The Lion City Sailors are pleased to announce the appointment of Firdaus Kassim as the club’s new Under-21 Head Coach.

The 37-year-old replaces José Mataix, who leaves the club to take up a coaching role with Saudi Pro League outfit Al-Ettifaq.

Recognised as one of the brightest coaching minds in the local football fraternity, Firdaus brings with him extensive experience from his overseas coaching stints with Thailand’s Muangthong United and the Laos national team. He also previously led Singapore Premier League (SPL) side Hougang United to their first-ever trophy, the 2022 Singapore Cup.

He is also one of the youngest coaches in Asia to attain an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Professional Coaching Diploma, also known as the AFC Pro-Diploma – the highest level of coaching accreditation issued by the AFC. 

“It’s a proud moment for me to be given this huge responsibility of developing the next generation of players at the Sailors. I’ve always loved working with young talents, and it’s exciting to be here because we have plenty of players with very high potential,” said Firdaus.

“Coach José prepared the team well during pre-season, introducing excellent ideas and implementing the Academy’s playing style. My goal is not only to build on the strong foundation already in place but also to positively influence this group of players. I hope they, in turn, will do the same for the next generation, fostering a culture of mentorship and support within our Academy.”

Firdaus came onboard the Sailors’ Academy earlier this year, taking on the roles of Under-15 Head Coach and Development Coordinator for the Under-13 to Under-18 teams.

It was an enriching experience that left him yearning for more. He elaborated, “I have to say this is by far the best environment I’ve worked in during all my years in coaching. The professionalism here is top-notch.

“We have a diverse group of coaches and players with varying backgrounds and profiles to learn from and share experiences with, and we’re all working towards a common goal.

“I enjoyed coaching the U15 team. The exciting football we played during our recent training camp in Madrid, Spain, showcased how brave and special these players are.”

A firm believer in having players develop as both individuals and as part of a collective, Firdaus’s primary target is to implement a style of play that is aligned with the club’s philosophy.

“Our idea is to always dominate the game, both with and without the ball,” Firdaus explained. “Every player who started playing football at a young age did so because they love having the ball, and found great pleasure in attacking and scoring goals.

“So, I hope we remain competitive against every team, playing with the intention to win while adhering to our style of football. It’s also important to maintain the same joy of playing that the players had as kids. We have a set of ideologies as an Academy about how we want to play, and I want everyone to take ownership of their responsibilities within the system. At the same time, we aim to create flexibility and freedom to allow individuals to flourish.”

Crucially, Firdaus is looking forward to being the bridge between the Academy and the first team. Much like how Academy graduates such as Nathan Mao and Nur Muhammad Asis have established themselves in the club’s senior squad, Firdaus hopes to be able to develop more talent for the Sailors’ first team in the future.

“As a club, we’re focused on developing players through training and leveraging the resources available to us. We aim to create an optimal environment for these players to seamlessly transition into first-team football,” he said.

“The ideal scenario, of course, is for some players to secure moves to overseas clubs to aid in their development as footballers and individuals. However, our primary goal is to produce players who not only break into the first team but also dominate and play a significant role in the club’s future successes, as well as contribute to the Singapore national team.”

Firdaus is now focused on preparing the boys for the resumption of their SPL Under-21 campaign. Having begun the season with a 3-1 win over Balestier Khalsa earlier in May, the Sailors will next take on Albirex Niigata (S) on Monday, 29 July.

Firdaus insists that he will look beyond just the team’s results this season and instead focus on the process of development.

“We have players with high potential, but we need to be patient and remember they’re still in the developmental stage. We should not expect too much from young players too early. Instead, we will balance this by giving them opportunities at the right moments, with a strong support system around them to help them succeed.

“We have to get this process right in order to bring through these talented young players.”