His is a familiar name in the local football scene, having been a player himself when he first graced our shores to don the colours of then Singapore Armed Forces FC in 2000. He went on to captain the side for three seasons and won two S-League titles along the way by the time he left in 2005.
Nenad Bacina, a native of Split, Croatia, left the country and embarked on his coaching career starting as a youth coach with NK Spinut Soccer Clinic in Croatia. It was not until 2009 that he came back to Singapore to helm Woodlands Wellington FC in the S-League.
He came back again from Croatia in 2011 when he received an offer from Hougang United FC and did reasonably well leading the Cheetahs to 8th place in the 2012 S-League season.
It came as no surprise then when Tampines Rovers FC, gunning for continental glory in the AFC Cup in 2013, announced that they had appointed Nenad Bacina to be the man to lead them in their quest.
What came as a surprise though, was when in late May with Tampines Rovers still currently leading the S-League table this season by quite a margin, we all got the news that his services had been terminated. Stags’ fans were miffed at the move. The questions and disbelief soon followed.
Many speculated that the Stags’ failure to advance from the AFC Cup group stage was the reason for his sudden dismissal.
Nenad Bacina sat down with KallangRoar.com just before he left for Croatia and the affable coach was still not short on humour but boy, was he not one to mince his words.
On the S-League
Years of involvement with the S-League and Nenad noticed that one thing have at least remained constant; the lack of a firm marketing campaign for the league and the players.
“The MRT is what I use often here to get around and to go to work like when I was coaching Hougang United last year. People look at me and they don’t know who I am. I am not saying this to be about me but I am just giving an example. Nobody knows the players. Why?”
When Nenad heard of the plans to bring in Marquee players, he got excited and thought that perhaps things were going to look up for the S-League. When then-boss Teo Hock Seng met with him and others for a discussion, he was not short on ideas.
“We had a few meetings to discuss this Marquee players thing and I also wanted to give my suggestion. So I got my friend in Croatia who managed to get Harry Kewell in London. The boss said he could not afford Kewell. His price was 1 million Euros but this price includes everything, you know. It is like a package. They will do advertising, commercials and everything for him. Top clubs in the world and top players do this, like for example, Messi, when they state the salary, the agent will work out with him the percentage for him and for marketing and etc.”
“Players are brand names so they have to sell their name, their brand. When we brought in our Marquee Player, the advertisement was not enough. People did not really know where he is coming from, what he do. When they mentioned Marquee Players here, I thought they were going to do something big but well…”
Apart from merely advertising for Marquee signings, Nenad felt that more could have been done for the local players in his Tampines Rovers squad, especially the players who played for the Singapore National Team and won the AFF Suzuki Cup last year.
“After winning the Suzuki Cup, it was definitely a good time to do all these things, especially with brands like Hyundai. Just recently, about a month before I left Tampines Rovers, we had a meeting and I spoke to the marketing guy. I told him we have Aleksandar Duric, Fahrudin Mustafic, Shahdan Sulaiman, Khairul Amri and Shaiful Esah. Why aren’t we using them to promote the cars. My boss runs an automobile dealership company for brands like Hyundai, Harley Davidson and several others.
Clubs like Manchester United have Chevrolet on board. You think the players like Chevrolet? But they drive the car. The Croatian National team also used to do this. Ford was a sponsor and they gave the Croatian National Team Coach a car and they advertised it.”
“Boss never used Khairul Amri and he is a handsome boy and successful. Just imagine this; put his face alongside a Ferrari with a heading like, maybe, ‘My Dream’ or whatever. The marketing people can come up with good lines. Then there is Harley Davidson. We can use Aleksandar Duric because you know, old school and all. By doing this, maybe we can spur other companies to come on board and get involved. You don’t have to be an expert for this. It is common sense.”
Football, Nenad stressed, is a show business and the players are the biggest assets. He pointed out to the example of the Philippines team that came to play here to a big crowd of their countrymen.
“The other day, I was there to watch the Philippines play here. I looked at the crowd and all the women were screeching and shouting and it was good to see. They pay five dollars for the ticket to see the two Younghusbands, not to see them cross the ball. They don’t care whatever happened. Yet you get paying spectators, a good crowd and with a good crowd, the sponsors will come in!”
Acknowledging that ideas were easy to give, Nenad believed that change must come, somehow. Even if that change had to start from small and from within.
“It is easy to talk, I know but we have to start somewhere. We have to start first to promote ourselves. We respect ourselves first then we expect others to respect us. Right now it looks like we are not respecting ourselves. We say we are not good enough, we cannot do this and we cannot do that. That must stop.
Look at the scene in Malaysia and Indonesia. Are they better than us? Come on. Yet look at the crowd. The players there are recognised. Fahrudin Mustafic was there, in Indonesia. He told me he had to run away from the people. In Singapore, do people know who we are? I was coaching the top club in Singapore but people look at me and they probably think that I am a banker, or something.”
End of Part 1
In part 2 tomorrow: Nenad Bacina talks about his time with Tampines Rovers and Martin Wagner