Football: Back Sablon to the hilt, FAS

Football: Back Sablon to the hilt, FAS
THUMBS UP: FAS’ new technical director Michel Sablon (above) says he is ready to raise the standard of local coaches and revamp youth development in Singapore.

Michel Sablon is not going to ask Singapore to play football the Belgium way, because it does not exist.

He says his way, which he introduced into Belgium football in 2006 and plans to do the same here, is the way the game has gone and is now embraced by all the leading countries.

And, crucially, will endure for a very long time.

The Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) new technical director was introduced at a press conference yesterday and the man credited with returning Belgian football to elite status has blown much-needed wind in the sails of his latest employers.

Sablon's credentials are impressive; his is a world-class football mind and the FAS has pulled off a masterstroke by convincing the 67-year-old to take up the post.

Now, the FAS must show the courage to back the Belgian's moves to dramatically revamp youth development in the country and turn local coaches into top-class football strategists.

Otherwise, Sablon will fail.

He wants Singapore to play a brand of football which is a constant pass and move, using a 4-3-3 system that current national coach Bernd Stange is striving to make second nature here.

It requires a high level of technical skill, ultimate fitness and mental strength.

If FAS president Zainudin Nordin and his team back the Belgian to the hilt, and if they also pull out all the stops to convince the government that a bid for the 2019 Under-17 or U-20 World Cup is in the best interests of Singapore, then football here will be on the march.

Recent results among the various national teams have been poor and have caused a pall to descend on this football-mad nation.

Former players have hit out at the FAS over the state of the country's No. 1 sport and questioned the ability of Singapore coach Stange, and the current players have been criticised for showing a lack of heart.

Many wonder over the standard of local coaches, and the lack of talent coming through the ranks has also called into question the way the youth development system is run here.

Sablon can change this, if he has help.

And time.

Yesterday, he said over and over again that he needs time to get the youth development system right and to improve the standard of the local coaches.

In Singapore's football world, where a nation is desperate for success, this will be a tough sell and the FAS must be in step with its new technical director, if he is to succeed.

If young talent is to be tapped successfully and be allowed to go through the various schemes eventually drawn up by Sablon, then the Ministry of Education (MOE) will also have to play its part.

I know FAS vice-president Bernard Tan is working hard to grow the base of young players right from primary school level and he needs the MOE to buy in, for his programme to succeed.

If Sablon, school principals and teachers, parents and the kids, and Singapore's fans, have a goal to aim for, like the 2019 U-17 or U-20 World Cup being held here, then the task becomes easier.

Because the country and its various stakeholders will have a target to aim for.

Both FAS general secretary Winston Lee and football chief Zainudin revealed last year that Fifa's requirements for such youth-level tournaments were not as demanding and would fit Singapore.

At the time, it was announced that FAS vice-presidents Edwin Tong and Tan would spearhead the task to put together a blueprint for a possible bid for either World Cup.

Both spoke passionately of their initial plan, to groom a squad of Singapore footballers who would be good enough to do the country proud as hosts of such a prestigious tournament.

And actually be good enough to qualify for the next edition of the tournament.

Sablon's appointment is one piece of the jigsaw puzzle. But the other pieces that need to fit in are courage, belief, honesty and bold decisions

And, as the Belgian put it very simply yesterday, hard work.

This article was first published on Apr 10, 2015.
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