Lee leans on stags’ fighting spirit

Lee leans on stags’ fighting spirit

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Singapore Premier LeagueLee leans on stags’ fighting spiritTampines coach knows the improbable can be possible in football, just like six years ago

Whatever the outcome today, Tampines coach Gavin Lee, 30, has cemented his reputation as one of Singapore's brightest coaching prospects since taking over the Stags' reins last year.

Whatever the outcome today, Tampines coach Gavin Lee, 30, has cemented his reputation as one of Singapore’s brightest coaching prospects since taking over the Stags’ reins last year.

ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Gavin Lee has been here before.

Six years ago, he was assistant to then-coach Alex Weaver and watched as their Warriors FC side captured an unlikely S-League title despite starting the final round in second spot behind Brunei DPMM.

Today, Lee, now the head coach, will be aiming to repeat history as his Tampines Rovers seek to overhaul Singapore Premier League (SPL) leaders Albirex Niigata in the last game of the season.

The Stags trail Albirex by a point and need to not only beat Geylang International but also hope the Japanese club drop points against Hougang United.

In 2014, the only way Lee and the Warriors, who were playing Albirex, could lift the S-League trophy was if they bettered DPMM’s result against Tampines.

Both contenders were level on 50 points but the Brunei side had a vastly superior goal difference. Yet they lost 2-1 to Tampines while the Warriors prevailed 1-0 to complete a stunning turnaround.

Recalling what it was like going into the game, Lee said: “With Alex, the approach to the game was similar for every game – we went in with the full intention to win it and we focused on that and what we could control.”

That October night in 2014 still holds important lessons for Lee.

He said: “We definitely remember it, even before the current situation.

“We’ve got a bunch of players who aren’t going to give up until the final whistle and after games like that against the Young Lions (Tampines conceded first but won 3-1) in November, it’ll be the same this coming Saturday.

“As long as there’s hope, you can expect the best from us.”

OPTIMISM

We’ve got a bunch of players who aren’t going to give up until the final whistle…

GAVIN LEE,
Tampines coach, on today’s match against Geylang.

The Stags will also be aided by support from the stands.

There will be 200 fans inside Our Tampines Hub, the first time spectators are allowed into stadiums since March 14, when games were held behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 crisis.​

    5 questions with Lee

    Q Which team or personality has been an inspiration?

    A On a personal level, (former Warriors FC coach) Alex Weaver has been an inspiration as well as mentor for me. I’ve been fortunate to have (Tampines chairman) Desmond Ong and (JSSL managing director) Harvey Davis’ support through this journey too. From a global perspective, Julian Nagelsmann, Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel are coaches I admire.

    Q: If you could coach any footballer, who would it be?

    A: Working with a Xavi-, Iniesta-or Busquets-type player would be quite an experience.

    Q: What’s the weirdest fan request you have received?

    A: Don’t have one yet.

    Q: If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?

    A: Any place where the passion for football is huge.

    Q: Favourite meal?

    A: Mee soto would be good enough.

But Tampines defender Daniel Bennett, who was part of the Warriors’ title-winning squad in 2014, is not drawing parallels between the two seasons.

He said: “I wouldn’t really compare it. The way we played that time, we were probably not the top team and not expected to win.

“This time, I think we should’ve won it. It’s a little bit disappointing, but going into this last game, we are all very relaxed because there’s no pressure on us.”​

    WHERE TO WATCH

    Tampines v Geylang Singtel TV Ch112/StarHub Ch202

    Hougang v Albirex Ch111

    Lion City v Balestier Ch113

    Tanjong Pagar v Young Lions (not available on cable)

    All matches at 5.20pm. Also available on SPL’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

    PERMUTATION

    With a one-point lead, Albirex will seal their fourth title in five seasons if they win at Hougang, or match Tampines’ result against Geylang. The Stags, seeking their first championship since 2013, cannot afford to lose and must hope the Japanese outfit drop points. Goal difference could also come into play. If Albirex lose by two goals to Hougang and Tampines get a draw, the latter will be crowned champions.

Tampines’ last league crown was in 2013 and Lee’s work there has established the 30-year-old as one of the country’s brightest coaching prospects.

He joined Tampines in 2018 as assistant to Jurgen Raab and succeeded the German last year. In his first season as head coach, Lee won the Singapore Cup and guided Tampines to second in the SPL and their AFC Cup group, narrowly missing out on qualifying for the group stages.

His coaching career began as a teenager when he helped his father Lawrence, also a football coach, during a football camp. He then joined private football academy JSSL Singapore at 18, before becoming its general manager in 2016.

He paid tribute to his various mentors like Weaver, Tampines chairman Desmond Ong, JSSL Singapore founder Harvey Davis and veteran coach Kadir Yahaya, and said the most important lesson he has learnt as a coach has been to let players enjoy their football.

Bennett, 42, can attest to that.

He said: “I know when Gavin started, a lot of people questioned whether he was old enough and a lot of people question whether I’m young enough, but in the end, age doesn’t really matter.

“I think everyone can see that when we play well, we are one of the most attractive teams to watch in the league and that’s down to Gavin and his hard work. He eats, sleeps, breathes football.

“He’s one of the best managers I’ve worked under.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2020, with the headline ‘Lee leans on stags’ fighting spirit’. Print Edition | Subscribe

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