Singapore football: Return to basics to rebuild Lions' roar

Singapore football: Return to basics to rebuild Lions' roar
Singapore Under-23 players celebrate the goal scored by Shafiq Ghani in the international friendly match against the Indonesia Under-21 held at the Hougang Stadium on 2 April 2014.

When Bernd Stange took over the national team, he promised high- intensity attacking football built around swift and short passing.

During last month's ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, it was clear that, after 18 months in the job, the German coach still had some way to go to accomplish his vision.

Only two of the team's six goals came from open play as the Lions limped out in the group stage.

Observers say such an attractive style takes time to take root at the senior level, and the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) should focus on getting Stange's playing philosophy ingrained among youth players .

Said Warriors FC coach Alex Weaver who guided his side to the 2014 S-League title: "Barcelona didn't just show up and play their possession style.

"It's built up over the years from the youth teams to the first team.

"The most important next step is to bring in a technical director, and decide the playing philosophy for the next 10 years, focusing on the 14- to15-year-olds."

Former Balestier coach Abdul Karim Razzak agreed, saying: "There are not many centralised training sessions for the national team so you cannot implement this style overnight. You need to start down at the schools level and coach players the right way from there."

One factor that could benefit Singapore: There is no shortage of qualified coaches to groom players.

According to the FAS, there are 568 coaches with an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) C Licence - the minimum qualification needed to coach a school team.

In fact, it claims Singapore has 20 AFC Pro Diploma holders, the most among South-east Asian nations. This is the equivalent of a Uefa Pro Licence, entitling one to coach at a top European club.

To make football an attractive career option, ex-national defender R. Sasikumar wants a pathway where young players can pursue academic qualifications while playing the game.

He said: "Parents need to see that their children can play football and secure the minimum academic qualifications. So in case a football career doesn't pan out, there's something to fall back on.

"That's the only way to get them to support their kids in football.

"The Singapore Sports School has a good system. But that's only for the top 12-year-old players.

"There are many late bloomers in football, I am one of them. Can we expand that? Increase the intake or create similar pathways?"

As for the current squad, Abdul Karim said: "The team had some good players like Hariss Harun and Faris Ramli. Whether or not there is a new coach, he should choose a style that can win tournaments.

"Raddy (Avramovic) didn't play fantastic football but we all remembered the AFF Cups he won."

Amid reports of a fractured dressing room, where senior players are at loggerheads with Stange and the young players, Abdul Karim said the national team should set aside the grudges quickly.

"The existing players should try and be open-minded to whoever is in charge. A football team needs to be united in one direction. If you don't like the coach, then don't be in the team," he added.

While they may have failed in their title defence, this generation of national players have a responsibility to inspire budding players. One way is to embrace the idea of plying their trade further abroad.

Current stalwarts like Hariss and Safuwan Baharudin are known to have drawn interest from clubs in Europe and Australia, yet both are playing in the Malaysian Super League.

By taking the first step, they can inspire future generations to aspire towards similar dreams.

Said Sasi: "It takes a concerted effort from the Government, the FAS, the players, media and the people.

"Football is an important fabric of society and we have a duty to start rethinking our approach to football, get behind it and at least try to hit the heights we are truly capable of. Right now, we are not even scratching the surface."

This article was first published on Dec 14, 2014.
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