Coaching ● Jul 25, 2017

Coming a full circle


Coming a Full Circle

One of the Singaporeans who took on a key post at the AFC shares his journey

The passion he has when he speaks about coach education is unmistakable, but his venture into the field was almost a matter of coincidence. Some 20 years ago, Mohamed Basir Ellaya Kutty, who wears multiple hats at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) as Head of Coach Education, Junior Centres of Excellence (JCOE), Club Academies and Schools Football Academy, stepped into the classroom as an instructor for the first time when he was unexpectedly thrust into the limelight and tasked to conduct the FAS Preliminary Coaching Course.

Today, he works tirelessly preparing for coaching courses and mentors Centre of Excellence (COE) coaches on weekdays and JCOE coaches on weekends, among other things. It is clear that he takes pride in his role as a mentor, describing it as one of his highlights at FAS since coming back to Singapore in February 2016 after an absence of 13 years.

From player to coach

As a youth player, Basir not only played for his school team but also trained at the Milo Soccer School – a key youth development programme in the 1980s and 1990s, which saw the emergence of Fandi Ahmad, Nazri Nasir, and Lee Man Hon, among others.

When he was in Secondary 3, along with his friends, he was talent-spotted by Sembawang Sports Club to form an Under-16 team to participate in the FAS Under-16 League.

The training was tough, and he admitted that he even thought of quitting initially because he was unused to it. But he persevered and eventually stayed with the club for his entire playing career, later playing in the Under-18 and first teams. He also helped to coach at the grassroots level for the club in his time there. Basir’s love for his former club – which was later renamed Sembawang Rangers FC in 1996 following a merger with Gibraltar Crescent – is evident from the way he reminisces about his time with them.

“Even when I received offers from other clubs, or when our club was relegated to Division Two, I stayed with Sembawang out of loyalty and the friendships I had forged. In fact, if you look at the veterans’ football circles now, we are one of the few groups that are still together.”

The former Hwa Chong Junior College student suffered his first blow when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during a game in his late 20s. However, he refused to give up, and focused on recovering and training, eventually making a comeback without undergoing surgery. It was not until his second serious injury three years later that he decided to hang up his boots and focus on his day job as an accounts executive.

But it was not long before the football-loving Basir realised that this was not the path for him: “There came a day when I was looking at the figures and numbers, and wondered to myself what I was doing. I could not see myself doing this day in, day out; it was not the life I wanted.”

The realisation could not have come at a timelier moment as he had just learnt that schools would now be given a budget to engage external staff such as coaches. He took the initiative to write in to 10 schools to enquire, and started coaching at Naval Base Secondary School shortly after. It did not take long before he decided to pursue coaching as a full-time career.

In 2000, he joined FAS as a staff coach, and it was there that he started on his path as an instructor.

“After a year I was asked to assist in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Coaching Courses. I was fortunate to have good mentors such as former National Team coaches PN Sivaji and Vincent Subramaniam,” he recounted, quick to give credit to those who guided him.

When Basir learnt that the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) had openings in 2003, he took a leap of faith in applying for a job there, not expecting to be shortlisted. But when he was later offered the post, the decision to leave FAS – where he was then assistant coach for the Young Lions – was not an easy one to make.

‚ÄúI received the offer to join AFC in August 2003, but it was a Southeast Asian Games year. I was assisting Head Coach Sivaji so I didn’t want to leave the team. But Coach Sivaji and the then-General Secretary John Koh were very supportive and said that this opportunity would not come again. It was a very difficult choice for me to make. “

Joining AFC

He started out at AFC as a Development Officer in the technical department where he also worked on Vision Asia. The project aimed to develop football in all Asian countries, emphasising on governance, education and improving quality and quantity of staff from different disciplines.

In his five years in this role, he not only worked closely with his colleagues to implement Vision Asia, focusing on the East Asia and ASEAN regions, but also formulated policies in coach education. This provided him with in-depth knowledge of football development and coach education, which continue to serve him well today.

Secondment to Chonburi, Thailand

In 2009, under Vision Asia, he was seconded to then-newly established Chonburi FA to take on the role of Director of Development and Education. There, he played a significant role in setting up the FA.

Basir also helped to kick-start the Chonburi Provincial League, organised coaching and match commissioner courses, conferences, seminars, grassroots festivals and provided technical support to the three football clubs in Chonburi province – Chonburi FC, Pattaya United and Sriracha FC.

Return to AFC

In 2011, Basir returned to AFC where he was appointed the Head of Coach Education. Following the departure of AFC Technical Director Jim Selby in 2013, Basir was appointed Acting Technical Director – a post he assumed till 2015.

