Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic believes there is no reason why they cannot compete with Tampines Rovers and Home United for the 2016 S.League title, as long as they work hard.
Under Kraljevic’s tutelage, Balestier have quietly risen from strugglers to a side capable of challenging the very best in the S.League.
Despite losing several key players, the Tigers mounted a surprise title challenge in 2015 that only faltered towards the final few weeks.
Kraljevic believes that was all down to two simple words – hard work.
“At the beginning of the season, nobody expected us to do that,” he told FourFourTwo. “But what I believe in is hard work and you can see the players are working very hard.
“Football is a simple game. You need luck sometimes, but that comes only when you work hard. I think playing in the AFC Cup also helped us mentally and physically because we played six games against three very strong opponents.”
Kraljevic’s stock has risen rapidly over the last two years, having notched up two successive nominations for the S.League Coach of the Year – winning it in 2014.
There are the also the glowing endorsements from new players Fazli Ayob and Jamil Ali, who have said that the opportunity to work with him was too good to turn down.
However, the 50-year-old was keen to state that there is no magic to his coaching formula.
“Maybe my style of managing is different from other coaches,” he explained. “Every coach has a different style and mine is all about hard work. There’s no real philosophy.
“I’ve learnt a lot about man management with the players and how to approach it. There are 20 boys at the club with different backgrounds and nationalities, so you need to approach every individual in a different way.
“I’m still learning every day; I learn when we do good things and I also learn when we make mistakes. We’re human beings who will make thousands of mistakes, the most important thing is to correct them and move on
“The good thing for players coming here is that they will get more playing time because we have a smaller squad. With the players playing week in, week out, they are bound to improve.”
Kraljevic, a Singapore permanent resident, has not shied away from his ambition to take up the national team coaching post in the future.
“Of course I want that. Football is always about going to the next level,” he quipped. “That’s what I’ve been teaching my boys.
“I told them if any one of them do not have the dream to play for the national team, then you’ve no place here at Balestier. The same applies to coaches or even assistants; we always have to aim to go up to the next level.”
But for now, Kraljevic is concentrating on steering the Tigers’ class of 2016 to an unlikely first S.League triumph.
“We lost some key players, but we’ve got in replacements,” he shared. “For example, we lost Igor (Cerina) but got in (Sheikh Abdul) Hadi at centre back. Attacking-wise, we have Fazli, Jamil and the two strikers upfront (Miroslav Kristic and Robert Pericic).
“I’ve looked at social media and people have been talking about a few clubs, but nobody is looking at us at the moment. But that doesn’t matter in pre-season.
“I’m very confident we can chase for the title again once the season kicks off.”
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Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo