Interview: Singapore Coach Radojko Dominoqq Avramovic
Former Notts County and Coventry City goalkeeper Radojko ‘Raddy” Avramovic has been the boss of Singapore’s national team since 2003. The Serbian has led the nation to success in Tiger Cups and is now getting ready to lead them to the 2010 World Cup. The third round of qualification starts next month with Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Lebanon standing between Singapore and a place in the fourth and final stage.
You played for Nottingham County from 1979-82. At the time, Nottingham Forest were the champions of Europe. How was it being in the city at the time?
I was one of the first foreigners to play in Dominoqq England. It was a good time to be there. The people were fanatic about football and Notts County reached what is now called the Premier League. At the time, Nottingham Forest were a great team with Brian Clough as the manager and a team full of internationals. It was great to be there.
The football scene in Nottingham is not so healthy these days…
Many things have changed. If you don’t adapt and change with them then you have problems and that is what you have with Nottingham Forest. Maybe they were sleeping on their past success and didn’t change. Now it’s hard to get back what they had before.
Do you ever go back to watch Notts County?
Nearly every year I go to Nottingham. I have many friends there and I am very happy that people haven’t forgotten me. They also chose me as a legend of Notts County and I am very proud of that.
Not many goalkeepers become coaches. Do you think there is a reason for that?
I don’t know. To become a coach is very hard work and you have to make many sacrifices and not many people are prepared to do that.
Moving forward… You have just signed an extension to your contract. You have been with Singapore since 2003. You must have seen many changes.
I first came to Asia in 1991 and went to Oman until 1998. Then I took Kuwait to the Sydney Olympic Games. The whole country was delighted as not many teams from Asia go to the Olympics. Then I took over the Kuwait National team and we won the West Asian Games. In 2003 I came to Singapore.
Have you never been tempted to go anywhere else? Have you had any offers?
I have had a few offers. But when I came to Singapore, the team was in bad shape. There was a need for lots of improvement and the Singapore FA supported me. We have done well –not just me but the federation and the players.
I have built a team here and we have achieved a lot but now we need to really make international results. These days in Kuwait and Oman, there are players in the national team that I selected when I was there – young boys. In Singapore it is time to make results with the hard work we have put in over the last four years or so.
Some of the national team players were born overseas and have become naturalized citizens. They now play for Singapore. This has been criticised by many…
It is not as simple as many people say, they don’t know what they are talking about. If you look at Europe, there are so many players from all over the world.
In Singapore there are two cases. The first is that some players have spent all their lives in Singapore. The second case is that some people come here to play football, live six or seven years, get married, have kids and want to live their life in Singapore. They get the passport without any involvement from the FA.
And then there are young players that come here. We follow them and if they have potential to play for the national team, we see if they are willing to do that.
The last group you mentioned is the controversial one…
It’s very simple – just look at Alexander Duric. He is the oldest player playing for Singapore and has already been here six or seven years. He himself asked for a passport, he wants to stay in Singapore. After he received the passport, I choose players that are available. He is 37 and wants to play for the national team for one year or six months.
We are not just focusing on foreigners. If you look at the Under-23 team they played at the recent SEA Games and there was only one foreigner. All the foreigners are helping the development of young players in Singapore.
Singapore has had good results in past years, better than much bigger countries like Thailand and Indonesia. Why is this?
In my case it is very simple. It is just direction and hard work.
Can Singapore move to the next level from being a good SE Asian team to become a good Asian team?
It’s possible but it’s too early to say at the moment. To go to the next level there must be changes in many areas –from facilities to a change in the way of thinking. That’s the hardest part. The beginning of professionalism is here, in the league and clubs, and if that part improves, if the clubs improve, that will reflect on the national team as well and help us to achieve more.
Singaporeans are well-known for their love of English football. Is that a problem for the national team?
I am sometimes fed up with that! (laughs) If you look at the bars and coffee shops you can see people watching the Premier League on big screens. In some ways, it is good for the general atmosphere of football but if those people spent 50% of that effort supporting local teams or the national teams then things would be better for us.
Your opening World Cup qualification game is a tough one – away at Saudi Arabia. How will you approach that game? Will you settle for a point?
I play every game to win. If you go with the intention of drawing – that is not my way, whether it is against Saudi Arabia, England, Myanmar or Laos. Sometimes we go six months without a game so when we do have a game and we don’t go out to win that game then there is something wrong.
Is your group one of the more difficult ones?
Yes, it is a difficult group. Saudi Arabia have a lot of advantages over us. The first is the quality that they have. Second, is that they are in the middle of their season and they are in competition form. Our league has finished and we have to build towards the game. I don’t think we can be in great competition form in that short period of time but we will try our best.
Are you playing for second place with Uzbekistan and Lebanon?
It doesn’t matter if we finish first or second. Everybody has the same ambition as us and that is to go into the next round. I am watching tapes of the Saudi Arabia now and sure, they are big favourites but you have to adapt to playing against them.
Singapore striker Noh Alam Shah was banned for one year by the Singapore FA for attacking Daniel Bennett in the Singapore Cup final. He can, however, play for the national team. Will you select him when he recovers from injury?
He is a big part of this team. With him in the team we have had good results and he is a big part of the team. He is the kind of player who gives 100% every game and all last season he had the handicap of playing injured. He was taking painkillers before every game.
What happened in the cup doesn’t happen often. Nobody approves of what he did but it shouldn’t end his career. I have known him for four years and never had any problems with him.
The incident involved a national team-mate. Will there be no problem in the dressing room between them?
We need time to get together again and see if a problem exists. After the season finished, Alam Shah had an operation and if he wants to play for the national team then he needs to play football. He is banned in Singapore but I hope he will go to Malaysia and we will follow his progress.
If everything is Ok then my intention is to bring them together. Then we will see.