Plans are under way to improve Singapore's pool of football talent through a revamp of the 13-year-old Centre of Excellence (COE) scheme.
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) will reduce the number of centres from eight to possibly just three next year, with the aim firmly on producing players of a higher quality, rather than just sheer numbers.
On Wednesday, an FAS spokesman said: "The FAS has decided on one model, which will be introduced under the next phase of our strategy aimed at enhancing the development of our young players. Details have been shared with the club chairmen and we are pleased that they have expressed their support for the new concept."
Under the new model, the number of age-group teams will be increased from three - Under-14, U-16 and U-18 - to six: U-13, U-14, U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-18.
Currently, eight local S-League clubs (Tampines Rovers, Home United, Balestier Khalsa, Woodlands Wellington, Tanjong Pagar United, Warriors FC, Geylang International and Hougang United) run COEs.
However, to be given permission to operate a COE next year, a club must show the FAS that they have secured at least three pitches for training, with at least one field that is flood-lit. These pitches must also have proper changing rooms.
A source added that the FAS has dangled a sweetener for clubs who are committed to running a COE by introducing a draft system, in which these clubs have first pick of the best players produced by the COEs.
The biggest change will be in the number of players the system churns out.
There are 600 players in the current system, with each age-group side (U-14, U-16 and U-18) at the eight COEs having a squad of 25. When the new system kicks off next year, that number will be reduced to just 450, as there will likely be three COEs with six age-group teams of 25 players each.
However, a source insisted: "The total number of players produced will decrease but it is a case of quality over quantity."
He pointed out that the COE coaches will now be assessed by an FAS technical panel to ensure that the coaching is of a certain quality and consistency. He also said the players would be mentored properly.
The FAS will also provide support in terms of specialist coaching for goalkeepers, as well as physiotherapists and sports science support.
The COEs were started in 2000 with clubs running U-18 and U-16 teams. That was expanded to include an U-14 side last year.
Products of the system include Singapore winger Faris Ramli and Courts Young Lions forward Shahil Suhaimi.
A former COE coach, who declined to be named, hailed the move, saying: "There were clubs who could not secure any training pitches, as priority at stadiums is given to the S-League first team. The poor boys have to train in a small area behind the goals.
"The revamp is a good idea because it will guarantee quality facilities for the players and this, in turn, will help to produce better footballers for Singapore."
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