FAS chief vows to find solutions to lift Singapore football
FAS president Lim vows maximum effort in finding solutions to improve the state of local football
Singapore's Under-22 football team beat minnows Brunei 1-0 through an own goal in their last match at the SEA Games football competition last night, but it couldn't mask the disappointment of crashing out of the group stages for a second consecutive time.
Richard Tardy's charges were already eliminated after Malaysia's 3-1 win over Myanmar on Monday, following the Republic's losses to Myanmar and the hosts in their first two Group A matches.
The Young Lions' early exit capped another poor year for the Republic's age-group sides.
Between 2014 and 2016, Singapore's age-group sides managed only 10 wins in 62 attempts, a number that points to a steady decline in the pipeline that feeds the already struggling senior national side.
The general sentiment in the football fraternity is that the development of the sport seems to have fallen behind that of other countries in the region.
And that has got Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Lim Kia Tong and his council worried.
The council held a meeting with technical director Michel Sablon on Aug 15, just a day after the U-22s lost 2-0 to Myanmar in their opening Group A match.
The New Paper understands that what was intended to be a presentation by Sablon turned into a heated interrogation of the Belgian by a council disappointed with the poor results by Singapore teams.
"Results tell us that other countries are progressing ahead of us, but not to the extent that most believe," said Lim, highlighting the fact that the U-22s actually dominated proceedings in certain periods during their matches at the SEA Games.
"In analysing this, the council had a meeting with Sablon and his coaches on Aug 15.
"We will definitely look further into it, at what the real reasons are for poor performances.
"We are particularly concerned about why we're not getting good results. We can't let such a scenario repeat itself, but we also cannot overreact."
"We need to see if we need to tweak the system or the coaching staff," added Lim, whose council will wait for the review report from the technical staff of the SEA Games team.
Former Singapore international Steven Tan pulled no punches in his assessment of the situation.
"Why is the state of our football like this? We have to go back to the drawing board and start all over again after this," said Tan, who called for a reassessment of the National Football Academy (NFA) and even a disbanding of the Garena Young Lions. "Something is clearly wrong, we're getting whacked at every age group."
The Young Lions are effectively the U-22 side that ply their trade in the S.League.
NOT ENOUGH COMPETITION
"The problem is that there is not enough competition for places. Once a player from the NFA gets into the Young Lions, he thinks his spot in the (senior) national team is almost secured," added Tan.
Former FAS technical director PN Sivaji agrees to a certain extent.
"I was technical director from 2004 to 2007 and I must take some of the blame," Sivaji told TNP.
"During my time, there was probably too much emphasis on the NFA and, as a consequence, we were looking at too small a number (of players in the system).
"Even when we did find good players from within the school system, they would normally not want to commit to football, and choose to focus on academics instead.
"I don't think that is a situation faced by either Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia."
But the situation is nowhere near as simple as extending the scouting network and increasing competition for places.
The FAS is poised to present its plans for the 2018 S.League to Sport Singapore (SportSG) after the end of the SEA Games, with the threat of a 50 per cent reduction in Tote Board funding for the league hanging over its head.
The league currently receives some $16 million in funding. Each of the six local clubs in the nine-team competition need between $1.2m and $1.5m annually to fund their football activities, with some $800,000 coming from Tote Board subsidies.
Sources revealed that if a reduction in funding does happen, the FAS will consider closing the league for a year as it plots a reboot of the competition that has endured dwindling interest from fans and sponsors.
That will render any argument on the existence of the Young Lions pointless, with the FAS needing to come up with a contingency plan to provide playing time to its players.
Even if SportSG does approve of the FAS' S.League plans, there are only six months for Lim and his council to make their plans a reality.
Indeed, after the heated meeting last Tuesday, TNP understands that Sablon, the man who oversaw the grooming of Belgium's golden generation of footballers such as Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, is frustrated, and may even consider throwing in the towel.
"Are we too hasty in coming to a decision now? Michel Sablon came only two years ago, will it be fair to look at the results from his programmes now?" mulled Sivaji.
He suggested giving four years for the local youth to be embedded in Sablon's system before assessing his efficiency in setting in motion a plan that can improve the state of local football.
Whatever the future holds for Singapore football, there will be no easy fixes as the FAS council manoeuvres the sport out of these murky waters.
"The council will have to look at things in its entirety, along with the programmes that we already have in place," said FAS vice-president Edwin Tong.
"But we acknowledge that we can deal with issues and manage things better."
Lim called for patience from football fans, as his council searches for solutions.
"Whatever decisions we are going to take, they must be well-considered," said Lim.
"I hope the public can be more patient, but rest assured that we will leave no stone unturned.
"If there are individuals who are responsible, we will take action if it is required."