By Neil McCormack
We catch up with the former Balestier Khalsa coach Darren Stewart who is now in charge of the Maldives national team to get his views on the Maldives chances of qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup and other issues concerning football in the Maldives and Singapore.
Maldives are in Group D of 2019 Asian Cup qualifying alongside Oman, Palestine, and Bhutan. Do you fancy your chances of qualifying?
Obviously, it is going to be tough to qualify with Oman and Palestine who are two very strong teams, but we will not give up until it is mathematically impossible to qualify and even then we still want to have as many points as possible. With a little luck and hard work, anything is possible in football.
Maldives last won the SAFF Championship in 2008. Can you win next year’s tournament in Bangladesh?
We all believe we can win this competition.
Maldives and Singapore have never qualified for the World Cup. Do you think either country can do so?
I would love to say yes but if I must be honest, I don’t think that will happen just yet. Not in my lifetime!
How is the level of football in the Maldives compared to Singapore?
The Maldivian league is stronger than the S-League in terms of local players but the S-League probably has better foreign players but overall I would say Maldives league is stronger.
Is V.Sundramoorthy the right man to lead the national team?
Yes, without a doubt, he is a very good coach and knows the system in Singapore better than anyone. I just hope the FAS stands by him and gives him time.
You took charge of two teams (Gombak United and Woodlands Wellington) who both had to pull out of the S-League due to financial issues. Do you think the FAS can do more to assist clubs that are in financial trouble?
No, I think the FAS does enough for clubs in Singapore. Gombak pulled out for the right reasons (which I can’t reveal) but in John Yap, the chairman they have a very shrewd boss who will bring them back bigger and stronger. Woodlands, I would rather not comment.
What 3 changes would you make to improve Singapore football?
Pay local and foreign players better money, bring Patrick Ang, Teo Hock Seng, and John Yap into FAS. They are great chairmen. And fix the fields.
What is your opinion of the scrapped ASEAN Super League (ASL)?
A great thing for the S-League, it is struggling now so if the ASL went ahead I feel the S-League would have been destroyed.
Does it damage Singapore football when foreign teams have won the S-League for the last 2 years?
No, because without these foreign teams there would be no S-League, not enough team for a league.
Do you see Home United progressing far in the AFC Cup?
I don’t think so. I feel they have done extremely well to progress this far. I hope they do because coach Adil Sharin is a very good friend of mine who has done well to get them this far.
Can Australia win the World Cup next year?
Lastly, do you see yourself managing in the S-League again?
You never say never but I doubt it.