fandi guided SAFFC to the S-League title. The closing date for this competition is Mar 31, 2003.


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