By: Suresh Nair
KRISHNA Ramachandran (above, left) is a charismatic football leader, who always believes in punching above his weight and he’s distinctly leading Tampines Rovers to refreshing new heights.
Like Jose Mourinho, he has never shied away from the fact the Stags are chasing every piece of silverware on offer. And much as it has been disappointing to let the League Cup out of their grasp, Krishna is pushing his lads for the other three trophies – the S.League, the Singapore Cup and the AFC Cup.
More importantly, he’s brought the famous five-time S-League champions back on their feet, off the field, after being dogged, in recent months, by headlines about cash-flow problems, rumours of players leaving and whispers of wages going unpaid in the last few months.
Tampines are on the right bounce. They’ve boldly turned the corner after securing $850,000 in cash sponsorship, and he says the Stags (Tampines’ nickname) have inked a commercial deal that could net them a seven-figure sum each season, starting next year.
“We can now focus fully on football without all the negative energy. The team is doing well, and for this season we’re definitely out of the woods (financially). We’ve also started planning for next season, starting with the commercial partnership,” says Krishna, a top-ranked lawyer, who is Managing Director of Duane Morris & Selvam LLP in Singapore and of Selvam & Partners LLC in Myanmar. He is head of the Corporate Finance and Investment and Private Client Practice Groups.
Indeed, the “product” counts and the sponsors were primarily sold on Tampines’ philosophy, which is to “impact positively the football community and the wider community, particularly the socially underprivileged or disenfranchised”, and want to work with the club to make this vision a reality.
The commercial tie-up is with innovation venture company Renew Group, which opened a 10,000 sq ft production plant here in December. The company plans to launch several products in Singapore and the region over the next few months, and the deal will see Tampines receive a cut from its sales.
Thinking out-of-the-cap has been one of the best virtues of Krishna, who took over the reins of the club from long-time chairman Teo Hock Seng last November. His signing of former Liverpool and Arsenal star Jermaine Pennant has been hailed as one of the most dramatic coups of the 21-year-old S-League.
“The sponsorship trail is a tough one even in the best of times, particularly for local football, and we needed to be innovative. I’m glad that the ‘think out of the cap’ approach has worked,” he says.
FAS clubs, particularly those playing the S-League, typically rely on subsidies from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), jackpot-room earnings, sponsors as well as handouts from individual backers – like club chairmen – to get by. This model, Krishna says, stands out as unsustainable in the long run. He was also against the idea of relying on jackpot machines, which he called a “social ill”.
In the throes of learning the ropes, since taking over the top management, Krishna adds: “I stepped into a clubhouse for the first time and saw first-hand how clinical (the operations were) to make money from the people who were coming in daily, many of them pensioners.
“Our conscience was pricked. Yes, there’s money to be made, but at what cost? So we dropped that. It was difficult but I’m glad we found a brand new sponsorship model.”
In April, Krishna launched a football awards ceremony – the Pentagon Awards – which was graced by Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim and which helped raise $100,000 for Beyond Social Services, an organisation that works with disadvantaged youth.
Reflecting on the troubled period, he says: “When we had cash-flow issues, I could have taken the easy way out and moved on but the philosophy of the club has pulled (us) through and we are ever the stronger for that. Now we’ve created a model that is not reliant on one person and which could be sustainable for years to come.”
After 19 matches in the S-League, Rovers are only four points short of Albirex Niigata. Punching higher than their weight has always been one of Krishna’s longer-term regional goals. The Stags now rank as the first local club to make the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Cup, Asia’s second-tier club competition, quarter-finals since 2008.
And he looks forward to the quarter-final bout against India’s I-League champions Bengaluru FC. First-leg is at the Kanteerava Stadium September 14 followed by the return-leg at Jalan Besar Stadium a week later.
Youth development has been one of his most passionate personal targets. And he intends to put his money into heartland sporting improvements. He adds: “We’re actively embracing youth players. Five Prime League players have already been prominently featured and likely to play an important part next season.”
Embarking on an active transitioning programme for senior players of Tampines Rovers, so that they get to play and yet have a stab at a second career, he says: “This will allow them to have the courage to embark on their second careers without fearing drowning in the deep end.”
For his second season as Chairman in 2017, Krishna intends to carry out more initiatives that will break the “frog in the well” syndrome.
“I’m not standing for the upcoming FAS general elections but I’m excited to work closely with the new elected FAS management because I know they will want to be active in transforming football. I will support them,” he assures.
Top of this charismatic football leader’s head is to punch above his weight and to boldly lead the Stags to refreshing new heights.
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist, who was one of the founding members of the revamped Tampines Rovers when the S-League first started in 1996.
Republished with permission from Sports247.