After tough start, Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic is enjoying sweet taste of success
"Of course, I’m happy to have a chance of winning the Coach of the Year award. But, for me, the big prize has already been won in the Singapore Cup."
- Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic (above)
As far as debut seasons go, coach Marko Kraljevic surely has one to remember.
No one expected much from Balestier Khalsa this season.
They lost star striker Qiu Li and Nigerian defender Obadin Aikhena at the end of the previous campaign.
Then came the shocking news last November that coach Darren Stewart had also left, despite leading the side to fourth place and winning the club's first trophy - the StarHub League Cup.
Yet, Kraljevic defied the odds in his first crack at being an S.League head coach.
After a slow start, he guided the Tigers to a fantastic surge up the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League table, eventually securing a top-six finish.
But he pulled off an even more amazing achievement on Friday night, when he masterminded Balestier's first Singapore Cup title by beating Home United 3-1 in the final.
The Germany-born Croat's fine work didn't go unnoticed.
He is one of three men nominated for the RHB Coach of the Year award, along with Warriors FC's Alex Weaver and Brunei DPMM FC's Steve Kean.
Although Kraljevic can now look back at a satisfying campaign, he had to overcome a difficult start at the Toa Payoh Stadium.
"Of course, this nomination is something to be very happy about," he said.
"It's an achievement to be able to say such a thing in my first year as an S.League coach.
"I will not hide away from the fact that we found ourselves in some rough seas at the beginning but, in the end, we were swimming in calm waters.
"People must understand that when a coach first takes over, he needs time to understand his players and vice versa.
"We also had a lot of injuries to key players that eventually eased up.
"The players always play a big part and once we had our full team back, we were able to start playing to our best and deliver the results.
"Overall, I think we've done a great job."
Ambition is certainly something the 49-year-old does not lack.
Right after Friday's triumph, he said that his players must set higher targets for themselves.
He also declared, half in jest, that he is eyeing the Singapore national team job.
And when asked what's the key to his success, Kraljevic was unequivocal in his reply.
"Hard work," he said. "I just believe in hard work.
"As long as you work hard, you can say you have done your best, even if things don't go your way.
"Thankfully, for Balestier, our hard work paid off in the end.
"Of course, I'm happy to have a chance of winning the Coach of the Year award.
"But, for me, the big prize has already been won in the Singapore Cup."* The writer is a freelancer.