Eagles chairman Ben Teng.

New Geylang chairman vows to make Eagles soar

Chairman Teng emphasises youth, wants links with the players of old

Two weeks ago, Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League sleeping giants Geylang International announced a revamp of their squad for next season.

The Eagles have swooped to sign nine players boasting caps for Singapore, with many of them aged 25 or below.

Hasrin Jailani, a member of Singapore's Suzuki Cup-winning team of 2004, has been handed the reins.

S.League winners in 1996 and 2001, Geylang were also the most successful club in Singapore before the professional era began in 1996.

But their only piece of silverware in the last decade was the RHB Singapore Cup triumph in 2009.

Under the new management - chairman Ben Teng was announced as the successor to Leong Kong Fann at the end of last season - the Eagles are looking to revive their glory days.

The New Paper sat down with Teng recently as he spoke about his plans for the club.

1 Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came about becoming the chairman of Geylang International?

TENG: Maybe I should start with our (Geylang International management) group, which comprises businessmen and CXO-level individuals who got to know each other through our work in Abu Dhabi.

Most of us are Manchester United fans, and we make trips to Old Trafford together to watch games.

The opportunity to come in (at Geylang) came up around September.

Basically, through informal gatherings, we realised there was a possibility Kok Fann wanted to focus on a new business he's setting up... Then we started to look at it seriously.

All of us want to contribute to Singapore football.

We are staunch believers that if we want to build up Singapore football again, we have to do it through club-level competition.

2 What made you want to take up the challenge? After all, being an S.League chairman can be a thankless task sometimes.

We feel we can bring something to the table and help Singapore football.

Really, I'm just a face for the group, and we all work together to put plans together.

Hopefully, through our connections, we can increase the club's financial strength and bring up the club again.

3 You've assembled a young team packed with local players aged 25 or below. Why did you plump for youngsters?

Our objective is to build a team strong enough to challenge for a title or trophy within three years.

We decided to go with a young squad that will stick together over these three years to build on the traditions and values of Geylang.

Notwithstanding, the youthful composition of the squad belies the experience that many of them have held at international and senior levels.

Sahil (Suhaimi), Shahfiq (Ghani), Safirul (Sulaiman), Gabriel (Quak), Faritz (Hameed), Shariff (Allapitchay), Al-Qaasimy (Rahman), Syazwan (Buhari) and Stanely Ng have all represented Singapore at different levels.

Some have also played for the LionsXII in the Malaysian Super League.

At the same time, we have signed senior players such as Yuki (Ichikawa), Nor Azli (Yusoff) and Isa Halim to provide the experience and leadership on and off the field.

4 Talking about the LionsXII, Geylang have made quite a statement by signing five of their players.

We did not go out to sign the 
LionsXII players with the intention of making a statement.

We signed these players so that we can build a team that can work towards our objectives and who can embody the values of the club.

5 Are you against the practice of offering S.League players 11-month contracts?

Yes. From this month, none of our players will be on 11-month contracts.

Most of our players are on two-year contracts, with a few on one-year contracts.

Even those on one-year contracts will have an option to renew for the second year.

We want to bring a sense of continuity and stability in the club as part of our objective to challenge for a title or trophy within three years.

6 You've appointed Hasrin as head coach and this is his first crack at leading an S.League team. Are there any worries about throwing him in at the deep end?

Everyone of us will have a first crack at something as we journey through life. It is no different for Hasrin.

We received several recommendations and interviewed a few candidates, and a couple had very impressive CVs.

In the end, we decided to go for someone who understood what it meant to be a Geylang player from our glory days.

Hasrin (above) was a member of our last title-winning team in 2001. He knows what it takes to win a title as a player.

We also think it is important to give young local coaches a chance to prove themselves.

In a lot of the national discussions, the focus has been on the development of our players at youth levels.

We should put equal emphasis on giving young local coaches a chance to prove themselves.

Home United showed the way last year with Philippe Aw.

Fandi Ahmad and V Sundramoorthy are also very good examples of local coaches who have proven that the exposure to coaching at S.League clubs has been beneficial in their career development.

7 How important is it to you that the club's past is acknowledged by their present?

We are working on a Club Ambassador programme.

The idea is simple - bring back the Geylang legends to act as our Club Ambassadors.

We have already approached (from top) Samad Allapitchay, Robert Sim, Lionel Lewis, Lim Tong Hai, Fandi Ahmad and Malek Awab among others on the possibility of joining our programme.

In principle, most of them are supportive of the idea.

At the right time, we will announce the details of the programme and their roles

8 I understand you and your committee members have plans to reach out to the community and schools in the Bedok area... Can you share some of these plans, and why they are so important to the club?

We believe that the club are an integral part of the wider community.

We plan to initiate an affiliate programme for schools, National Football League and amateur clubs within our districts.

This allows us to work with them on the football programmes and for us to tap on a wider talent pool of players, coaches and even administrators.

We are also thinking of some community events on matchdays to attract more fans to be part of this exciting journey.

Finally, the club will play a more active role in charitable activities in the community.

9 Lastly, what do you want Geylang under your charge to be known for?

I want Geylang International to be known as a team that play with heart, passion and hunger.

“I want Geylang to be known as a team that play with heart, passion and hunger.”

— Eagles chairman Ben Teng