Nazri leaves training abruptly

SINGAPORE - Pointing at his watch, Nazri Nasir exchanged brief words with his team manager and walked off the pitch at the Innova Junior College on Friday, when the National Football Academy (NFA) Under-15 team were training.

Normally an innocuous act, Nazri's move sent his young charges' jaws dropping.

Nazri's sudden departure came barely 45 minutes into the team's 90-minute training session, with the former Singapore captain taking a back seat the entire time he was on the pitch - as Mike Wong took charge of proceedings.

"I was approached two weeks ago to help mentor Nazri because there are two tournaments - the AFF Under-16 Championship (Aug 20-Sept 2) and the AFC Under-16 qualifiers (Aug 21-29) coming up," said former Geylang International coach, Wong.

"I'm working on a part-time basis to help throughout the duration of the tournaments," said Wong, who added that Nazri left the session as he had "something on".

TNP witnessed Wong dictating proceedings, with Nazri, 42, reduced to watching with his arms folded, only occasionally giving pointers to individual players.

Nazri has been in charge of the side for two years, leading them to two Canon Lion City Cup tournaments as well as the Frenz ASEAN Champions Trophy. The team crashed out at the group stages of all the tournaments.

The Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) manager of youth development, Akbar Abdul Nawas, was on the sidelines at Innova JC, but declined to answer questions, pointing to FAS guidelines of media engagement.

But an FAS spokesman told TNP that Wong, who is a qualified coaching instructor, has been brought in as a technical adviser to "support" Nazri.

Nazri holds an AFC Pro Diploma, the highest qualification for a football coach in the region.

In an e-mail response to TNP queries, an FAS spokesman said: "This (assigning mentors to coaches) has been common practice... we remain committed to enhancing both the preparations for upcoming competitions as well as the ongoing educational journey of our coaches."

"This mentorship is an instruction from the top and I accept it," Nazri said, but sources reveal that the situation is more complicated.

Those close to the team reveal that Nazri is focused on results and puts too much pressure on his young charges, who are struggling to cope.

Another side-effect of Nazri's singleminded drive for victory is the fact that few players, apart from those considered the core of the team, get much game time.

But a source close to Nazri hinted at something deeper.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he told TNP: "There has been pressure placed on Nazri from the top, to achieve results, and this is taking its toll on him.

"In Nazri's training programme, the boys were supposed to get a few days off during this time. But the very fact that training is going on with Mike is a clear indication to them that Nazri has been undermined.

"That is not going to be a good situation for the team, or for anyone connected with it."

In May 2010, the FAS overlooked Nazri, appointing Dejan Gluscevic instead to the role of NFA Under-14 coach, with local coaches upset that coaches here were not given opportunities, even to handle youth footballers.

Nazri eventually was drafted into the FAS set-up and his contract is understood to run out at the end of this year.

While the FAS insisted that Nazri's contract has not been terminated, the uncertainty is clearly seeping into the squad.

At the training session on Friday, a player was overheard asking Nazri's son, Amer Hakeem, who is also in the team: "How come your father left training? Where did he go?"

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