In search of a fearless leader

PHOTO: Football Association of Singapore

By no means is this an indictment of the incumbent Zainudin Nordin or his predecessors, all of whom have ensured the sport remains No. 1 in the country, and in one way or another made positive moves during their time as president of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).

After Wednesday's announcement of a realignment of FAS' constitution to fall in line with Fifa rules, there will almost certainly be a new football czar in place by the middle of 2016.

For the first time since 1982, this will involve an election involving the various affiliates and members of the FAS, and whoever wants to take on the job, I hope he or she is fearless, and always sets out to do right by the sport.

That's the kind of leader the country's biggest, noisiest and most loved sport needs, someone with bold ideas who will set out to convince, cajole and woo, someone who will be unafraid to admit mistakes and face the music, and take decisive measures to rectify what went wrong.

Zainudin succeeded Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee as FAS chief in 2009, and I have questioned some decisions by both regimes over the years, with issues like funding for football, the weakening S-League and the poor standard of local coaches a perennial concern.

I know many in the local fraternity who have complained bitterly, insisting the FAS leadership was out of touch and unhelpful.

Many times, many more have hit out at the state of the local game while praising the strategy of our Malaysian counterparts, who spent millions locating junior teams in Europe and talked up their domestic competitions like the Malaysian Super League.

Today, Malaysian football is dishevelled, and Indonesia is no longer part of the Fifa family.

No one can take away from the FAS the three ASEAN crowns captured by the Lions since the turn of the century - with four titles, Singapore share top spot with Thailand - and the national association has certainly made some right moves.

The national body is free of corruption and the kind of jostle for power so popular in other nations.

While he failed in his first assignment as national coach at last year's Suzuki Cup on home soil, Bernd Stange seems to have found his feet, and working with assistants Fandi Ahmad and V Sundramoorthy, the German has manoeuvred the Lions into a good position in the ongoing World Cup qualifiers.

The competition also serves as qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup final, and Singapore, who have never managed the feat, stand a genuine chance of scaling that peak this time.

The appointment of Belgian guru Michel Sablon as technical director deserves praise, and the next FAS president must pull out the stops and give him all the support he requires as he strives to revamp Singapore football from the grassroots up, and make the country play the game the right way.

Over the last year or so, the names of FAS vice-presidents Bernard Tan and Edwin Tong have cropped up intermittently whenever the topic of Zainudin's successor is raised.

I know them, they are serious individuals, strong-willed and passionate, and both can bring Singapore football to the next level.

They are also working on the blueprint for the country to bid to host the 2019 or 2021 Under-17 World Youth Cup which, Zainudin and his team at the FAS believe, can play a decisive role in changing the face of football in the country.

It is a mighty endeavour that the new FAS president will have on his or her plate.

Along with the ASEAN Super League (ASL), which could be set for kick-off in 2017 and is expected to boost the standard of the game in the region.

The FAS has taken the leadership role in forming the ASL. The proposed new competition is an exciting prospect for more than 600 million football fanatics, with super clubs from each country tussling for the championship.

It is a potential game-changer, or it could be a costly failure.

The next FAS president must ensure it is a success. He or she must be able to engage the government to back the various strategies, and come up with a detailed battle plan that will convince Mindef to allow gifted youngsters deferment from National Service, if a unique opportunity abroad arises.

There have not been Asian Games medals or a SEA Games gold, but Singapore football is still the only sport that can make most of the country's citizens happily dizzy.

It is the beautiful game, with no room for politics, and requires a fearless steward who understands this intimately.

If you fit the description, then please stand for FAS president next year.


This article was first published on October 2, 2015.
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