The Japanese Charm: Why is FAS so Obsessed with Japanese Coaches?

The Japanese Charm: Why is FAS so Obsessed with Japanese Coaches?
Image by AFF Mitsubishi

In an official announcement on February 1, the Singapore national team officially appointed Tsutomu Ogura, a 57-year-old Japanese coach, to lead the national team (senior and U-22 men's teams). Ogura is expected to bring extensive coaching experience from various clubs under the Japan Football Association (JFA).

The FAS (Football Association of Singapore) had previously terminated the contract of another Japanese coach, Takayuki Nishigaya. His appointment marks the third time in a row that Singapore has hired a coach from Japan. Previously, Tatsuma Yoshida (2019-2021) and Takayuki Nishigaya (2022-2024) led the Singapore national team, The Lions.

Japan's Lineup of The Lions Coaches

Tatsuma Yoshida was the first Japanese coach recruited to lead the senior national team in FAS history. When he took over, Singapore was ranked 160th in the FIFA world rankings as of April 4, 2019. However, on December 31, 2021, the Japanese coach left his position as Singapore national team coach despite his contract running until December 2022.

He left the organization to return to Japan and be with his family during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. His resignation came shortly after the Singapore national team lost to Indonesia in the semi-finals of the AFF 2020.

Singapore national team coach (2019-2021),Tatsuma Yoshida. Credit: AP Photo

During his tenure, the 47-year-old coach led Singapore to 20 wins in all competitions. His coaching record with the Lions includes six wins, four draws, and 10 losses. Yoshida successfully led Singapore to the semi-finals of the 2021 AFF Suzuki Cup - the first time the team had reached the last four of the regional tournament in nine years.

Takayuki Nishigaya officially took over from Yoshida as Singapore's national team coach on April 25, 2022. Unfortunately, the Lions' statistical performance under Nishigaya fell far short of expectations. Out of 46 matches, Singapore only managed eight wins, five draws and eight losses.

Ultimately, the FAS terminated Takayuki Nishigaya's contract on January 29, citing the national team's recent performance and results as below expectations. Nishigaya's departure came as no surprise to some, given the discontent among fans and some players.

Singapore national team coach (2022-2024), Takayuki Nishigaya . Credit FAS

This culminated in the second round of qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup Asia, where Nishigaya's team's performance was disappointing. The Lions finished bottom of the group with two losses to South Korea and Thailand. Some Singapore supporters called for Nishigaya to be sacked after the 3-1 loss to Thailand in the World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium on November 21, and the sentiment spread widely on social media.

Tsutomu Ogura was officially announced as the new coach of the Singapore national team on February 1, replacing Takayuki Nishigaya. This is the third time in a row that a Japanese coach has been appointed to lead the Singapore national team. Ogura's appointment comes with a big task, as the Singapore national team's performance under Nishigaya's leadership last year was unsatisfactory.

The Lions' New Coach, Tsutomo Ogura. Credit: The Yokohama Express

Ogura doesn't have much experience as a head coach. The 57-year-old has only been a head coach once, when he managed Omiya Ardija in J-League 1 from August 2013 to January 2014. Most of his career has been spent as an assistant coach, including a stint as an assistant coach for the Japanese national team from 2006 to 2010 under Takeshi Okada and Ivica Osim. In addition, Ogura has experience as an assistant coach at clubs such as JEF United Chiba, Ventforet Kofu, and, last season, Tokyo Verdy. From 2018 to 2022, Ogura also served as the sporting director of Yokohama Marinos.

Japan Again?

Perhaps one of the factors behind this is the Memorandum of Understanding between the FAS and the JFA. The MoU was first signed in April 2011 and has been renewed twice - in 2015 and again in 2022 for another three years. The MoU aims to cooperate and develop football in both countries.

Both Yoshida and Nishigaya were appointed on the recommendation of the JFA. However, Ogura's appointment in Singapore is different as the Japanese governing body was not involved in his appointment.

However, FAS president Bernard Tan challenged this view by stating that there was no motive behind the selection of the Japanese coach. Speaking at a press conference to introduce the Lions' new head coach, Ogura, the FAS president said that Japan has the most advanced football ecosystem in Asia.

Tan also emphasized that there was no agenda to exclude or favor any particular nationality. They interviewed people from different countries. This shows their efforts to consider as many options as possible, although there are still certain criteria that must be met.

While many have questioned whether the FAS's decision to select a Japanese coach was the right one this time, former Singapore goalkeeper and youth coach Yakob Hashim had a different opinion, as reported by the Straits Times. Hashim argues that Ogura should be given a chance to prove his worth.

“I do think he seems to have better calibre than the two previous coaches and we must give him a chance to show what he can do," Hashim said.

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