New Lions coach Takayuki Nishigaya arrives in Singapore next month and acknowledged there will be no honeymoon period with the June 8-14 Asian Cup qualifiers quickly upon him.
Nevertheless, the 48-year-old Japanese – seen by many in the local fraternity as a surprise choice given his lack of experience at international football – vowed to bring “winning football” here at his official unveiling on Monday (April 25) by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
He has signed a two-year contract and replaces compatriot Tatsuma Yoshida, who stepped down on Dec 31 after guiding the Republic to the Suzuki Cup semi-finals.
He will be assisted by Young Lions coach Nazri Nasir and staff coach and analyst Joichiro Iizuka, who had both previously worked with Yoshida.
Speaking via Zoom from Japan through a translator, Nishigaya said: “My football philosophy is to play with confidence, play collectively. The key words are aggressive, progressive, hard work and team spirit. I have my own ideals, but the most important thing is to play winning football.”
World No. 158 Singapore are in Group F alongside Kyrgyzstan (No. 95), Tajikistan (114) and Myanmar (152) for the Asian Cup qualifiers.
The former Nagoya Grampus defender, who played under Arsene Wenger in 1996, said: “We do not have much time until the qualifiers but we will do our utmost to prepare. I will assess our current situation and analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the team, and we will take on the mission of qualifying for the Asian Cup.”
His appointment, reported on Sunday by The Straits Times, has raised eyebrows. Underwhelmed readers wondered why the FAS, after a hiring process that took more than four months, had picked someone whose coaching resume consists mainly of stints at the lower tiers of Japanese football.
Former Singapore defender R. Sasikumar drew comparisons with Lion City Sailors’ hiring of AFC Champions League-winning coach Kim Do-hoon, as well as other notable appointments in the region.
“If we want to reach the World Cup and Asian Cup, we should find a guy who has been there and done that to help elevate our football in the next 10 to 15 years, not someone who has yet to find his feet in international football,” Sasi said.
Jon Steele, host and producer of the J-Talk Extra Time podcast which covers the J2 and J3 Leagues, noted that while Nishigaya’s 30.5 per cent win rate with J2 League’s Mito Hollyhock and J3 side SC Sagamihara is not great, his reasonably good work with a small provincial team like Mito and his ability to work with young players stood out.
He said: “Although Mito finished 19th in 2015 when he took over mid-season, he led them to mid-table in the following two seasons and left a pretty good base for his successor Tadahiro Akiba to keep moving the club forward.
“Nishigaya also has a decent track record with young players, particularly in his five or so years as a youth team coach at Tokyo Verdy, who are renowned for having an excellent academy system that brings through lots of J.League players, particularly wide attackers with good technical ability.”
FAS president Lim Kia Tong shared that Nishigaya was a recommendation from the Japan Football Association technical committee in February, and he was part of a seven-man shortlist, that included Albirex Niigata coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga, former India coach Stephen Constantine, and former Home United coach Lee Lim Saeng.
Noting financial constraints was also a factor, Lim said the selection panel – comprising himself, deputy president Bernard Tan, vice-president Teo Hock Seng, council member Goh Tat Chuan and general secretary Yazeen Buhari – had taken an “appropriate” time to conduct the “rigorous recruitment process” and were prepared to take even longer if there were no suitable candidates.
Citing the failure of big-name and expensive coaches in China, he added: “The experience of producing results at an international level in itself may not be enough to help Singapore football move forward.
“One very key consideration is that the new coach has to be able to build on the good work Tatsuma has done in terms of player development, and the attacking philosophy instilled, which produced performances that left him highly regarded by the fans.”
National captain Hariss Harun, 31, is looking forward to work with Nishigaya.
He said: “Ever since I have been in the national team, this is the seventh coach I’m under. Only Raddy (Avramovic) and Bernd (Stange) had prior senior international experience, and the results were mixed.
“There were also a lot of question marks over Tatsuma when he took over in 2019, but we played some good football under him.
“Coach Takayuki is also unknown to us, but hopefully there is some continuity with the Japanese way. We have to give him our full support and try to build on the good work from the recent good performances and results.”