From the moment Aleksandar Ranković sat down in front of the cameras at the Lion City Sailors Training Centre, it became crystal clear this man is not here to mess about. 

He listened intently to the thinking behind the club’s First Interview series, settled into his seat, and delivered firm answers at the first time of asking. Perhaps more importantly, he did not flinch in the face of tough questions. 

While this is his first foray into Southeast Asian football – he has spent his entire coaching career in Holland – he is already fully on board with the Sailors project. 

Known as Ranko to his colleagues, the 44-year-old is looking to make an impact that goes beyond just the first team. 

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe in this project, and it’s not just the facilities we have here. More importantly it is the people in and around the club who are contributing in different roles and the way that things are organised here,” he said. 

“It is really like a European organisation and I think there is a lot here at the Sailors for a lot of clubs in Holland to envy,” said the 44-year-old Serb, who holds a UEFA Pro coaching license. 

“I’m really proud to be part of the Lion City Sailors; I think I’m going to enjoy working here because I have the same vision about the game as the people here – that is not just limited to things in the first team, but also in the Academy.”

Having carved out a career in a country where Total Football originated, Ranko – who held coaching positions in Eredivisie first teams including Vitesse Arnhem, Sparta Rotterdam and FC Utrecht – looks set to implement a style of football to excite Sailors’ fans. 

“Obviously my origin is Serbian, but I always say that I’m a Dutch coach since I spent most of my career – both as a player and as a coach – in Holland,” said the former ADO Den Haag head coach. 

“What fans can expect to see from my team is one that plays very attacking and dominating football; creating a lot of chances while on the other hand, not giving our opponents a lot of space to hurt us.”

Ranko already has a vision of how he wants the Sailors to play, but he is acutely aware of the critical balancing act between the short-term goal of getting results to stay in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title race and the long-term objective of growing into a force to be reckoned with in the region. 

“To achieve success here, I have to make the players understand exactly how we want to play; it’s not so much the system, but more of the principles of play. The system may change from game to game, but the principles are a constant and that’s something I want us to always display on the pitch,” said the Belgrade native, who worked under experienced Dutch trainer Henk Fraser at three different Eredivisie clubs. 

Ranko has big ambitions for his version of the Sailors, and while he is especially enthusiastic about the club’s second foray into the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL), Ranko understands the importance of the immediate goal – to reclaim the SPL title. 

“I know how the club did in the ACL last season and we have to build something to do even better this time around. Especially when we’re playing at home, we have to be very hard to play against – even against the top teams in Asia. 

“But I’m not looking too far ahead now, the main priority is the SPL. There’s still a gap between us and the top of the table and I’m coming in during the middle of the season, but we’re going to fight for the title till the last day,” he declared.  

With a young and hungry squad that has soldiered on despite some teething problems, Ranko is firm in his belief that the club has all the tools to achieve success.  

“I’ve watched a few matches of the team and now that I’ve been here for a few days, I can see that we have a very good squad and a real positive energy around the team. There’s no doubt about it – we have to challenge for the league title and play a significant role in the ACL,” he said.

“We want to be the best and the only place to earn the tag of being the best is on the field. We’ve a great setup here to help us, so it’s our job now to push the club towards achieving these objectives.”