Radojko Avramovic is no stranger to the Asian football scene. But the former Yugoslavia and Notts County goalkeeper is better known in southeast Asia, having guided Singapore to three Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Football Championship titles in 2004, 2007 and 2012. Labelled by the regional media and fans alike as a “miracle worker”, the 64-year-old Serbian took the reigns in Myanmar this February hoping to emulate equal feats with his new side.
“It is no easy job to coach a team, especially a national side,” Avramovic, who left Singapore as a hero after winning the regional title for a record fourth time (Singapore first won the ASEAN Football Championship in 1998, before Avramovic’s appointment as the coach), told FIFA.com. “I have been in Asia since 1991, including coaching Singapore for a decade. So I have been involved in many games against Myanmar and I know what challenges are facing them. I want to help them achieve better results.”
Having said that, the tactician is under no illusion that changes take place overnight. It has been far too long since Myanmar have been in the focus of the continental limelight, with the White Angels even struggling on the regional stage over recent years. They have failed to progress past the group phase in the ASEAN Championship since their last-four finish in 2004. They were also dealt with early elimination during last year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
“Myanmar were not so successful during the recent regional competitions,” Avramovic continued. “So, the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF) are aiming to improve the team and develop youth football. It has only been a month since my arrival but I can see their passion for football is second to none. The national league is going through a transformation and clubs have achieved some satisfying results in the AFC Cup. But it takes time to realise our goals.”
Avramovic’s first year in charge of Myanmar involves an ambitious agenda, with a series of important competitions looming large. The first test facing him is May’s AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives, where Myanmar are pitted against Kyrgyzstan and last edition’s semi-finalists Palestine. Awaiting them next is October’s qualification for this year’s ASEAN Championship and the competition finals itself in November, should they progress. While the expectations from the fans are already mounting, Avramovic has fixed his sights on not only tangible results but also steady progress.
“All of these are major competitions for us and we have obligations of trying to achieve the best results. But while we will do our best to win as many matches as possible, I would like to see the team improve game after game. What I am looking for is to prepare the team to win not just one game but the entire competition. The process starts now and hopefully by year’s end we can have a new, strong team for the ASEAN Championship.”
Having guided Kuwait to the Olympic Football Tournament at Sydney 2000, Avramovic is hoping to lay the foundation for Myanmar’s future through his youth coaching experiences. He said: “Aside from my national team duties, I am also tasked with making selections for the junior side and preparing them for next year’s SEA Games. This team is very important for Myanmar’s long-term development.”
Myanmar backing Avramovic
Despite their underdog status, Myanmar had once been a genuine force throughout Asia. They won the Asian Games gold twice in 1966 and 1970, sandwiched by a runners-up finish in the 1968 AFC Asian Cup. During their heyday, they even managed three consecutive successes in the then-Korea Cup in the early 1970’s, sweeping past hosts Korea Republic on each occasion en route to their treble of titles.
With those fond memories still fresh in their mind, Myanmar’s FA have spared no efforts as they seek to return to the glory days. With FIFA’s assistance through the Goal Programme, facilities have largely been improved. The authorities have counted on foreign coaching experiences over the past two decades, with Avramovic the ninth imported manager in history.
“Foreign coaches, in my opinions, bring fresh ideas,” explained Mr Tin Aung, General Secretary of the MFF. “But they need to adapt to our culture in coaching and evaluating players. Coach Avramovic had been working with Singapore for nearly ten years and he knows very well about the region.”
“Particularly, he likes to work with us and face up the new challenges,” he voiced his faith as he drew up his conclusion. “Our goals for the new team under him are to reach the second round in this year’s AFC Challenge Cup and to reach the knockout stage in the ASEAN Championship.”