Kadir quietly breathes new life into U-23s’ SEA Games quest
In an era of flashy haircuts, multi-coloured boots and jerseys hanging loosely over shorts, Kadir Yahaya harks back to the old school - but, it seems, only in attitude.
His first training session yesterday after joining Aide Iskandar's coaching staff at the Courts Young Lions - effectively the national Under-23 side preparing for the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games here in June - saw modern high-intensity exercises that combined the fitness element with skill work.
And it seemed to breathe new life into a team hoping to win the Republic's first football gold medal at the SEA Games.
After a string of poor results, many local fans have hit out at the team and coach Aide, and few now believe the U-23s can even reach the final.
Amid shouts of encouragement and crunching tackles flying in around him at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, the 46-year-old former Singapore international hardly moved, training jersey tucked neatly into track pants, hands clasped behind his back - watching.
Speaking to The New Paper later, he believes that even in the short space of eight weeks to the start of the tournament - the football draw for the Games will take place on April 14, and the opening game is pencilled for May 29 - the negativity surrounding the team and their quest for gold can be turned on its head.
"I saw the (8-1 loss to) Japan U-23s, and I thought, with all the training tours and preparation put in, things can't be that bad," Kadir said, after the 90-minute session.
The U-23s have travelled to Turkey twice in the last year and a half, as well as to Austria, but have yet to win a game in 2015, even losing 3-1 to traditional minnows Cambodia on home soil.
"The public and the media seem to have lost confidence in the gold-medal target and, on social media, people are on the offensive, and there are write-ups about a loss of pride and motivation among the players."
"But I've been in this position before the start of the Youth Olympic Games (in 2010), and I believe the boys can bounce back," added the no-nonsense coach, who propelled the then-national U-15 side to a bronze medal and into the hearts of Singaporeans.
The former LionsXII assistant coach asserts that a win on the pitch will kick-start the change but, first, there must be an attitude adjustment among the players.
"I've seen training and I've spoken to Aide, and it comes down to fundamentals - the small things - players are not wearing the right socks to training, throwing bottles of water everywhere," said Kadir, pointing to the virtues of discipline and the sense of duty.
"We need to cut out these things because changes to these small details outside, can lead to a change on the pitch."
"I'm a straight talker, but I'm not here to make drastic changes to formation or take the team back to ground zero - in the end, Aide makes the call on these things.
"But I'm here to add value, with what I know about dealing with youth footballers."
Among football circles, Kadir is rated as one of the country's brightest local coaches.
He revealed that Aide's calls for him to help started last year, and he finally decided to aid the national cause, with blessings from his employers St Joseph's Institution.
"For me, once you put on a Singapore jersey, you must sweat and bleed," said Kadir, whose presence seemed to bring a spark to an overcast Jalan Besar last night.
Several players walked over to shake his hand when training ended, even when he said such pleasantries were unnecessary.
Perhaps they would have noticed that this man, hair simply trimmed and jersey still firmly tucked in, walked around the pitch to pick up balls, bibs, cones and even water bottles that were cast aside once training was over.