Fandi: I can take the pressure

As a player, Fandi Ahmad could do little wrong. The former Singapore captain was widely regarded as one of the best players to have donned the national jersey.

But as the LionsXII coach, he has not had the same admiration from fans, with a spotlight placed over him because of his side's poor performance this year.

Finishing eighth in the recently-concluded 12-team Malaysia Super League (MSL) with just eight wins in total, the Singapore outfit's poor run of form has extended into the Malaysia Cup.

The LionsXII, who were MSL champions in 2013, are bottom of Group A with just one point, and winless after three games, the latest a shock 1-2 defeat to second-tier Malaysia Premier League (MPL) side Johor Darul Takzim II on Saturday.

Ahead of tonight's return fixture between the two sides at Jalan Besar, where a win for the hosts will breathe life back into their cup quest and anything less may bring an early exit from the competition, Fandi is not letting the pressure get to him.

Not even after some fans have called for his head.

"I can take the pressure that's been thrown at me so far, as it's part and parcel of the job," said Fandi, 52.

"Sure, there are people slagging me off but deep down, I know I've tried my best and imparted the knowledge I've acquired from my years of being in football."

Some fans and the media alike have questioned why his team have fared so poorly this year, considering they failed to hit their assigned target of finishing at least third or higher in the MSL.

But Fandi has asked fans to understand that the team's make-up this year meant it would be hard to match the feats of last year.

"The boys are young and they're not the most experienced, with most of them having seen little to no game time at all last season," he said.

"The likes of Faris Ramli, Gabriel Quak and Zulfahmi Arifin have benefited as they've played more games this season than they did in the last year."

After playing just nine league matches last year, Faris Ramli's game tally this year increased to 22 while Quak played in 18, compared to only 11 last year.

"Also, the coaching staff here is looking to build the team's attacking play along the lines of the football philosophy of the national team.

"This team should be about developing players for the national team.

"Footballing development is what I'm trying to achieve by giving these boys regular playing time in a competitive league where they face bigger, stronger players week in, week out."

Midfielder Hafiz Sujad has also called on fans to ease off on the pressure they placed on Fandi.

"We don't need coach Fandi to say anything more to motivate us as we know we haven't been doing well and we want to change that," he said.

"Coach Fandi is trying his best and doing everything that any other coach would do in this situation but sometimes, we just don't have that slice of good fortune to turn draws into wins, and losses into draws.

"JDT II won because they had more hunger and desire in the last game, and it's up to us now to better that and get three points."

Calling this match "the first of three cup finals", Fandi knows how difficult his job is but is willing to step aside if a better candidate is willing to step forward.

"If anyone thinks I'm doing a bad job, I'd be happy to let them take the team for a month and see what difference they can make.

"It's not an easy job, and I can choose not to be here - but I want to, for the sake of developing future players for the national team."

This article was first published on August 26, 2014.
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