Football: Stange puts faith in youth again

Tampines Rovers midfielder Mustafic Fahrudin (in yellow) gestures during the S-League match between Tampines Rovers and Courts Young Lions.

SINGAPORE - Just seven months ago, he was one of the top performers in Singapore's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup success.

But now, at age 32, Fahrudin Mustafic's future with the national team appears shaky at best.

This, after the Tampines Rovers captain and fellow mainstays Daniel Bennett, 35, and Shi Jiayi, 29, were overlooked for a second successive time by Bernd Stange.

"The first time was really disappointing," admitted Fahrudin, who was omitted from the squad that faced Myanmar and Laos in friendlies last month.

"This time, I wasn't expecting a call-up. I understand - any new coach will want to come in and rebuild but maybe he shouldn't change too many senior players."

Stange, however, has made no secret of his desire to blood youngsters since taking over the reins from Raddy Avramovic in May.

He began by handing 17-year-old Adam Swandi a first international call-up for last month's friendlies.

And that pattern has continued, with the uncapped duo of M. Anumanthan and Iqbal Hussain - both from Courts Young Lions - named in a 21-man squad assembled ahead of the Aug 14 Asian Cup qualifier against Oman.

Having lost their opening Group A tie 0-4 to Jordan, another defeat would likely signal the end of the Lions' qualification hopes and, with it, some international careers.

"The future of Singapore football is youth," Stange stressed on Monday when his side got their five-day training stint under way.

"Those players aged 34, 35 have had their chance in the last 10 years to achieve qualification but did they do that? Bennett and Fahrudin - did they qualify for the World Cup? No. Did they qualify for the Asian Cup? No.

"Do you believe that in the next two years, they will improve? From my years of experience as a coach, no. That's why I'm focused on youngsters who can take big steps forward."

That said, the German has also roped in Indra Sahdan Daud, 34, as well as Noh Rahman and Qiu Li, both 32.

This, however, could be to plug gaps in areas where Stange feels the team are lacking in depth.

While Mustafic faces stiff competition in central midfield from Isa Halim and Hariss Harun, the new national coach believes that there is a shortage of strikers and playmakers at his disposal.

Forwards Indra and Qiu would thus be logical inclusions while Noh is the only other recognised right-back in the squad apart from the relatively inexperienced Faritz Abdul Hameed.

"Experienced players can be very helpful at certain stages of a team's development," Stange pointed out. "It's always necessary to have balance; you need leadership, especially when the team are struggling.

"That's why we have players like Qiu and Noh. Or maybe Fahrudin if he convinces me; the door is open to all players.

"I'm not saying they will continue for a long time but the job they did, leading the team in Myanmar and Laos, was excellent.

"But in the case that we lose to Oman, I will tell them straight to their faces that they have no future in my team because the next qualification will be in September 2015 (for the 2018 World Cup)."

Stange's methods may seem ruthless but at least it means that players are not taking their place in his squad for granted.

"It's nice to be called up but to retain my place is even harder," admitted winger Gabriel Quak, 22. "For the younger players, it's good to know that if we work hard, we will not be overlooked.

"And for the older players, they know they have to always be on their toes and not take their places for granted."