FourFourTwo's Telling it like it is: R. Sasikumar

Former defender R. Sasikumar writes candidly about his concerns for Singapore's looming Suzuki Cup campaign, his brief attempts at a coaching career, plus what he perceives as a lack of pride in the Lions' jersey...

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Going into the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup, every match is important. Good results can give a bit of confidence to the fans and the country while the players are fighting for a place in the squad and the first team.

It is important to prepare properly and be ready. To be honest, if I was the coach I wouldn't have played Malaysia. I would have aimed to play bigger and stronger opponents.

Singapore have a couple of really good players and a lot of below-average players. It is quite obvious when you watch the team

You need to know your strengths and weaknesses so you can work on them. But there have been a lot of restrictions with other teams being available. It is just one of those things.

The Suzuki Cup is going to be very tough. Singapore have a couple of really good players and there are a lot of below-average players.

It is quite obvious when you watch the team – you can see who they are.

You can't blame the coach. It has been happening for a few years and the talent is not coming through like it once did.

If we can get out of the group stage then we have done really well. Indonesia is touch and go. It could be our game but you never know which Indonesia will turn up. The Philippines are rock solid these days and Thailand are Thailand.

But I really think the Suzuki Cup has caused the drop in Southeast Asian football. One problem started with the Tiger Cup. I won it and so can talk about this. People in Southeast Asia tend to think it is the be-all and end-all. We see it like the World Cup, but it is not that at all.

Sasi remains heavily involved in Singapore football. Photo: Red Card

Look at the other countries – most of them have dropped in the rankings except Vietnam. The Philippines have climbed too but they were at rock bottom.

Everyone else has been sliding down since it became ‘our’ World Cup and it has become a benchmark. ‘We win this and everything is good’ – that is the sentiment.

We should look at how many qualify for the Asian Cup and this tells you everything. It is not even a FIFA ranking event.

You can still have it. Competitions are great. We can improve standards, but it can't be the be-all and end-all. Too many Football Associations hide behind success in the Suzuki Cup and being kings of Southeast Asia.

Thailand are the progressive ones. They know they have to win it, but they are looking at World Cup qualifiers and the Asian Cup.

They have progressed and the domestic game is solid now. There still needs to be improvement, but they are heading in the right direction, laying foundations.

I have been talking about Singapore until I am blue in the face. Here it is only top down; the top decides where to go and the rest of us don't have much say. That has been the perennial problem.

The passion is there. Passion is infectious and so is negativity. Singapore loves football, just look at the EPL shirts everywhere and the money we pay for the rights.

When it comes to a lack of support for local football, however, you can't blame the people as we haven't got a product to be proud of.

These days you have three good games and you get called up for the national team. The exclusive club is no longer exclusive

I don't want to be one of those ex-pros who says ‘we did it better’ and 'this is foolish', but we played for a different reason then.

We just wanted to play in the national team and this was our boyhood dream. We grew up with that.

These days, I feel, you have three good games and you get called up for the national team and then the exclusive club is no longer exclusive.

Just three games and then the newspapers are talking and then people demand you are given a shot.

I had to wait for years. I was in the squad but had to wait to start. Players don't take it as seriously as they don't see the pride in playing for the country.

They do not see it as the same honour and there are so many distractions – insecurity in the S.League, distractions about their future and worries about getting injured when playing for the national team and what happens with their club.

Continued next page with his career highlight and thoughts on reviving the national team