Right to back S'pore football

Right to back S'pore football
Singapore's goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud salutes the fans after the 2018 World Cup Qualifier Group E match against Afghanistan.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Three wins, a draw and one defeat, with two home ties left and a final 90 minutes on the road which could be the biggest game of all for the Singapore football team in their quest to qualify for the first time for the 2019 Asian Cup.

It has been an improbable run, they are in a good position, yet, Bernd Stange's Lions remain unable to convince so many that they deserve rousing support in their bid to make it to the Finals in the United Arab Emirates.

The team have been lucky and the standard of Singapore football is abject, the detractors cry out, putting up as proof the lack of flair displayed by the Lions and then brandishing the anaemic S.League as the exclamation mark.

But Singapore's fans must understand the role they can play as the 12th man and get off their backsides and make the trek to the National Stadium and back the Lions against Japan (Nov 12) and Syria (Nov 17).

No matter the hurdle, it is the right thing to do. Especially for a football nation, it could be the difference as Stange's team battle to finish second in Group E of the World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers.

Second spot may well mean automatic qualification for the 2019 continental joust - third would see the Lions in a play-off - and results at home could set up an all-or-nothing clash next year with Afghanistan, on March 29 in Iran.

The next few months will be pivotal for the country's No. 1 sport.

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is set to unveil a new strategic plan, as it seeks support to increase its annual budget of $9.8 million.

The New Paper reported yesterday that the proposed National Training Centre could be up by 2018, while the youth attachment programme to Europe is set to be expanded, backed by the FAS player development fund.

The FAS is also set to unveil a new-look S.League, with an emphasis on young local players and young foreign professionals.

Young local footballers may well be paid better and be allowed to play and study in an effort not to lose talent.

I believe the changes to the S.League will be introduced over the next couple of seasons, with the ultimate goal to expand the pool of talented players in the country.

FAS technical director Michel Sablon wants to transform grassroots football, he says it is crucial to convince youngsters to play the right way and forget about winning.

GOAL

The goal is for the basics to set in early for it to become second nature.

He wants to tweak the schools' football competition.

There will be detailed fitness work and psychological tests.

He is convinced he can turn Singapore into a Tier One nation in Asia.

I believe him.

Despite so many detractors early on, he managed the feat in Belgium, but he can pull it off only if he gets the support from the various stakeholders.

History is littered with many examples of small nations who reach top-tier status.

If Sablon and the team at the FAS present a comprehensive and convincing blueprint to new Sports Minister Grace Fu and the hierarchy at Sport Singapore, then they deserve wholehearted support.

FAS chief Zainudin Nordin and general secretary Winston Lee must be credited for convincing top quality to sign on for the Singapore cause.

I believe the FAS will unveil a new coach's instructor soon. He will have the expert qualifications, like Sablon, national youth teams head coach Richard Tardy and goalkeeper instructor Guy Martens.

They are all experts and now the FAS must trust them and back them to the hilt.

Zainudin and Lee are spearheading efforts to get the ASEAN Super League ready, there is talk it will kick off in earnest in 2017.

They promise the tournament will feature only clubs with huge financial muscle and top signings and, if it lives up to its billing, it will be a game-changer for the region.

In March, the FAS will have elections to decide its next president and management team.

Current vice-presidents Bernard Tan, Edwin Tong and Lim Kia Tong are all possible successors to Zainudin.

The new football chief and his team must have all the tools to steer Singapore football forward.

Today, the painful memory of the exit from the opening stage of last year's AFF Suzuki Cup at our National Stadium continues to linger.

The crushing disappointment of the Under-23s' first-round blowout at our own SEA Games in June still cuts deep.

The Lions can repair the damage over the next few months with the help of the 12th man.

And, if the FAS and Sablon are backed to haul Singapore's biggest and most important sport into Asia's top table, then there is cause for optimism in local football.


This article was first published on October 23, 2015.
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