Little-known Firdaus to coach Thai club Chainat
Unheralded Singaporean Firdaus joins TPL's Chainat as first-team coach
It was at Pasir Ris where his love for the sport first came to life.
Far away from the bright lights of professional football, it was fanned by library books and a video game, and on bumpy public pitches where the sport - unadulterated - was played with sticks and strings as goal posts.
Firdaus Kassim preferred the unconventional path, and it also applies to his coaching career.
With an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) B coaching badge in hand, he worked his way through the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) coaching network in the Junior Centres of Excellence (JCOE) programme and the National Football Academy (NFA).
The 28-year-old has now leapt ahead of several more prominent names, joining Chainat FC in the Thai Premier League (TPL).
Firdaus, a former Hougang United Under-18 coach, has signed a one-year contract as first-team coach of Chainat, a club based some two hours north of Bangkok.
Although former Singapore assistant coach Robert Lim is now technical director at Chiang Mai FC, Firdaus is believed to be the first Singaporean to hold such a role in Thailand.
P N Sivaji (Myanmar), Vincent Subramaniam (India), Mike Wong (Brunei) as well as Fandi Ahmad and V Sundramoorthy are other notable coaches who have flown Singapore's flag abroad.
And all this went into motion when Firdaus was taking his AFC "A" badge in Thailand two months ago in a course conducted by Lim, who is also an AFC instructor.
"I signed up for the course and paid for it myself, because I was under the impression that an S.League club were going to sign me for the 2016 season," he told The New Paper before he departed for Thailand on Jan 2.
"While I was doing the course, I found out that I wasn't getting that contract.
"Of course I was completely lost when I found out, but the offer from Chainat came just a few hours later that day.
"I was told that the club wanted me to come in as a first-team coach, and of course I was shocked to see the kind of trust they were willing to put in me," added Firdaus, who revealed that he also received offers from other Thai clubs, along with a Malaysian third-tier side.
Chainat finished 12th in the 18-team TPL last year, two spots behind Army United, where Singapore international goalkeeper Hassan Sunny is plying his trade.
Behind Chainat manager Issara Sritaro and his assistant, Firdaus is the third most senior technical official at the club.
Over and above coaching responsibilities, he will be in charge of analysing both Chainat and the opposition, and play a key role in player recruitment.
NEW TPL SEASON
The 2016 TPL season is about a month away. With Chainat reportedly pursuing a player from Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon, Firdaus has gone from fretting over his team in the computer simulation game, Football Manager, to being directly involved in the possible signing of big-name players.
"One of Chainat's coaches was at the course with me, and I guess he was impressed by the reports and analyses of games that I did during the course, and recommended me," he said.
"I submitted some other reports (of matches in Asean) I did in my free time, but doing analysis isn't new to me, I've been doing it since I was 14," added Firdaus, who gave up on a Mathematics degree course at SIM University as well as a tuition-centre business to focus on his first love, football.
"I understand that I'm young, I don't have much of a playing background, or have any connections in Singapore football, but I do have tons of notes that I made when I was younger," he said, smiling as he recounted coaching a 12-year-old Faris Ramli.
"I definitely can't claim any credit for the player that Faris is today, he was already a great talent when he was 12."
Speaking to TNP again a week after his arrival in Thailand, Firdaus revealed how he has been blown away by the facilities and sports science know-how at Chainat.
The club also boast a full-time chef to ensure players are on a nutrition programme worthy of the sport's elite.
"I'm very impressed with what I've seen so far. Chainat is a small town, not very modernised, but the club is a completely different world," said Firdaus, who still dreams of one day being involved in Singapore's national coaching set-up.
"The target is of course to come back and coach and do something for Singapore football. But in my role here, I am keeping an eye on the Singapore market (and maybe to bring) outstanding players here," he added.
"I am sure the experience at Chainat will be a steep learning curve for me, with a lot of bumps and bruises.
"Ultimately, Singapore is my home and I would love nothing more than to help change the football landscape."
THAI PREMIER LEAGUE
The Thai Premier League (TPL) was formed in 1996, the same year Singapore embarked on its own professional football league.
While the S.League was more successful than the TPL in its initial years, with several Thai internationals plying their trade in Singapore, the TPL has jumped far ahead since.
In 2003, BEC Tero were losing finalists in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL), with several other teams like Bangkok Glass, Buriram United and Chonburi also flying the flag for the Kingdom.
Warriors FC (then known as SAFFC) remain Singapore's best performing team in the ACL, dropping out in the opening group stage in 2010 with a win-draw-loss record of 1-4-1.
With big sponsors like Toyota, Coca-Cola and Chang Beer, Thai clubs now boast training facilities - with up to six training fields, gyms, boarding facilities and recovery areas - that Singapore clubs can only dream of.
Thailand's local clubs have invested seriously in youth development, a move that has seen its national youth teams feature prominently, even beyond South-east Asia.
In 2014, the Thai Under-23 side finished fourth at the Asian Games.
Its senior national team are now the top-ranked Asean nation, coming in at 121st. Singapore are the fourth-best in the region, ranked 148th, behind the Philippines (135) and Vietnam (146).
Name: Firdaus Kassim
Current club: Chainat FC
Previous coaching experience (selected):
FAS Junior Centre of Excellence
National Football Academy U-14 assistant coach
Hougang United U-18 coach
Favourite clubs: Geylang International, Liverpool
Favourite local player: I don't have a favourite, but I admire Safuwan Baharudin (PDRM FA). He's very versatile and very seldom disappoints.
Biggest coaching influences: No one in particular. I admire coaches who don't have a playing background, like Jose Mourinho, Andres Villas-Boas, and Rafa Benitez. I can also relate to Brendan Rodgers, who spent 10 years in youth football, allowing him to experiment with new ideas without fear of losing his job.
It's something I've tried to do during my time as a youth coach.
Coaching dreams: I would love to contribute to local football in a capacity where I can give significant input. Working in the national set-up would be the long-term goal, but at the moment, I think the youth set-up in Singapore needs a lot of fixing, so that's where I'm looking to contribute.