Aleksandar Duric: The Valencia way to Goal 2034
Singapore should harness La Liga club's expertise in footballing excellence
When I visited top Spanish football club Valencia last year, I saw a sports factory of football excellence, heritage and professionalism.
Even the groundsmen spent all day meticulously maintaining the football pitches, ensuring that each blade of grass was ready for training.
The 18 Singaporean children whom I brought there for a week-long training camp were just as impressed. The visit was organised by the Singapore Olympic Foundation and ActiveSG, which held its fourth trip last month.
An idea came to me then: What if we are able to harness Valencia's expertise for Singapore's own football development? The timing cannot be more urgent, seeing how the Young Lions failed to get past the group stages at the SEA Games.
And with the Football Association of Singapore's ambitious target of qualifying for the World Cup Finals in 2034, we will need all the help we can get.
So why not tap on Valencia?
If there is one European club which Singapore can learn from and embrace, this is it. The club understand Singapore, our children, our needs and our demands.
It is an elite football club with a Singapore connection, owned by billionaire Peter Lim and managed by former Singapore diplomat Anil Murthy.
It is a 100-year-old institution, with a century of producing world-class football magic against the odds. This is why Valencia are a regular Champions League club.
Valencia have much to share with Singapore, especially in the three areas which we need to achieve Goal 2034: A lack of passion, differing priorities and a limited pool of talent.
Children in Singapore don't fully understand the meaning of passion. It is a very strong word - if you have passion, you give everything you have. It means being willing to sacrifice a late night out so as to be in best shape for training the next morning.
At the club's academy, young players lead extremely regimented lives, with their days mostly revolving only around football and studies. But they are willing to make such sacrifices.
This passion extends to the families. