Smaller intake in centres of excellence to raise quality

SINGAPORE - Quality over quantity - that concept represents the way forward for Singapore football's youth development system.

And it will be at the heart of a revamped Centre of Excellence (COE) programme, launched last Saturday at ITE College Central.

"After many years, we realised that we wanted to raise its quality," Football Association of Singapore president Zainudin Nordin said of the 14-year-old scheme.

"It's about how we could improve - that was the strongest motivation for this change and we want to optimise the resources that we have."

Under the revised structure, the number of Great Eastern-Yeo's S-League clubs running COE programmes has been whittled down from eight to three.

The trio - Home United, Warriors FC and Balestier Khalsa - were given the green light based on their fulfilment of several criteria.

These included access to at least three training pitches - with one having floodlight capabilities - a gymnasium, changing rooms with shower facilities, a treatment room and office space for coaches to work from.

The clubs will also take on additional age-group teams - going from three (Under-14, U-16 and U-18) to six (U-13, U-14, U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-18).

With each team comprising 25 players, the total number of players in the scheme will fall from 600 to 450.

But as Balestier chairman S. Thavaneson pointed out, it will help ensure a certain standard of football when this year's COE league kicks off on March 7.

"This is an elite programme, not a general youth academy," he said. "If you were to look at the performance of the clubs last year, there were a lot of kids who were just not up to the mark.

"By reducing the number, the competition will get keener and we will be able to produce better quality players."

It also means that more will be expected of the current crop of COE coaches - each in charge of one age-group team.

All of them are holders of at least an Asian Football Confederation "B" licence and were put through a rigorous selection process that included a match analysis exercise, theory examination and interview.

They will also be attending weekly seminars conducted by FAS technical director Slobodan Pavkovic and submitting proposed lesson plans on a regular basis.

Coupled with the introduction of dedicated goalkeeping and fitness coaches, as well as sports trainers, at each of the three clubs, Zainudin is confident that the new COE programme will light the way forward for Singapore football.

"We are moving in the direction of imparting values to ensure that we produce quality for the future," he said.

"Hopefully, this will become the new standard for all S-League clubs and even at national team level."

Fabius Chen

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