No longer a rookie, Aw eyes fresh start at Hougang
Over the last two decades or so, Phillipe Aw has been synonymous with Home United, having played for the club for four seasons from 1999 to 2002, before slowly progressing through the coaching ranks — starting as a youth coach in 2007 before eventually being appointed as head coach in early 2015.
It was the dream job for the 39-year-old, who had led the club's under-21 side to the 2014 Prime League title without losing a single game that season but did not have any prior experience of coaching at the S.League level.
While results did not always go his way during his time in the Protectors’ hot seat, he managed to inculcate an attractive brand of football on the pitch and was never afraid to give the youngsters opportunities to feature in the first team.
So, it came as a major surprise to the local football fraternity when the club announced his re-designation to Head of Youth Development and Performance Management via a Facebook post last July.
It was not that much of a surprise for the man himself though, as he had had to deal with off-the-field issues from day one.
While Aw stopped short of mentioning names, it is believed that the technical team consisting of technical director Adlane Messelem, assistant technical director Aidil Sharin and performance consultant Steve Vilmiaire tried to meddle in his training methods.
The French duo of Masselem and Vilmiaire have since left the club to join Malaysia Premier League outfit Sabah FA as their sporting director and head coach respectively, while Aidil took over from Aw for the remainder of the 2016 season and will continue to do so in 2017.
“Well, in a way I could sense it coming,” he opened up to FourFourTwo. “There was interference in terms of training methods from various sources within the club; for instance, the management gets reports from them which I don’t get to see. It was there in 2015, but things turned really bad in 2016.
As a coach, I have my principles; as a person, I have my values. I cannot accept them being compromised
“As a coach, I have my principles; as a person, I have my values. I cannot accept them being compromised, so that’s where the differences came about and the club made their decision.
“I was notified through a meeting with the management to inform me about my re-designation and I’m not a person who likes confrontations; if a decision is made, then it’s made and I will accept it."
WHEN HOUGANG COME CALLING
Having spent 18 years in a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)-linked organisation (he was a police officer from 2003 to 2006) and the last decade residing in the Bishan area, Aw had never contemplated leaving Home.
“I never thought of leaving Home United,” he said. “When I was with the club, I was approached a few times by others but I never ever met them to discuss anything; I simply said no. To me, it was always a case of ‘if Home wants me, I will stay’.”
However, that was before Aw was relieved of his first-team coaching duties and he admitted he was left rather disillusioned by the state of affairs at Bishan Stadium.
His opportunity came when Hougang United approached him and after a few meetings with the Cheetahs’ management, Aw was officially invited to join the club as head coach in January 2017.
“I received a call from (Hougang chairman) Bill (Ng); I met up with him and the management, but it wasn’t a process where I met them and simply say yes,” he revealed. “It took us a while to confirm and agree on things, but I’m glad that everything was eventually agreed upon.”
Apart from being impressed by the club’s ambitions, a desire to further his coaching horizons played a key role in his decision-making.
“It’s exciting for me because since I graduated from school and joined Home in 1998, I’ve not stepped out from a MHA-linked organisation,” said Aw. “I chose to step out and seek a new challenge because I’m still very young as a coach.
I want to have a challenge in my life; I want to step out of my comfort zone, try and achieve more things, gather more experience because it's going to help me become a better coach
“I want to have a challenge in my life; I want to step out of my comfort zone, try and achieve more things, gather more experience because it's going to help me become a better coach.
“I liked what the management spoke to me about; they have great ambitions in trying to change the football landscape in Singapore. They actually changed the dugouts, renovated the changing room… things like that. It’s good to know a local club is doing this and I would like to think that I can play a part in their ambitions.”
Looking back, the incidents that occurred towards the end of his Home career left a bitter taste in Aw’s mouth, but he was keen to move on from this chapter in his life and asserted that he would do so knowing he gave Home nothing but his best.
“I think I’ve done pretty fine as a ‘rookie’ coach,” he reflected. “What the club (Home) wanted is for their youth players to come through and I had seriously done that; half of the 2016 team was from the Home youth system.
“I also gave young players like Lionel Tan, (Yeo) Hai Ngee and (Toh Kian) Keong opportunities to play in the League Cup. The most important thing was that we played a good brand of football which the fans enjoyed watching.
“We had reached the Singapore Cup final in 2015 and we were joint-third in the S.League table when I was re-designated. I felt we could have done good things if we hadn’t rocked the boat, but nonetheless I thought I’ve done what was required in my role as first team coach and I leave with my head held high.”