Football: Elements of deja vu in Sablon blueprint

Football: Elements of deja vu in Sablon blueprint
Football Association of Singapore (FAS) technical director Michel Sablon presenting his grassroots manual at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Four months into his stint at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), technical director Michel Sablon has come up with a plan to remedy what he thinks is ailing football in the country.

The solution, he hopes, can be found via a 187- page updated grassroots manual which was launched yesterday.

Authored by Sablon, the book aims to promote fun football for children aged six and above, through games involving fewer than 11 players in each side.

The Belgian also hopes to get teachers and coaches involved in grassroots and youth development to embrace the central goal of getting children to enjoy learning to play the game.

"At this moment, from what I have observed, Singapore does not have a football identity but in at least two years, we should have that," said Sablon at a media briefing yesterday at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

"Our mindset needs to change to embrace an offensive style of football where our teams build up play from the back and in order to achieve this, we need to start from the basics.

"The basics (are) at grassroots."

The revamped grassroots programme will be implemented in tandem with the FAS Cubs programme which will be launched at the Jalan Besar Stadium this Saturday.

Spearheaded by FAS vice-president Bernard Tan, the Cubs programme is part of an ongoing effort to expand the talent pool for Singapore football.

An FAS survey done last year found that nearly one in two children in primary school want to play football but only 5.9 per cent of boys and 1.6 per cent of girls actually do.

Sablon's plan is to ensure that children will enjoy playing the sport with less emphasis on results and more on fun.

According to Sablon's way, children aged between seven to nine will play only 3v3 and 5v5 football while 10-12-year-olds will play 8v8 matches.

When the child is 13, he is ready to progress to full 11-a-side matches.

While Sablon, 68, was enthusiastic about showcasing the manual, there was still a sense of deja vu during the presentation.

In 1999, former Goal 2010 project director Jan Poulsen introduced what was billed as the "2010 Strategy for Schoolchildren".

The Dane introduced a formula aimed at refreshing grassroots football where kids were instructed to play games of smaller sides - similar to Sablon's idea.

In 2010, former technical director Slobodan Pavkovic, a Serb, introduced a 414-page coaching manual called the National Football Syllabus.

It aimed to teach not only fundamental football skills to children and youth, it also sought to instruct them to understand the 4-2-3-1 system and teach dribbling techniques through a series of drills called the "24 basic moves".

But Sablon is optimistic that his ideas will endure and succeed. He was formerly the national technical director at the Royal Belgian Football Federation and helped to introduce a 10-year masterplan in 2006 that sparked a golden generation of players such as Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard.

"The difference is now, it is part of the whole plan," said Sablon.

"Coaches' education, grassroots football development are in one system and we are all working in the same direction.

"We have a vision to improve the quality of football and the quality of players in the country, so if we want to achieve a vision , we should follow the same system."

Sablon's ambition has also been helped by an agreement with the People's Association to provide the training pitches.

The agreement, which will be made official in the coming weeks, will see 28 PA facilities being used for the programme.

A further five grassroots centres (Serangoon Stadium, Sembawang Primary, Queensway Secondary, Admiralty Primary and Bowen Secondary) will mean that 33 centres in total will be used to run the weekend-only programme.

"It took eight years for Belgium to get to where they are now. So we need time," said Sablon.

And Sablon closed his session with a quote from the late British economist John Maynard Keynes: "The real difficulty is not in developing new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones."

This article was first published on August 14, 2015.
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