Mission to build a great pride of Lions

Mission to build a great pride of Lions
Bernard Tan is a football fan. He's one of four vice-presidents at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS). Tan and fellow FAS vice-president Edwin Tong have been charged to put together a bid for Singapore to host the Under-17 World Cup in 2019 or 2021, and the mission is to build a team that are good enough to qualify for the tournament on merit, even if the Republic does get the nod from Fifa to stage the tournament here.

Like so many Singaporeans, Bernard Tan is a football fan.

He wants a pack of Lions he can be proud of.

One of four vice-presidents at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), Tan believes the upcoming ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup will be tough, but says the national team can do well on home soil.

But he is already plotting for the future, and is putting together a blueprint to create a "great national team" 10 years from now.

Tan and fellow FAS vice-president Edwin Tong have been charged to put together a bid for Singapore to host the Under-17 World Cup in 2019 or 2021, and the mission is to build a team that are good enough to qualify for the tournament on merit, even if the Republic does get the nod from Fifa to stage the tournament here.

To do that, Tan's biggest priority is to expand the base by getting more primary school kids to play more football.

Speaking to The New Paper earlier this week, Tan said: "At the last World Cup, there were four countries - Uruguay, Costa Rica, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia - that have a smaller population than we do.

"I came into this assignment with a lot of hope that a smaller country can punch above its weight and the examples are there. The trick is how do we organise ourselves and get the system moving in the right direction, and of course, resourcing in the proper way.

"The teams that we have today are products of things we did 10 years ago. There's nothing I can do significantly to affect the state of the national team today.

"What we do in this (FAS) council affects the national team 10 years from now. We are going to build the structures for the team 10 years from now.

"Obviously it's important to get the performance today, its important to give (national football coach Bernd) Stange and his team the resources to do as well as they can with this current team.

"But if we want to build a significantly better team, the work starts with what we do today."

Tan was formerly president commissioner of PT Bank DBS Indonesia and is now president of the commercial business group of ST Kinetics.

He joined the FAS last October and has been on the board of Sport Singapore (previously the Singapore Sports Council) since 2006.

Citing a startling statistic, Tan said it is crucial they grow the numbers in terms of kids playing the sport for Singapore to have a chance of creating a formidable football team that can do battle with the continent's heavyweights.

In a survey of 100 primary schools, conducted by Sport Singapore's Football Task Force, 47 per cent of kids want to play football but only 5.9 per cent actually do.

TREBLE BID

If there are 36,000 kids at each level, that means there are only 2,000 young footballers in each cohort, an unacceptable figure for Tan, who wants to at least treble that percentage for the Lions "to stand a fighting chance to punch above its own weight".

Tan was a former Chief of Armour, rising up to the rank of Brigadier-General.

He was awarded the President cum SAF Scholarship, as well as the Lee Kuan Yew Postgraduate Scholarship.

He is a go-getter and is clearly determined to fix the problem and get more boys and girls playing football from a very young age.

"Basic technical skills in football are fixed before 12, I believe this to be so," he said.

"By 12, roughly you can tell who can make it, who will not. You won't get it right 100 per cent, but you can tell.

"Maybe for sports like bowling and shooting, you can still learn (the skills) after 12, but there are certain activities you need to start young and it is harder to learn proper techniques when you are older, for example swimming or playing the piano.

"Similarly for football, the basic movements are ingrained by 12.

"It's not that we don't have kids who want to play, but only 5.9 per cent do. How do we change that? That is the first big question.

"If we can solve that question, then we are on our way to having a great national team 10 years from now."

A husband and father of three teenage boys, Tan is obviously a busy man.

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