By: Suresh Nair
HOME sweet home and award-winning coach Jita Singh is returning to home pastures to “contribute to Singapore football in one way or another”.
The former national football coach is leaving his job as Academy Director at Pahang-based Frenz United Football Academy (FUFA), an ambitious centre founded by a Singaporean that announced it is ceasing to operations by the end of this year.
“Yes, I’m back to home ground and I intend to contribute to Singapore football in one way or another,” says the 68-year-old Jita. “I think I’m the only one from the class of ’68 who is still active, so I would like to give back to Singapore football.”
Jita played for the Lions for five years (1969–1973) after which he was motivated to become the first Sikh national coach from 1979 to 1984. He was the youngest national team coach when he led Singapore at age 29 and in his first assignment, he guided the Lions to victory in the 1980 Malaysia Cup, as well as two South-east Asian (SEA) Games silver medals (1983 and 1989).
Former FAS Chairman Nadesan Ganesan hailed Jita as the “Man with the Midas touch”.The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) decorated him with the “Coach of the Year” award in 1981, his highest national decoration to date.
Prior to taking up the Malaysian appointment, he was Senior Head of Game Development at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS). He joined the FAS in 2007 as Head of Grassroots Development and spent the next seven years devoting his time and efforts to reform and enhance the youth development structure in Singapore.
Apart from youth development, he was also involved in other aspects of Singapore football: overseeing women’s football, coaching and development, the National Football Academy, as well as club and junior centres of excellence.
His next move?
Jita remains tight-lipped about his options in football management and coaching but it is understood a number of S-League and National Football League (NFL) clubs are weighing their options to get the decorated coach.
“I’m keeping my options open, but I hope to be able to contribute to Singapore football in one way or another with my experience and knowledge.”
FUFA was launched in 2012 by Singaporean businessman Rashid Maidin and counted former Lions Hafizat Jauharmi and Effendy Sabtu among its academy coaches. Located on 20,200 sqm of land in Janda Baik, a village town in Pahang, Malaysia’s first professional football academy provided free education, football training, lodging, meals and boots to more than 50 aspiring players aged as young as 12 from Malaysia, Indonesia and countries around the region.
Those who graduated turned professional and joined the Frenz United Football Club, an Under-19 side that was set to represent Malaysia in the Asean Super League (ASL), which may start next year, if given green light by FIFA (the world football controlling body).
Frenz also drew international headlines in hosting international youth tournaments, drawing participation from age-group sides from the English Premier League, La Liga and South American Leagues.
News of Jita’s return only emerged when Mr Maidin released a statement on the Frenz United Facebook page that said the academy will be “taking a break” by the end of this year, adding that “it does not make sense to continue in the current ecosystem”.
Mr Maidin, an executive chairman of a company that dabbles in coal mining, shipping, hospitality and timber with business interests in Hong Kong, Indonesia and the Middle East, said: “After five years of Frenz United Football Academy in operation, FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) still does not have a youth league for players Under 15 and Under 17.
“NFDP (Malaysia’s National Football Development Programme) allowed us to join their tournament this year but unfortunately, it is a very badly managed third tier tournament and a waste of time for professional academies in terms of investment. It is pointless to have an academy when you don’t have a proper local youth league for the players in the country.”
Jita, over the weekend from his Ah Hood Road apartment, declined to comment on the FUFC decision.
“I respect Mr Maidin’s comments and I may work with him at an unconfirmed future date,” he says.
For the immediate moment, Jita’s on a home-sweet-home euphoria, reunited with wife and family and truly fired up, in his endearing words, to “contribute to Singapore football in one way or another”.
Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who counts on Jita Singh as his personal friend over three decades.
Republished with permission from Sports 247.