Singapore Premier League • April 19, 2019
Geylang boy Noor Ali returns to Eagles nest with sharp vision
SINGAPORE, 19 APRIL 2019 – He started his career at Tampines Rovers, won two league titles with Singapore Armed Forces FC and played for two other clubs, but Mohd Noor Ali’s name has been synonymous with Geylang International in the last two decades.
“I’ll always be a Geylang boy lah,” he tells the official Singapore Premier League (SPL) site.
It all started with the memorable S.League title triumph in 2001, which was the then 26-year-old’s first league crown.
“We kept 90 per cent of the players from 2000 and only got one new signing in Basri Halis,” Noor Ali recalled fondly. “The understanding between the players was there and there was a lot of talent.
“We had the best two foreigners in the league in Billy Bone and Brian Bothwell; myself and Azhar (Baksin) on the flanks; Zulkarnaen (Zainal), Noh Rahman and Kadir (Yahaya) at the back; two strong goalkeepers in Shahril (Jantan) and Lionel Lewis. Of course, we also had a great coach in Jang Jung.”
Noor Ali constantly found his way back to the Eagles’ nest after leaving, captaining them to Singapore Cup success in 2009 before kick-starting his coaching journey with Geylang in June 2012 as Prime League coach and first-team assistant coach.
At the end of 2013, the former Singapore international departed to work with private academies, but returned in 2016 as assistant after Ben Teng took over as club chairman.
“Geylang has got this kampung spirit lah,” explained the 43-year-old. “My connection with the Geylang fans and management has always been there.
“I left then because of something to do with the ambition of the club. When Ben came in, things changed again so I decided to come back.”
Noor Ali subsequently took over the reins in June 2017 and guided the Eagles to a first top-four finish in 14 years in just half a season in charge.
A one-year attachment with J-League side Matsumoto Yamaga followed – an experience that changed him as a coach.
Believed to be the first Singaporean coach in Japanese football, Noor Ali guided their B team to the Japan FA’s Under-18 Football League Nagano prefecture title.
“For a good team to be successful, it’s always the team behind the team,” he said. “Basically, we tend to have this mentality where we don’t have to report to office and don’t have anything else (to handle) apart from on-pitch matters.
“Over there, I reported to office at 9am and finished at 9pm every day. I realised there were so many things that go into the preparation and training programs. I had seven coaching staff directly under me – fitness, goalkeeper, assistant, video analyst, physiotherapist etc and we are talking about (just the) U18 level.”
Noor Ali understood that not everything he learned could be replicated back in Singapore, but he has made modifications to his coaching philosophy.
“We don’t have the culture or structure yet,” he explained. “Something I learnt in Yamaga is that apart from winning, it’s also the responsibility of the club to produce national players.
“My coaching sessions have changed in the sense that there’s a stronger focus on individuals; players must learn to position themselves better and there are certain objectives to be achieved every day. After all, better players will make a better team.
“Players like Christopher (van Huizen), Amy (Recha) and Darren (Teh) – they have good potential to be in the national team.”
The new emphasis is something Teh, a defender and Amy, a forward, can relate to.
“Coach Noor has brought in this new way of playing, which I would describe as effective but at the same time, attractive,” said Teh, who made his professional debut in 2017.
“The team needed time to adapt but we’ve shown positive (things) during our training and games, and that we can deliver what he want from us.”
Amy, who left Home United to embark on his third Geylang stint, added: “Apart from playing time, Coach was the key reason why I came back. He brings the basics of football to us, which honestly has helped to improve my game since I first joined the team. I just wished he went to Japan when I was a young player!”
PLOTTING WAY BACK TO TOP
With little time to plan recruitment, Noor Ali’s “hardest challenge” was to get his 2019 squad to play as a team.
But the Eagles side, which was bolstered by 15 new arrivals, is not short on motivation.
“If you look at players like Chris, Firdaus (Kasman), Syahiran (Miswan), Fareez (Farhan) or even Hairul (Syirhan), they didn’t feature that much last season… they all have something to prove,” he said.
“The good thing is that I have a good bunch of players who are willing to work hard. The key is to improve this team over time.”
A signing that was greeted by fans with excitement was midfielder Barry Maguire, a former Netherlands U20 international who has become an important cog in the Geylang machine and is one of six players who have played every minute so far.
“Every team needs one player to do the dirty work,” Noor Ali said. “He wasn’t so fit when he just came, but he’s showing improvement with every game… Barry gives the team a good vibe with his experience and adds bite to my midfield.”
With main attacker Shawal Anuar set to return from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) setback in two months’ time, Noor Ali is optimistic of achieving a top-four finish and possible Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup qualification.
“Apart from Brunei (DPMM) and Tampines, who are superior so far, the league is quite even at this stage,” he said. “We have to keep working hard and end the season strongly.”
Teh added: “We have a good blend of youth and experience in this team. The morale in this team is great and each of us are not holding back to fight for each other on and off the field.”
Having been part of the Geylang side that went all the way to the 2004 AFC Cup semi-finals, Noor Ali is desperate to see his beloved club return to their glory days.
“Of course I want to win something with Geylang, but I also know I can’t work wonders within one season,” he said.
“I have to thank my chairman for being so supportive of me… if you want to be successful, you cannot just look at short-term (goals).
“Chopping and changing coaches will not get the (club) consistency. It is my first full season as a head coach – a big calling, but I love this challenge.
“I’m on a one-year contract and it’s up to the club if they want to keep me. But if given the opportunity, I want to build something good for this club in the long run.”