FourFourTwo's Telling It Like It Is: Alex Weaver
It was fantastic to win the S.League title with the Warriors FC in 2014.
I went there the previous season with a three-year plan that outlined progression to challenge for the S.League title and then the AFC tournaments. We actually won the league early and that was nice.
I had already seen a lot of the Warriors from when I was with Hougang. I saw the dysfunction within the team that was clear to anyone with an eye for team-building. I had a week of observation at the beginning and saw close hand that there was a clear division between the Japanese players, the Croatians and the rest. I papered over the cracks for the rest of the season as best I could and then brought in players later who could help make a team.
It was not just about their skills but how they would fit in within the squad. Kevin McCann, Nico Velez –these players came in and contributed massively to the team spirit we had.
Team-building is overlooked. The culture in Singapore is to look at the surface. So much is for show. If everything looks good on the outside, people don't care about what is underneath. It is vital to get, not just talented people, but the right people.
We proved that in 2014. I would have said that on paper, that looking at the players, you had Home United and Tampines with excellent squads and DPMM with their foreign players. We had the togetherness and spirit. That was the difference.
Signing foreign players is hugely important but you wonder where some teams get them from – just a CV and YouTube clips? It is vital to get a good core of players together.
But there were issues before the end of the title season. In September or October 2014, we were chasing Brunei and I was already trying to talk to the management about the following season. It is the way I work. I like to prepare and know early. I was asking them about my contract as they give out these ridiculous 12-month contracts with no security or ability to plan with confidence.
Players needed to know if I will stay, not because it is Alex Weaver, but if they know who the head coach is then they know more about their own plans. I have my targets of players I want to keep and ones I want to sign.
Trying to get a response from the management was difficult. Then it came to an AGM. I had my proposed squad together. I was trying to get a budget and eventually I got a figure and I presented to the management about my proposed squad and salaries after talking to some players.
The morning after I got a message saying they realised they couldn't do the budget they told me. I had already spent a week talking to players, telling them what we could offer and I had to go back a week later and tell them we couldn't do it. That is not business sense, never mind football sense, and we ended up losing players.
Hassan Sunny I knew about and was prepared for as I knew he wanted to go overseas, but it was a shame to start of by losing three of our defensive players. That communicated things to the rest of the squad.
Then we had the AFC Cup. Even before that, I knew we were going to have the same budget but we were playing more games, had more travel and we could not improve the squad.
So I knew I had to make choices and I’d already decided all of our effort should be focused on the league. The AFC Cup was nice but I knew we were not going to challenge there. I decided to keep all five foreign players. In the AFC Cup, you can play only three non-Asian players so it means that two of our foreign players missed out. I made the choice knowing that we couldn't challenge for the AFC Cup.
I got criticised for that but people didn't understand the situation. We had something that we had worked on in the league and I didn't want to break that up. We prepared for the season and we started well as it happens. After 11 games, we had four more points in 2015 than we had in 2014. That was even though we had played 19 games in total, two in the Asian Champions League and six in the AFC Cup. We had travelled something like 22,000 miles during that time.
I got criticised for that but people didn't understand the situation.
So we were going well, but the break for the SEA Games just ruined the season.
We had a month off before the League Cup started. The foreign players were asking to go home. That is tricky. If you say no and keep them then you can control their training environment, but you lose them because you have crap training sessions as players are not motivated as there are no games. Nothing motivates players more than games.
Or, you let them go and make them happy but run the risk of them doing whatever they want to do at home. I decided to make them happy for a couple of weeks and bring them back and we prepare them again, like a mini pre-season. They came back and Tom Beattie had an injury as did Kevin McGann after the Balestier League Cup game.
The sessions that we had without them weren't great as there were less players and then we lost all of the momentum with the injuries and picked up some bad results. We lost at home to the Young Lions.
So we lost our momentum and then Nico comes asking if he could be released to go to the Indian Super League. I am in a situation where if I am in Thailand or in the English lower leagues where money is not an issue I would have said no, that he must honour his contract because he is needed.
But in Singapore it is different. He was offered a huge amount of money to play in India so I don't think I could have said no.
He could buy a house in Argentina for that. I told him that we would not stand in his way and recommended that the club should let him go even though it will hurt the team. I told the players that I would do the same thing for them. They were disappointed as they knew we would be weakened but they understood. We knew that we would not win the league again.
It was actually a good opportunity for me to coach the team in a different formation and system. We modelled the system on the Juventus approach with a four-player diamond and two strikers. It was different from our usual 4-3-3. The players took it on board really well, but we just didn't have the goal threat. They tried but it was too late in the season to be changing things.
In the 2014 season, I took over a team second from bottom and took them to seventh. The season after we won the league but I think because I criticised the referee in one of our final games and said things in the media, the coach of the year was given to Marko [Kraljevic of Balestier Khalsa], who finished sixth and won the cup.
All the way throughout my time at the Warriors, I didn't blindly agree with everything the management wanted. The culture is to have that control. They feel they have to show they are in control irrespective of the substance of their decisions. I felt there was a lack of trust in the head coach.
I think in 2015, they used the bad results as an excuse to get rid of me. In October the chairman asked me to meet him and he said they were changing coach in preparation for the following season. In terms of the contract, they were good and honoured it.
But it was disappointing that they chose to keep people who were not best for the club but part of their establishment over someone who had come on and shown competence. Because of the inability of the club to retain players and a small blip, they went for a change.
They never thought “we need to stick with this guy and give a little support and backing”. Instead, they just changed. The results since are there for everyone to see.