Get the U-23s right, FAS

Get the U-23s right, FAS

Much is expected of Singapore's swimmers when they take the plunge at the OCBC Aquatic Centre at the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games in June.

Swimming has always been Singapore's gold mine in regional jousts, and our sailors, shooters and bowlers have also delivered consistently every two years.

Over the last 15 years or so, our table tennis players have emerged as the dominant force in South-east Asia, and The New Paper believes these sports will help propel Singapore to a record 75 gold medals when the 28th SEA Games comes to a close at the National Stadium on June 16.

The football team do not figure on our list because the build-up for the Singapore Under-23 team has been anything but serene.

The country's football teams, from age-group outfits up to the national side, have had a miserable 2015 so far and if the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) does not take firm action and try to right the ship, then I believe the SEA Games campaign is going to be a debacle, which will unfold in front of the Republic's fans.

The latest twist involves Shakir Hamzah, once the captain of Aide Iskandar's side.

Now he is in Johor as part of the LionsXII team hoping to come away from Pasir Gudang tonight with a result that will see them qualify for the semi-finals of the Malaysian FA Cup.

It was already disconcerting when young stars Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi were allowed to join Fandi Ahmad's LionsXII squad at the end of 2014, and not play for the Courts Young Lions in the 2015 S.League.

The expert technical team at the FAS must have felt the S.League would be an effective battleground for the Young Lions to sharpen their moves, get tactics right and boost teamwork, togetherness and confidence, all almost always crucial ingredients for a side to be successful going into a tournament.

Like any other coach, Aide would have wanted his full squad intact for the first half of the S.League season as they prepared for the SEA Games, but shorn of fleet-footed winger Faris and Sahil, a natural goalscorer, the Courts Young Lions' record in the domestic campaign reads one draw and, five losses.

If the two players were available for Aide, I don't believe the side would have had to endure such a torrid time in the S.League.

If Faris and Sahil were allowed to sign much more lucrative deals with the LionsXII, then surely some of the better Courts Young Lions players will be wondering why they have not been allowed to secure better contracts elsewhere.

Now, with the first game of the SEA Games football competition set for May 29, confidence must be at an all-time low within the young squad.

And, I wonder about team discipline and harmony, even after the FAS made the positive move and convinced talented local coach Kadir Yahaya to return to the fold and help Aide.

Based on the FAS' response to TNP's queries, it is not clear if Aide and Kadir will have Faris, Sahil and Shakir from May 1, when the Under-23s begin centralised training.

Fandi may want the trio if the LionsXII do get into the last four of the Malaysian FA Cup, but the FAS has already made it clear that the SEA Games is the priority for 2015.

The national football body must begin to show it means what it says and states, unequivocally, that the three players will be with Aide from tomorrow, even.

This time last year, there was much optimism of a possible first football gold for Singapore at the 2015 SEA Games.

The FAS picked Aide to lead the team and, with a well-thought out preparation programme drawn up by national teams coach, German Bernd Stange, the rest of the technical team at the FAS, and the full-throated backing of football-mad Singaporeans, it was hardly pie in the sky.

While it might already be too late, Aide and his team must be given all the support necessary to ensure Singapore football is not embarrassed on home soil.

This article was first published on April 22, 2015.
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