FAS: We're on the right track
Technical director Pavkovic says the way forward is to send young players overseas
Youth development in Singapore football is on the right track, but the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) needs more funding and resources to take it to the next level.
That's the assessment of the FAS technical director Slobodan Pavkovic, in response to queries from The New Paper regarding the recent unflattering results of the Republic's youth and developmental teams.
Pavkovic, who assumed his role in 2008, insisted that there is no shortage of talented young players coming through the national age-group teams.
He said: "I am heartened by the development of our players who progressed through our youth development system... Our players are intelligent and have the ability to succeed at the top Asian level.
"(Players) such as Iqbal Hussain and Safuwan Baharudin have also progressed from the age groups to the senior national team and both were identified by coaches from top European teams as having the potential to eventually play in Europe."
The FAS says that Courts Young Lions forward Iqbal, 21, and LionsXII defender Safuwan, 23, caught the eye of former Borussia Moenchengladbach coach Hans Meyer, former Munich 1860 and Skoda Xanthi coach Rainer Maurer and Dinamo Moscow coach Stanislav Cherchesov during a training camp in Austria in July.
Said Pavkovic: "We have a good pool of talented players and I firmly believe that more would be presented with the opportunity to play overseas if we have more resources to send our players, at a young age, to play more top-level international matches and to train in better facilities.
"We must secure the required level of resources in order to maximise the potential of our players. It is important for the FAS to obtain (these) resources needed for the next phase of its strategic plan, and to secure more regular overseas stints where our boys will take on stronger and tougher opponents."
P N Sivaji, who had stints as national coach and technical director, agreed with the Serb.
Most recently head coach of Kanbawza in Myanmar, he said: "While it is important for the youth players to train on a regular basis, it is also important for them to play quality matches regularly so as to practise what they have learned and ensure they maintain a competitive edge.
Apart from additional funding, Sivaji said that two issues - players being unavailable to train regularly because of school and National Service (NS) commitments, and the lack of facilities - are challenges the FAS has to work around.
He said: "While the key goals and programmes spelt out in the strategic plan are visionary and are integral to the long-term success of local football, these are two key structural issues which will always restrict the level of success we can achieve.
"We have the ideas and the talent, and there is no reason why we cannot reach the top levels of Asian football.
"The only missing ingredient is the most important: A solution to resolve the lack of training facilities and unavailability of players."
Pavkovic said that Singapore has a good youth-development system in place, after the setting up of 10 Junior Centres of Excellece (JCOE) from Under-6 to Under-12 levels in recent years.
This year also saw the restructuring of S.League club's COE by reducing the number of clubs running the programmes but expanding the number of age-groups.
In addition, said the former Kuwait national coach, the FAS also has a sound coaches' education programme in place.
On top of the various Asian Football Confederation (AFC) coaching certificate courses conducted on a regular basis, the FAS has also organised the AFC Pro Diploma course, which has resulted in 20 of its coaches now possessing the highest coaching accreditation issued by Asia's football body.
There is also a proper mentorship programme in place.
"For instance, our senior coaching personnel will work closely with our young coaches on the preparations for upcoming competitions and may, depending on the necessity, also serve as technical advisers during the tournament," said Pavkovic.
"The FAS also actively seeks opportunities to invite leading international officials to present and share with local coaches the best practices in modern football.
"The technical directors of Fifa (Jean-Michel Benezet), Austrian Football Association (Willy Ruttensteiner), French Football Federation (Francois Blaquart), former England Under-21 coach Brian Eastick, and senior coaches from Atletico Madrid and Juventus were among those who have visited Singapore and shared their views on key topics with local coaches in recent years."
Sivaji urged local coaches to expand their horizons and not simply depend on attachments arranged by the FAS, if they aim to become top coaches.
"It's great to see Fandi Ahmad (at Johor Darul Ta'zim last year), V Sundramoorthy (Negeri Sembilan), Mike Wong (technical director in Brunei) and Stephen Ng (youth coach in Brunei) challenging themselves to take on jobs overseas," he said.
"Our coaches, however, should aim to learn from the best in Europe if they aspire to take on the top local coaching jobs someday.
"The hardships and challenges that they have encountered, or will encounter, will definitely make them better coaches and stronger men."