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Wang Meng Meng
Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014

Sports

Pressure? This feels like a holiday to me

The Straits Times | Wang Meng Meng | Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014

He is a product of the Cold War, hails from Germany and some say he is the wind of change trying to blow through Singapore football.

Almost a year after his appointment as the national coach and after some mixed results, Bernd Stange is under pressure to deliver.

Media-friendly yet curiously elusive, he is always available for comment at the training ground or at the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) office in Jalan Besar but never shares his mobile-phone number with the press.

In this exclusive interview, Stange picked a cafe at Kallang to meet with The Sunday Times.

It is appropriate given that the backdrop is the Singapore Sports Hub, where the Lions will play on Aug 8 against Malaysia in the new national stadium's first public test for football.

Animated, authoritative yet not authoritarian, the 66-year-old is clear about his targets, the stress it brings and even demonstrated his knowledge of modern pop culture.

He noted: "The pressure will come with the opening of the Sports Hub. It means we have to fill one of the best stadiums in Asia with top-class football, and we have to deliver.

"This stadium is not built for Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift. It's built for high-profile sports in Singapore. And football in the No.1 sport in Singapore. We have to bring the Kallang Roar back.

"And the pressure will come from the public, from the media, from the owner of the stadium.

"To reach that level of performance, we have to do our jobs better every single day."

Come December, the pressure will be dialled up many more notches when Singapore defend their Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup crown in that venue.

Former national coaches Vincent Subramaniam (2000) and Jan Poulsen (2002) both left the hot seat after first-round exits in previous editions of the tournament.

Stange took over from Raddy Avramovic, who helped Singapore to an unprecedented fourth Asean title two years ago, after the successes in 1998, 2004 and 2007.

The Serb was at the helm for the last three triumphs - a feat never before accomplished.

But Stange is absolutely tingling with the buzz the AFF Cup brings.

He said: "I enjoy pressure, I like pressure and I'm looking forward to this great tournament here in our home country. It's a highlight to perform in big stadiums. This feels like a holiday for me.

"The best would be to win the gold medal. That is what we want to achieve. But you can never be sure in football.

"I promise - we will have a very well-prepared team for that tournament."

He revealed that the Lions will train in Austria from July 7-22 and play three matches against club sides. A week before the Malaysia game, there will be a closed-door friendly at the Sports Hub against a low-ranking international team.

And until the AFF Cup in November, FAS will arrange for more sparring games to keep the Lions sharp.

Fossil

When the white-haired grandfather of one was unveiled by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) on May 15, it was his first job in two years since coaching the Belarus national team from 2007-11, beating more than 100 applicants to the contract.

Some might have wondered if a fossil had been hired, a relic from the Iron Curtain armed with prehistoric game plans.

Instead, he drips science and talks haute couture tactics, bringing in a battery of high-tech equipment, from a body-fat measuring device to video-analysis tools, to quantify the players' performance and fitness and, ultimately, extract more from them.

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