Bernard Tan’s first key decision as unopposed President of the Football Association of Singapore should be to fire Lions head coach Takayuki Nishigaya.
The decision to hire Nishigaya as Singapore’s national head coach was met with bewilderment from the word go when the announcement was made in April 2022.
His CV was underwhelming, with his last role being the assistant coach of Japanese club side Matsumoto Yamaga.
Even the likes of Englishman Stephen Constantine (photo below), one of the architects behind India’s rise, was sidestepped for Nishigaya was just mind-boggling.
Nishigaya did not have any experience leading a national team and he also had a language barrier given that his English was rudimentary.
After almost 18 months into the job, it is clear that he is not cut out for the role and does not have the ability or the gravitas to lead a national team yet.
Maybe in time, he will be more equipped, but for now, he just does not fit the bill.
It did not help that in the very first tournament he led the Lions to – the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers final round- ended up with the Lions leaving Bishkek with their tails between their legs after losses to Tajikistan and Kyrgyz Republic.
Even though Nishigaya apologised for the team’s failure to qualify for the expanded Asian Cup, the damage had been done.
Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand all booked their spots at the Asian Cup, and Singapore was left behind with the likes Myanmar, Timor Leste, Laos, Brunei and Cambodia, still waiting for their first appearance at the continental competition since 1984, when Singapore were hosts.
Singapore is now labelled as among the region’s minnows.
Radojko Avramovic, Singapore’s former Lions head coach, told TMSG then that he could not comprehend how Singapore, with the team it had in place with the likes of Irfan Fandi, Ikhsan Fandi and Song Uiyoung, failed to make the 2023 Asian Cup.
It was our best chance, he reckoned.
From Bishkek, what was not made public, was the alleged dressing room drama, details of which have been sketchy.
Nishigaya’s inability to lead the Lions into the last four of the regional 2022 Mitsubishi Electric Cup tournament, which included a hammering in Malaysia, should have well been his nail on the coffin.
But perhaps he needed a bit more time, which was a fair ask.
However, the FAS should have called time on his tenure after the draws against Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea in June, in which the Lions were unable to beat both teams at home at the National Stadium.
By then, the fan abuse had started to kick in, which meant that patience had run thin.
Singapore’s latest defeat to Tajikistan’s second-string side at Bishan Stadium is further testimony to Nishigaya’s inability to lift Singapore.
And once again, Nishigaya was abused by a section of the Singapore fans at the stadium.
Unfortunately for Nishigaya, the statistics don’t lie.
When he was appointed as Lions head honcho, Singapore was ranked 158th in the world.
Today, Singapore is still ranked 158th in the world.
Compare this set of statistics with our closest neighbours Malaysia.
In January 2022, they were ranked 154th in the world when they hired Korean Kim Pan Gon.
Today, Malaysia is ranked 136th, clear progress within a span of slightly more than 18 months.
Results have also not gone Nishigaya’s way and the only victory to his name this year was a 1-0 win over Macau in March.
How has he helped with Singapore’s football ambition?
The Lions have two World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying matches against Guam on 12 and 17 October and failure to beat the team ranked 203 in the world will be nothing short of a national embarrassment.
They are no easy pickings, and the last meeting in Singapore in 2015 ended in a 2-2 stalemate.
Waiting till the damage is done may not be a good strategy for the soon-to-be installed President of the national football body.
For his own good, Bernard Tan and the Football Association of Singapore needs to cut the umbilical cord which ties Nishigaya to the national head coach position.
Sooner rather than later, unless they are eagerly waiting to suffer the ignominy of possibly losing to Guam.
MAIN PHOTO: STRAITS TIMES