S-League: Let them speak up

Football coach Johana Johari (in black), in his first appearance as interim coach, applauding his Hougang United players.

SINGAPORE - We need to create more personalities in the S-League, not keep a lid on them.

So it is always a blow to the media when we learn that players or coaches - particularly quotable ones - are no longer allowed to speak publicly.

Earlier this week, The New Paper was hoping to speak to Hougang United coach Johana Johari to get his thoughts on what lies ahead for his team.

With three games to go before the SLeague's new "half-round", the Cheetahs are already out of the running to finish in the top six of the league.

But we found out that he has been barred by the club from speaking to the media.

Why? Because Johana speaks his mind and occasionally shoots from the hip.

He infamously accused Balestier Khalsa of playing "pinball" after Hougang beat them 2-0 in a RHB Singapore Cup clash last month.

Sure, his comments ruffled a few feathers, especially in the Balestier camp.

But this is the sort of extra colour the SLeague could certainly use.

The comments have also given fixtures between the two teams an extra spice - SLeague fans now dub the fixture the "pinball derby".

Anyway, don't managers in the English Premier League also take potshots at each other from time to time?

Jose Mourinho didn't mince his words when he accused Tottenham Hotspur of parking the bus in 2004.

And who could forget how Sir Alex Ferguson got under the skin of Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan to the point the latter had a very public meltdown in 1996?

Hougang aren't the first team to put unnecessary red tape between one of their staff and the media this season.

Earlier, Home United also informed TNP that any interview with their players or coach would have to be facilitated via their club officials.

This decision was made, ostensibly, after Protectors' coach Lee Lim Saeng candidly revealed his frustrations at not having a major say in the club's transfer dealings last season.

The South Korean's revelations understandably made some at the club uncomfortable.

But is putting more barriers between the newsmaker and the media really the best solution?

Couldn't the management come up with some guidelines or have a word with the coach and players?

You may say, "So what?". It's "just" two clubs that have set these rules.

But, discounting developmental side the Courts Young Lions, there are only eight local clubs in the S-League.

Even "just" two, accounts for 25 per cent of all the local teams.

Speak their mind

It's good that some S-League coaches have no problems speaking their mind, or aren't stopped from doing so, no matter how bold their opinions may be.

In pre-season, Woodlands Wellington coach Salim Moin publicly declared his confidence that his team, wooden spoonists in the S-League from 2009 to 2012, could finish in the top three.

Some laughed at his claims then, but Woodlands are currently just four points away from third-placed Tanjong Pagar.

And Balestier coach Darren Stewart has no problems labelling his side's recent style of play - a shift to route-one football - as "ugly".

It may not be music to national coach Bernd Stange's ears, seeing as how the German hopes S-League clubs will adopt the pass-and-move style he wants the Lions to play.

Personally, however, I like Balestier's physical style. It gives them a distinct character.

But we still need more in the S-League community to be as forthright as Salim and Stewart.

The outspoken former Woodlands general manager R Vengadasalam helped promote the S-League by earning it plenty of column inches with his colourful quotes in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Some love him, others hate him, but the man known as "the Mouth of the North" sure knew how to get attention.

His antics played a part in the healthy attendances at the Woodlands Stadium back then.

But if players, coaches, and club officials are now not allowed to speak their minds, how will they be heard?


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