Interview with PIO Coach Sudesh Singh from South Africa

Sudesh Singh is a South African coach of Indian origin whom I know for many, many years. In my informal series of highlighting footballers and coaches of Indian origin, today I bring to you an interview with Sudesh Singh, whom one gets to know better through the interview.

Please tell the readers a little bit about your background? Where were you born? Family roots?

I was born 47 years ago in Germiston (on the outskirts of Johannesburg) to parents, Jimmy and Manjory (now late) Singh. Grew up, schooled in Newcastle (KwaZulu Natal), where my love affair with football started from a very young age. Starting my own youth club at 12 (!), being player, coach, secretary, chairman, kit manager, etc! Football was a big thing in my family as we had strong family links, owning football clubs, uncles gaining National caps (South African Indians' national team), due to segregation/apartheid.

I was privileged to have had my paternal grandmum around during my early years, but both sets of grandparents were second generation Indians in South Africa, with their parents possibly being amongst the first group of 'Indentured-workers' brought to South Africa by the Colonial powers during that period.

How it all start for you in football?

My life has always been about football and it still is! After gaining various honours at youth/school level, I signed as a professional player for local club, Newcastle Dynamos at 18. Although I had been offered trials at some London-based clubs at that time (arranged by a late uncle, living in London) my dream/quest was always to establish myself as a regular for my local club, and in South African football.

As the South African football leagues' were 'racially' segregated (1980's), my club Dynamos were playing in the Federation Pro League(FPL), mainly for people of Indian, mixed-race descent. We then moved over to the National Pro Soccer League (NPSL) which was strictly for people of Indigenous African descent, as we could envision all League's merging in near future. The other league was the National Football League,strictly for whites' only!

I played professional football successfully for about seven years then had a serious career-ending knee injury. Due to lack of financial/medical care I was advised to quit playing and encouraged to go into coaching.

As the league's were all united, dismantled to form one South African Football body (SAFA) in the early 1990's prior to the countries' Independence, I had already gained much experience/respect by having had opportunity to play in all the League's with all Races'.

I was selected, as one of nine coaches, from amongst 200 of the top coach's in SA to undergo further advanced training as Coach Instructors'/ Educators' by the KNVB, in Zeist( Holland). On return from Holland duties were to train/educate coaches around South Africa.

I also worked as National teams' staff coach, assisting with National U23 Olympic, U-20s, U-17s and Women's teams.

I then ventured into coaching at professional level locally, Sundowns, Manning Rangers, before venturing abroad.

You have coached in Asia, in Vietnam. How did you go there? How was the experience?

Venturing abroad came about due to sheer frustration due to discrimination, lack of opportunities, locally. As I wanted to 'grow' as a coach I needed new challenges, unfortunatetly it was not forthcoming locally due to above-mentioned factors. Hence I started contacting agents, clubs abroad. The decision to coach in Vietnam was a surprise to family, friends as at the same time there were possible offers from Taiwan, India, Malta. As it had taken over six months for me to get a firm offer from abroad I had decided to go with 'whoever' came with the first formal offer, hence my sojourn to Vietnam in 2003.
As little or no information was readily available on Vietnam football, it was a 'culture'shock' on my arrival there!

But I really enjoyed my time there as I had to 'adapt' quickly to their culture (social/political/football), climate, food, language (I took lessons for first six months), etc. I had spells at two clubs, Gach Dong Tam Long An and FC Quang Nam and could have stayed on in Vietnam but had serious family issues that 'forced' me to return home to South Africa.

Coaching in Vietnam broadened my experience as a coach and made me 'wiser/better' due to working in a foreign football environment and with players, coaches from other countries. I was the first African and still the only South African coach to have worked in Asia.

I know you for many years and know you follow Indian football. What do you say about Indian football today?

As I'm a football 'fanatic' I follow the game globally, but Indian football has a 'soft' spot for me due to my Indian heritage. As mentioned earlier I was approached by people from a company in India to come work there. I've always tried to keep in contact with football people/clubs' in India, having even assisted/recommended, in sending some South African players to play there.
Whilst working in Vietnam I was even on the shortlist for National team coach - India.

Indian football should be a serious power in Asia, due to population, passion, talent, etc but as I don't have 'direct' insight into Indian football it's very difficult to comment on that- It has huge potential to achieve success, both in terms of performance and commercial benefits.

I must say I've 'learnt' a lot about Indian football through your former wonderful website and your 'passion' for Indian football over the years!

Indian/African football in my view has so many similarities and it's only us who can fulfill this potential, thereby making it 'world-class'.

Would you like to coach in India one day?

Coaching in India would be interesting, but would also depend on various factors like; vision of club/management, facilities, resources, fan-base, etc. That would be club level, then naturally if it's similar 'vision' at National level then sure, I'd like to contribute/make a positive difference in Indian football. Being of Indian heritage makes one feel 'duty' bound to make a positive contribution to the cause, but 'acceptance/mutual respect' is equally important!

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