FAS must mean what it says, otherwise Singapore football will suffer

FAS must mean what it says, otherwise Singapore football will suffer
PHOTO: Berita Harian

Only last year he was effervescent and exciting, his classically low centre of gravity allowing him to produce short, sharp bursts of deadly speed that was often accompanied with an unerring ability to hit the target.

On Wednesday night in Kuala Terengganu, 23-year-old striker Sahil Suhaimi was once more a bit-part player for Fandi Ahmad.

Thrown on as a substitute, he was a shadow of his former self - heavy, ponderous and often wasteful in possession as the LionsXII came unstuck.

Speed merchant Faris Ramli didn't even play, once again ruled out by injury.

Sahil is struggling with fitness and form and Faris has endured a spate of injuries recently, and I believe the way the two talented youngsters has been handled over the last year has much to do with their current predicament.

While the two players were not mentioned - there were no names at all in the report - when the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) released its post-mortem over the SEA Games debacle on July 29, Faris and Sahil were principal characters in a tug of war between the LionsXII and the Courts Young Lions that has led to a public spat between national teams coach Bernd Stange and Aide Iskandar.

The German recently suggested to The New Paper that SEA Games coach Aide, who resigned immediately after the Singapore Under-23s' humiliating first-round exit of June's regional competition on home soil, lied, when he expressed disappointment over the way the two senior players of the team went on to play for Malaysian Super League (MSL) side the LionsXII this year, instead of bedding down with the Courts Young Lions in the S.League, in an interview with The Straits Times.

The Courts Young Lions were effectively the Singapore Under-23 team that would fly the flag at the SEA Games and any football coach worth his salt would know that keeping a side playing together would lead to a united front and inevitably mean a stronger challenge down the road.

More attractive

With the LionsXII involved in a more glamorous competition, Fandi's team were always a more attractive prospect for players than Aide's Young Lions and there was a discussion within the FAS over a clutch of U-23 footballers and who they should play for.

In the end, Aide put forward Faris and Sahil for the LionsXII, after he was told the decision would be left to him.

Stange was correct to say Aide made the call, but the Young Lions coach was left in a no-win corner.

Put his foot down and Aide risked players being disenchanted and possibly not wanting to play for him at the Games.

The former Singapore captain is now angry over the way his integrity has been called into question. I know him well enough and believe he was not being dishonest.

I am also convinced he should never have been put in a position to make a decision over which team the likes of Faris and Sahil should play for in the build-up to the SEA Games in the first place.

That was baffling, especially when the challenge at the Games was described as the most important mission for Singapore football in 2015.

FAS chief Zainudin Nordin said so, and MCCY Minister Lawrence Wong later also emphasised how important it was.

Bearing that in mind, I can imagine Aide's surprise that a discussion had to take place over the Courts Young Lions roster versus the LionsXII squad, and that ultimately he would have to make a decision on where certain players would go.

After all, I believe the initial decision made by the FAS last year was for all the U-23 boys to be grouped in the Courts Young Lions.

If the SEA Games was the most important target of the year, then the FAS leadership should have insisted that the primary focus be on the Courts Young Lions. End of discussion.

The most shocking aspect of this entire saga revolves around the two footballers.

I find it unfathomable how Faris, only 22, could effectively hold the FAS to ransom, and get away with it.

He told the FAS he would accept an offer to join Malaysian club Selangor, if he was asked to move from the LionsXII to the Young Lions. And the national body blinked.

He didn't think that focusing solely on the SEA Games, putting all his energies into Singapore's cause for half a year, to try and raise the roar of a football-mad nation at a 55,000-capacity National Stadium, was the right thing to do.

With such an attitude, no wonder Aide made the decision he did.

And with Sahil's persistent problems trying to pass the S.League's 2.4km fitness mark, the coach felt it better the striker move to the LionsXII - the MSL side have no minimum fitness requirement - where he could get playing time and get up to speed.

It turned out he mostly warmed the bench and was unsurprisingly ineffective at the SEA Games, while Faris, tired after so much football and carrying an injury, struggled to make an impression as the Young Lions failed to even make it out of the group stage.

The FAS post-mortem suggests it knows such an issue cannot crop up again, among other lessons learnt.

It did not single out any person for blame, but I hope some action is taken to send the correct signal.

The statement said the FAS would work hard to improve issues like team management decisions and communication, and review team preparations and how various parties are involved in the process.

I wonder what role Fandi and his assistant coach at the LionsXII, Nazri Nasir, could have played in all of this. Both fought for the country like Lions as international footballers and should have advised, and even told Faris and Sahil in no uncertain terms to buckle down for the nation's cause.

The two young players failed to do so, and let themselves down.

I hope theirs was the folly of youth and they learn from their mistake, and go on to realise their talent and star for the national team.

leonardt@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 8, 2015.
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