Now in Switzerland, Alex Weaver tells us about his short stint at Hougang United, winning the title with Warriors and possibly coming back to Singapore in future.
I first came to Singapore in 2012 from Seattle, USA. I was looking for a change in scenery as I wanted to work with senior players and not youth players for a change. I did my research and I found that Singapore was one place I could do that. There was nothing concrete at first but then my wife got a teaching job in Singapore.
By that time, I had already sent my CV to a few clubs including Warriors, Tanjong Pagar United and Hougang United who were the first to offer me a position.
Hougang United had a nice stadium which reminded me of a small, lower league stadium in England. I was excited to make a start with my first club in Singapore.
I met the staff and players in a hotel where I gave my presentation, in which I wanted to introduce new ideas and change a few things.
Pre-season is when everything started going wrong. The players were ready for changes, but implementing that was a completely different story. They were a close group of players. It was a group effect whereby some players will follow others in what they do. The foreign players also had to adapt to that.
I was undermined by the staff, but this wasn’t a deliberate attempt to be negative. It was the culture for them. Everyone would report back to the Chairman – people in the board, the office staff, and even the Prime League coach. I felt like an island at Hougang, very isolated with not much control. It was impossible for me to adapt but I had to accept it.
After 6 games in the league, we had won just one, drawn three and lost two games. This wasn’t a disaster and there were good performances in my opinion. I was then told by email to sit in the stands and watch the team play. I feel this was the cheaper option for them because if they had sacked me, they would have to pay me compensation.
After a one month sit-out, the Warriors came calling. I was surprised, but not entirely shocked that I was getting the call. I met the players on the field after a game. I spoke briefly to them and told them I’m excited to work with them.
After what had happened at Hougang, I was more cautious and initially, my plan was to observe and see how things were. But I need not have worried as the environment at Warriors was completely different from Hougang. The players were more professional and they knew that change was really needed in the right direction. Even the foreign players like Kazuyuki Toda and Tatsuro Inui were more professional
When I joined the team, I presented a 3-year plan to the club, whereby I first wanted to create some stability and then mount a title challenge afterward. Additionally, I wanted to make Warriors one of the strongest teams in South-East Asia.
I didn’t expect to win the league that season but we won it ahead of schedule. We put a decent run together where we won our last four games. The squad was a very good unit that year.
Halfway through the following season, I was sacked. This was a communicated as a mutual agreement. It didn’t come as a major surprise. From September the previous year, I had already started planning for the following season by getting players signed on and looking at potential targets. I wanted to retain as many players as possible but due to the slow response from the management, I lost a few players like Hassan Sunny who was S-League Player of the Year in 2014.
I wanted to retain as many players as possible but due to the slow response from the management, I lost a few players like Hassan Sunny who was S-League Player of the Year in 2014.
Despite losing our title winning goalkeeper and both full-backs, I still felt we could retain the title in 2015, but having the AFC Cup matches was going to be more of a problem that a positive.
We didn’t have the squad to do well in both. We played more games that year due to our AFC Cup participation. Warriors were grouped with Persipura Jayapura, Bengaluru FC, and Maziya. I was disappointed with our performances but I had chosen to prioritize the S-League over the AFC Cup.
After 11 games of the 2015 season, the league stopped because of the SEA Games. At that time, we were top of the table. And despite having a weaker squad, playing more games and racking up the air miles, we were four points better off than the previous year. This showed that we were doing the right things by prioritizing the league campaign but obviously people didn’t understand why we were doing so badly in the AFC Cup.
However, the one-month break did us no favors as things started going wrong fast. Along with a couple of injuries, I also lost Nicolas Velez to Indian Super League side NorthEast United. So instead of recognizing that the coaching staff had won the league and done well with a limited squad and then pull together and rebuild the core of the team, the management took the easy decision and changed the coach.
What needs to change in Singapore football? You need a complete culture shift because no one cares too much about the S-League. Take Daniel Bennett for example. 136 caps for Singapore, he’s been so successful here but he could walk around Orchard Road and no one will approach him to say hello and ask for an autograph. It’s bizarre!
I’m not surprised the ASEAN Super League (ASL) has been scrapped. It was going to be impossible to pull off. Malaysia and Thailand are key leagues that are strong and they won’t put up any teams at the expense of their own league.
If you were to ask me if V. Sundramoorthy is the right man for the National Team, look at it this way. You could have Antonio Conte or Jose Mourinho as the head coach and nothing would change. You need to change the youth set-up. The players aren’t eating right and are not disciplined. The youth coaches are not good enough. I have seen a coach fall asleep at a seminar.
Do I see myself managing in Singapore again? I doubt so very much but then again never say never. I have talked to a couple of people about the possibility of returning. But this needs to be in the correct environment where I can bring in my own people whom I know. I also need to know everyone in the club and have a close relationship with them. I don’t want to work again in the type of environment that I worked in previously.
Alex Weaver is now the assistant coach for Under-21 team of Swiss Super League side FC Lausanne-Sport. He arrived in August 2016 with his wife and daughter. He also assists with the First Team.