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Coach of the Year nominee Balagumaran loses his job at Hougang United

SINGAPORE – K Balagumaran thought he had a fairly good campaign. The Hougang United head coach lifted his team from the bottom of the S.League last year to sixth out of nine teams this season - the club's best ever finish. He was also one of three nominees for the league's Coach of the Year award. His reward? The exit door.

Coach of the Year nominee Balagumaran loses his job at Hougang United

K Balagumaran is one of three nominees for this season's S.League Coach of the Year award. Alas, he has lost his job at Hougang United even before the awards ceremony on Nov 1. Photo: S.League

SINGAPORE – K Balagumaran thought he had a fairly good campaign. The Hougang United head coach lifted his team from the bottom of the S.League last year to sixth out of nine teams this season - the club's best ever finish. He was also one of three nominees for the league's Coach of the Year award.

His reward? The exit door.

The 52-year-old confirmed with TODAY on Saturday afternoon (Oct 29) that the club would not retain his services for next season. Hougang have yet to respond to TODAY’s queries over this issue.

Balagumaran revealed that the club’s decision not to offer him a new contract came about after the Cheetahs did not achieve their target of achieving a top-five finish in the league.

“I’m disappointed because the team was doing well initially but we fell off the pace at the end and we couldn’t finish in the top-five, which was our target,” Balagumaran told TODAY. “So that is why they told me two or three days ago that they wouldn’t be retaining me for next season.”

Balagumaran’s departure from the club marks the end of what has been a torrid October for Hougang.

Just last month, the club were still in the mix to finish fourth and secure the final 2017 AFC Cup spot. However, they failed to win any of their four games this month – drawing once and losing thrice – and eventually had to settle for sixth place.

Balagumaran however, believes that the team’s alarming dip in form during the final stretch of the season was due to several of his key players being distracted by off-field matters.

In particular, he said these players - which include captain Jozef Kaplan and top scorer Stipe Plazibat (15 goals) - were concerned about their Hougang future as the club management did not approach them to discuss a possible contract extension for next season, even though officials had already offered new deals to several other players.

“Several players in the dressing room were unhappy because they had not been offered a new contract, whereas some others had already signed a deal for next season,” explained Balagumaran, who added that both Kaplan and Plazibat would also not be with the club next year.

“So this created some misunderstanding and a lot of the players were very uncertain about what was going to happen to them next season.

“Perhaps this could have been managed better with more communication, so that the players are at least given assurances that the club is still keeping them in mind. This episode is something that we all can learn from.”

Balagumaran is the only local nominee for the S.League Coach of the Year award, and he is up against Albirex Niigata's Naoki Naruo and Brunei DPMM's Steve Kean. He said he wished he was given more time to take Hougang forward, after helping turn the club’s fortunes around this season.

“I think coaches and managers must be given more time to prove themselves,” said the ex-Gombak United coach. “Unfortunately, this is the era of where instant results count in football all over the world.

“One season is not enough for a coach to properly develop the team and players in the way we would like. Every team needs time to succeed. You look at Albirex Niigata – they took 13 years before they became S.League champions.

“I believe we have a good team and we have something special going on, so another year in charge would have been nice because I think I could have brought them further next season.”

Fans TODAY spoke to were surprised at the club's decision to part way with the popular coach.

“It is a very surprising decision by the club,” said Hougang fan Kelvin Yap, who has been supporting the club since 1998 when they were known as Marine Castle United. “After all, this is Hougang’s best S.League finish in their history, and they’ve never challenged for a spot in the AFC Cup before till this year.

“I know the team faltered at the end, but overall Coach Bala has been very good for the club and done well. We made several good signings and he managed to bring out the best in them."

Despite his exit from Hougang, Balagumaran instist he does not bear any ill-will towards the club and claims they have a bright future ahead.

“It’s been a very good experience for me and I want to thank everyone at the club, like chairman Bill (Ng), for having given me the opportunity in the first place,” said Balagumaran. “I wish them all the best in the coming seasons and I believe they can go very far if they continue to keep the core of the team intact.

“I personally would like to thank the Hougang fans for making my time with the club so memorable. The S.League would be a much better league if every club had fans like them.

“As for my future plans, I don’t have any offers from other clubs as yet, but I’m looking to re-entering management as soon as possible so I’ll be on the lookout for potential openings.”

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