New Hougang coach Balagumaran targets revival in 2016
Coach Balagumaran wants a strong finish as he works on Hougang's revival in 2016
He first made his name as a youth coach with a knack for unearthing talent like Noh Alam Shah and Fareez Farhan.
Anyone who came under his wing very quickly realised that fitness was a fundamental requirement.
It came as no surprise then, when newly-appointed Hougang United coach K Balagumaran told The New Paper that he intends to build a younger team who can last the distance.
On Monday, the Cheetahs announced that the 51-year-old had taken over the helm from Salim Moin and his first game will be an S.League clash with Harimau Muda tomorrow at Hougang Stadium.
Balagumaran was his assistant when V Sundramoorthy guided the LionsXII to the 2013 Malaysian Super League title and followed the former Singapore star to Malaysian side Negeri Sembilan for the next two seasons.
For a club who set out to finish in the top three in this year's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, the season has gone pear-shaped for Hougang, who are now bottom of the 10-team competition with only 20 points from 24 games, three behind ninth-placed Geylang International.
Hougang are banking on Balagumuran to build a better future, and he wants to start by finishing off this season strongly.
"We want to improve on our position. We definitely don't want to finish last. I believe nobody associated with this club wants to be last and that should be motivation enough to get more points on the board," he said.
"Play for pride, play for next season's contract, play to attract better offers, there are many reasons for the players to give their all and I believe we can do it.
"With the players we have, I feel I have inherited a good team and I'm confident we can get positive results for the rest of the season, starting with the Harimau Muda match."
This will be Balagumaran's second stint as head coach of an S.League club, after he led Gombak United to ninth spot as well as third in the 2012 Singapore Cup.
Former national marksman Noh Alam Shah credits Balagumaran for starting his career, and there are many players at Hougang who have already benefited from his tutelage.
"I have worked with quite a few of the players here before, like Muhaymin (Salim), Fareez (Farhan), Faiz (Salleh), Delwinder (Singh) and our captain Nurhilmi (Jasni)," said the new coach.
"We have to improve our fitness for next season.
"In the Hougang games I have watched, I felt the fitness levels were not up to the mark, especially among the youngsters.
"I want to introduce more youngsters into the squad.
"But this is not to say older players don't have a part to play. We will find a good balance between youth and experience."
Balagumaran revealed that one reason he decided to return to Singapore - Negeri were keen to retain his services for next season - was his 10-year-old daughter.
He said: "We would see each other just once a week or once a fortnight during the M-League season. She is still young and we miss each other a lot, and I want to be here for her.
"There are definitely lessons to be learnt from coaching in Malaysia. Clubs there have the money but not the youth development infrastructure.
"They are more interested in quick-fix solutions by signing former internationals and imports.
"But, increasingly, they are starting to place more emphasis on youth development.
"On the plus side, the intensity of the game, the atmosphere and fan support are impressive. But I'm sure with the support of the management, players and fans, we can also build something good at Hougang United."
Play for pride, play for next season’s contract, play to attract better offers, there are many reasons for the players to give their all and I believe we can do it.
— New Hougang United coach K Balagumaran