Tampines first-team coach Lee earns respect despite being younger than some players
He's younger than six of his players, but Lee has respect of Tampines' squad
At the age of 28, his peers are at the prime of their playing careers, but Gavin Lee is already masterminding Tampines Rovers' bright start to the season.
The Stags' first-team coach, who is mentored by Kadir Yahaya, led them to a resounding 5-1 win against Hougang United in their Singapore Premier League opener on Sunday.
|TAMPINES ROVERS||HOME UNITED|
Last week, they had also beaten Yangon United 3-1 in an AFC Cup Group F match.
Despite lacking playing credentials - the former national youth footballer played for Nanyang Technological University and amateur sides in the National Football League - Lee commands his players' respect by encouraging them to test him as a coach.
Lee, who is younger than six of his players, said: "With players like Khairul Amri, Yasir Hanapi and Daniel Bennett who are national players with over 20 years of football references in their head, the biggest challenge would be getting them to buy into my beliefs.
"So, I want them to question me. If I can't explain myself, then it means I don't know my material well enough."
While preaching caution, Bennett, Tampines' oldest player at 41, is also encouraged by their promising start.
Said Bennett: " I haven't seen this playing style in Tampines and everyone here is in good spirits.
"Lee is very young and doesn't have much playing experience, so his coaching ability is remarkable. However, it has been only two games and there's still a long way to go."
Today, Lee's coaching credentials will come under a severe test when they meet fellow title challengers Home United, who are led by Saswadimata Dasuki, 49.
Lee acknowledged that his coaching methods differ from that of other coaches due to his young age.
"My interactions with them are different than how V. Sundram Moorthy or Fandi Ahmad would do, because they are older and have more experience," said Lee.
"It would be awkward if I talk to my players as a senior. Instead, I talk to them as friend. They are very respectful and know where the coach-player line is."
Lee also earns the respect of his colleagues. Tampines general manager Leonard Koh said he is "no-nonsense" when it comes to football, while assistant coach Fahrudin Mustafic added that Lee is "always thinking, analysing and improving".
Lee might be young for an SPL coach, but he is no newbie in this line, having started coaching at the age of 16 when he helped his father Lawrence during a football camp at Broadrick Secondary School.
DAD HIS MENTOR
Calling himself a born-and-bred Tampines boy, he attributed his affinity for coaching to his dad.
Lawrence, who coaches Victoria Junior College's girls' team and Victoria School's boys' team, had also formerly helmed the Tampines Under-12 side and was director of coaching at JSSL Arsenal Soccer School.
"My dad must have planted the seed in me," said Lee.
"Growing up, I always saw how passionate he was as a coach which is probably why I'm serious about coaching."
He joined the JSSL team at 18 and started off as a "cone guy" before working his way up to become general manager in 2016.
He also attributes his development to his mentor, Alex Weaver, coach of 2014 S-League champions Warriors FC. The Englishman opened doors for him and personally honed his coaching skills.
Through Weaver's connections and JSSL's partnership with Fulham, Lee travelled extensively to learn his craft, spending weeks with teams like Crewe Alexandra and Cardiff City's Under-21 team.
Outside of coaching, one would find Lee nose-deep in a book.
Known as the "nerd" by his colleagues, he enjoys reading books like The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh and The Barcelona Legacy by Jonathan Wilson.
Lee conceded that in pursuit of improving himself as a football coach, he sacrificed most of his social time.
He said, jokingly: "My parents used to nag at me to get a girlfriend, but they've given up now.
"All my players have girlfriends, maybe they should coach me on how to get one."
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