After notching first win, Terry Pathmanathan’s Jaguars will continue to improve

This short news snippet (right) appeared in The Straits Times on 18 May.

The news snippet on Tanjong Pahar's first win of the season (The Straits Times, 18 May 2011)

But don’t let its brevity fool you. I think we could see its significance unfolding over the next few months.

Today’s version of Tanjong Pagar United may be a far cry from the glory days of the once-proud club’s early years (ie 1996-2002) in the S-League.

Back then, with Robert Alberts and later Tohari Paijan at the helm, they boasted of local stars like Lim Tong Hai, Steven Tan and S. Subramani and exciting foreign players like Dragan Talajic, Aleksandar Duric, Sutee Suksomkit  and the Senegalese Twin Towers of Nicodeme Boucher and Boubacar Seck.

However, I think their narrow win over Woodlands Wellington on Wednesday, which snapped their 13-game winless streak, could mark  a turning point for the Jaguars.

Today’s Tanjong Pagar would be more akin to the Young Lions of 2009.

Significantly, Terry Pathmanathan, the coach of that Young Lions team, is the man in charge of the  Jaguars today.

I remember that Young Lions team well.

Although it was made up of many young players, and the average age of the team was 19, they surprised many people with their tenacity, discipline and great fitness.

Many of the top teams that season always found it hard to play against them and would often come away with narrow wins at best

What Pathmanathan did was to continuously work on his players’ fitness and technique. He made sure they played simple football as he worked on raising their fitness levels. As the season went on, the Young Lions grew in strength.

Their football wasn’t that attractive, at times it was even dismal,  but it was nevertheless enough to help them to go on occasional small, unbeaten runs.

In the end, the Young Lions finished the season in eighth spot with nine wins, seven draws and 14 defeats. Not a bad record for a bunch of youngsters.

But the best was yet to be.

The squad then went off to Laos for the SEA Games where they surprised every one by winning a bronze in the Under-23 football competition, equaling the bronze-medal effort by the more star-studded Young Lions of 2007.

Tanjong Pagar coach Terry Pathmanathan

For this season’s S-League, Pathmanathan and the club were dealt a terrible hand by the Football Association of Singapore, one that remains an indictment of the state of our professional league.

 Tanjong Pagar’s application to join the S-League was only approved in late December, leaving the former Singapore captain scrambling for players a month before the start of the new season.

He was practically scrapping the bottom of the barrel as most of the better players had already been snapped up by the other clubs.

Apart from a number of former national U-17 trainees, he had to conduct open trials to fill up the remaining spots in his squad. He eventually managed to do so – with amateurs and even tertiary students.

Although he did also manage to sign Koreans Kim Jong Oh, Kim Syeong Kyu and Japanese Takaya Kawanabe to add experience and more steel to the spine of the team, the fact that they are all relatively young (all are under the age of 24) means that there will always be a limit to the sort of influence they can exert on proceedings during matches.

But I am sure Pathmanathan has been going about developing this rag-tag team in the same way as he did with the Young Lions.

I am sure he will be doing the same things as in 2009 ie focusing on bringing up their fitness levels and working on their technique and making sure they play simple football.

It’s just that unlike the Young Lions of 2009, he has had to do it with players of a much lower level of competency in football this time.

Still, I am confident that Tanjong Pagar’s win over Woodlands will not turn out to be their only triumph of the season.

In fact, I will stick out my neck to say that, now buoyed by the confidence-boosting win, the Jaguars will continue to improve from here on, manage a couple more wins and draws for the rest of the season and end up either ninth or eighth.

Mind you, it is very possible because right now, they are only three points behind the Young Lions and five behind a very poor Geylang United.

If they can do so, it will really be a feather in Pathmanathan’s cap, and can only add to the former Singapore skipper’s growing stature as a highly talented and capable coach.

Pathmanathan has already shown before that he is blessed with the ability to make lemonade from lemons. I am sure he can do it again this season.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

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