FAS chief wants Aide back
Football chief Zainudin also says Faris and Sahil should have been handled better, but wants Aide back
A number of players in the Singapore Under-23 football team would occasionally say they were gunning for gold, as Aide Iskandar's charges continued to build towards the 2015 SEA Games.
Few among the public believed them, as the team lurched from one poor result to another, be it the Courts Young Lions in the S.League or in friendly matches.
Few, though, would have predicted the Young Lions would not even make the semi-finals of the competition, with the SEA Games being held on home soil, amid SG50 celebrations.
Singapore's 1-0 defeat by Indonesia at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday night meant the football team were knocked out at the group stage of the tournament and, minutes after the exit, coach Aide announced his resignation during a tearful speech at the post-match press conference.
FAS president Zainudin Nordin offered no excuses for the team's failure.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, he admitted the team's failings and the fact that things could have been organised better with regard to key players Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi, who spent the season with the LionsXII instead of the Courts Young Lions in the S.League, where the bulk of the U-23s come from.
He also repeated what he had said in a statement released within the hour of Aide's shock announcement on Thursday - that the FAS wants Aide to stay and he would speak with the former Singapore captain very soon.
Said Zainudin: "We did not meet our target of reaching the semi-finals, and the boys didn't play to their full potential, despite being prepped for several months.
"Perhaps, playing on home soil, they couldn't cope with the expectations and the stress.
"It's disappointing, but that's also football.
"We need to now move on and try and maximise the talent we have in the team.
"There's so much for these young players to look forward to.
"We even have a few who can play in two or three more SEA Games tournaments."
Zainudin is backing Aide to come good.
"We have to be fair. As with any staff, you don't simply judge them on one assignment or tournament," the football chief explained.
"We have to see the overall picture, and Aide has done well in many other areas, such as grooming talent.
"There are many other areas we assess our coaches by."
Should Aide not change his mind and stay as the Young Lions coach, the team will be led by assistant S Subramani in the meantime, with a system put in place to look for a long-term successor.
Zainudin also admitted that the fitness of Faris and Sahil could have been monitored even more keenly.
The duo failed to reproduce their form with the LionsXII, with whom they won the Malaysian FA Cup three weeks before the SEA Games.
Faris looked a tired passenger during the four group matches at the Games, while Sahil, try as he did, looked desperately short of confidence in attack, mustering just one goal.
"It is difficult to say now if we should have left them out of the LionsXII team, because the experience they gained was invaluable," Zainudin said.
"You want to develop a player as much as possible, and I'm certain that the two boys benefited from playing in the cup final.
"There were positive outcomes from that, and both boys are now cup winners. But, yes, as far as being given ample rest and recovery is concerned, we could have done better with the planning and organisation."
On that note, Zainudin said that young players cannot simply be judged on or be required to win youth tournaments.
Having never won the SEA Games gold, emphasis has always been high on the U-23s to deliver at the regional event, but Zainudin wants the youth philosophy of newly appointed FAS technical director Michel Sablon to take root here.
"Young players must be developed to be the best they can be - and not to win youth tournaments," the Belgian had said, at his introductory press conference with the media in April.
"Of course, dealing with high pressure competitions does help the boys, but our KPI cannot be about winning at age-group levels... For us, it should be about the players' progress, from A to B to C," insisted Zainudin, yesterday.
"But how do we convince the fans, who will always have their own expectations?
"So, I think going forward, we will need to set the targets for our youth differently."
Young Lion Anu says no team were better than them
When coach Aide Iskandar broke the news of his resignation to the squad, moments after the 1-0 defeat by Indonesia in their final SEA Games Group A clash on Thursday night, a number of players broke down in tears.
Some even appealed to the former national captain, who has coached the team since 2013, to reconsider.
Many in the 20-man squad felt guilty. For it was their failure on the pitch which led to their coach's eventual fate.
Midfielder-turned-central defender M Anumanthan was one of them.
The 20-year-old was still despondent yesterday.
When asked where it all went wrong, Anu pointed to the Myanmar defeat, which left the Young Lions in a desperate position against Indonesia.
"It's hard to tell you if we were good enough to win the gold medal, but we were surely good enough for the semis," said Anu.
"We conceded two lousy goals against Myanmar, but no one can say they played better than us.
"Against Indonesia, you must give credit to them. They knew the pressure was on us and they were very composed throughout."
Some felt the Young Lions could even win the country's first football gold at this SEA Games, especially on home soil. At the very least, Aide's men were expected to reach the last four.
Two wins and two defeats doomed the Under-23s, who were left on their hands and knees at the final whistle on Thursday night.
"The coach can do only so much. It was up to us, and we couldn't reach the semis," said Anu. "So to see coach take the blame for the defeat was painful."
On the future of the team, Anu said he hoped Aide would reverse his decision to quit and stay with the Courts Young Lions for the remainder of this year's S.League campaign, at least.
"People don't see the good work he does, he's helped a lot of us develop since the NFA (national football academy), said Anu.
"I hope he changes his mind after taking a break."