By Ernest Luis
LAST weekend, Mirko Grabovac, 37, left for Croatia - his birthplace - after giving up his Singapore citizenship, gained in 2002.
Torn between his Croatian wife and two young daughters (aged 11 and seven), already back in Croatia for the past three years, and what he claimed was a decent lack of higher-salaried options, Grabovac's departure puts the spotlight on foreign-born talent giving up their red passports (Egmar Goncalves was the first to leave last year, after returning to Brazil).
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) replies to our questions on this hot-button issue.
To what extent did the FAS help Grabovac with various options before he decided to leave?
THE FAS had been communicating with Mirko Grabovac for some time now on his post-playing career and had discussed a number of possible options for him to consider. He had indicated a desire to go into coaching.
We then facilitated discussions with our affiliate Sengkang Punggol which then offered him the position of player cum assistant coach. Subsequently, when he was not able to pass the mandatory beep test to be registered as a player, Sengkang also offered him to be the club's grassroots community outreach officer so that as their football ambassador, Grabovac could assist to increase the club's profile and reach out to school children by conducting coaching clinics and so on.
FAS kept in touch with the club management on how Grabovac was doing at the club. In addition, FAS had earlier offered him a part-time position as the head coach of one of the women's national teams which he declined, as he was still keen to play and coach at the S-League level.
Finally, when he decided to return to Croatia to join his wife and daughters, Sengkang offered him a role to assist them to scout for good players for the S-League, from Croatia and the surrounding region. He readily accepted.
In this way, Grabovac is still contributing in some way to Singapore football.
(The New Paper understands from Sengkang that Grabovac will improve his coaching education and gain the needed licences - which he doesn't have now - to stand in better stead before considering a return to Singapore in the future, which he said he wanted to do.)
Is the FAS or the club that hires a foreign-born-turned-Singapore citizen, responsible for his career planning? (So if he wants to be a coach, he needs a few years to move up from C to A licence levels needed for the S-League coach position?)
IT IS a tri-partite process with each party working together to assist the player to plan for the players' post-playing career. The same principle applies to our local-born Lions.
In any case, these requirements are known publicly.
Can the player be responsible to an extent, like any other employee in a company?
IT IS important for the player to discuss with FAS and his club, on his future plans as well as where his interests lie, so that FAS and the clubs would be able to facilitate and assist the player in their career planning process and the options available for their consideration.
Working closely with the players and their clubs, FAS will advise players which qualifications they will need to obtain and how to go about obtaining them, once they are able to give us an indication of their preferred career path.
So FAS has in place two schemes to help all our national players prepare for a career when their playing days are over. These are the FAS Study Grants and FAS Coaching Awards (see side story right).
Is it unrealistic of such players to expect to maintain their 'playing' salary when they aren't qualified enough as coaches suddenly, to earn the same kind of money? (For eg, the kind of $8,000-a-month job top coaches can command)?
WE WILL continue to work towards moderating the expectations of our players.
In Singapore, we have many examples of former players, both locals and foreigners, who have continued to make a good living after their playing career. Marko Kraljevic, who played for Balestier, Tampines and Jurong, is now the Prime League head coach at Balestier Khalsa.
Bosnian import Esad Sedjic, who famously scored the S-League's first goal and first hat-trick back in 1996 for Balestier Central, now runs a successful pub and restaurant business at Boat Quay.
In the S-League, the likes of former national players Steven Tan, Lim Tong Hai, V Selvaraj, Nasaruddin Jalil, Samawira Basri and D Tokijan all hold various coaching positions at different clubs.
Management in sports is another option (former national captain Nazri Nasir is now the general manager of Tampines Rovers, with former Lions Syed Faruk and Jeykanth Jeyapal both coaching and being Tampines and Woodlands' team manager and general manager respectively.
What are the expectations of foreign talent when they are offered citizenship?
OUR EXPECTATIONS are for them to contribute to the regeneration of our national teams, help our local talent by sharing experiences and guiding them on the field, grow their roots here in Singapore and continue to contribute to local football development by being ambassadors of the game, either as coaches or administrators or even successful businessmen when they retire from playing (like we mentioned above).
However, as in the case of other foreign-born Singaporeans, the ultimate choice is theirs to make as there may be other factors to consider when they retire from playing, such as job opportunities and family ties in their original home countries, the desire of their family members and so on.
Even if Grabovac and Goncalves - the first two footballers to be given citizenship under this FAS scheme - were older when they became Singapore citizens (at the age of 31), the same could happen to younger players like Shi Jiayi and the like. So how does FAS intend to review this process and keep talent back in the country when their playing days are over?
WITH the younger foreign-born talent, they would have had a longer time to immerse themselves into Singapore society. The likes of Daniel Bennett and Precious Emeujeraye have bought property here and several of them have their children born here too. They realise that in Singapore, they can raise their children in a safe environment with developed education and healthcare systems in place.
With more opportunities opening up in the sports industry in Singapore, we expect that these players will have more options to look at in terms of a post-playing career by the time they retire.
FAS will continue with what we are already doing, that is working with the clubs, with Singapore Sports Council and so on, on widening post-playing career options for our national players, including our foreign-born talent.
But ultimately, it must be a two-way process as future prospective employers will also closely examine the on and off-field track records of these players, before deciding whether or not to employ them.
This article was first published in The New Paper on Oct 13, 2008.