The invaluable experience at the continental governing football body, where Basir also worked closely with fellow Singaporeans Benjamin Tan, Abdul Razak and Julie Teo gave him a more global outlook and a heightened sensitivity to different cultures.

When asked which achievements he felt proudest of, he spoke of both tangibles and intangibles: “With my colleagues, we worked to enhance current Policies & Procedures, management processes, delivered key educational Conferences, formalized events such as the AFC Women’s Football Day and the AFC Grassroots Football Day. I was also happy that I managed to create a positive working environment and engaged more with the staff. It is something I feel is very important, and it is an environment I am trying to cultivate in the coaching landscape in Singapore today.”

Bringing his experience back to Singapore

The devoted father of two cited his family and his desire to help raise local football standards as his two reasons for deciding to come back to Singapore in 2016.

“Previously, I would shuttle back and forth between Kuala Lumpur (where AFC is headquartered) and Singapore. At 6pm on Friday, I would be on the highway, driving back to be with my family. Last year, my son was accepted into a university in Australia, which meant that my daughter would be alone at home. Part of my decision to return to FAS stemmed from my desire to be home with my family, although I must thank my wife and children for their understanding in those years.

‚ÄúLooking back, I am sad that I didn‚Äôt watch my kids grow up. When I left for AFC, my daughter was still secondary and my son in primary school. The only consolation I can give myself is that working overseas supplemented our family income, allowing me to provide a more comfortable life for my family.‚Äù 

Another key factor was the appointment of Michel Sablon as Technical Director: “I left with the blessings and well-wishes from FAS 13 years ago, so I felt that I should come back to Singapore and give back to local football. The time was right as well – when I met Michel while I was still in AFC and I heard about his plans for Singapore football, I was convinced that I wanted to be part of the changes he was championing.”

His mentor, ex-national coach Vincent Subramaniam, effusive in his praise for Basir, is of the view that he is not only part of the changes but one of the key agents of change: ‚ÄúBasir has great passion and a strong philosophy on how to groom coaches. When I last spoke to him, I could see his plans and methods which are different but good. His willingness to listen, learn and improvise is a quality I always admire in a coach educator ‚Äì one must have his own thoughts and come up with his own ideas. You can say this is innovation but for me it is creativity.”

Coach Vincent, who is now taking charge of the Garena Young Lions and assistant coach of the Under-22 National Team, added: “FAS will benefit from his experience and Technical Director Michel recognises that, as he allows Basir the freedom to come up with ideas rather than imposing his own ideas. I’m pleased to note that Basir consults Michel regularly to align their vision in coach education. To be able to get regular advice from an expert like Michel is one’s good fortune.”

Basir cites the change to the way coach education is approached in FAS as one of his key accomplishments so far, thanking Michel and the management for their support in carrying out their vision of what coach education should be like. The approach draws inspiration from case studies in Europe, adapted to local needs, and has received positive feedback from participants and external instructors (link to C course article).

Queensway JCOE head coach Jasni Hatta, who assists him in the FAS/AFC C Coaching Certificate Courses, said: “Mr Basir has played a very influential and important role in shaping me into a better coach. The way he sees how football is played and his coaching philosophy makes me eager to learn from him. He constantly advises me not only as a coach but also on how to manage and mentor the upcoming younger generations of coaches.

“His open door approach allows us to share with him our views and the difficulties we face in our sessions. His strong support towards all his coaching staff under him and encouragement when we make mistakes gives us the much-needed confidence in shaping the future of Singapore football.”

The sentiment is echoed by Hong Kah Secondary School coach and Head Coach of the Singapore National Cerebral Palsy football team Mohamed Zainudeen, who said: “Basir has always placed coaches’ development as a priority and is a good mentor to the younger coaches. He has given me valuable pointers that have aided my development both as a person and instructor, and I am thankful for all the support and guidance from him.”

However, Basir is not resting on his laurels. He hopes to bring the JCOE programme to the next level by raising the quality of training, to focus on intangibles such as players’ mental toughness, to work more closely with the clubs, and to continue mentoring more coaches.

Reflecting on the first half of the year, he said: “It has been an exciting time because of the implementation of the national football development plan. It’s good also that the environment and eco-system is becoming more positive and inclusive. I am grateful for the tremendous support from the FAS management and my colleagues in the various other departments, such that I am able to focus on what I am supposed to be doing – coach education and work on the ground. I look forward to a fruitful second half of 2017.”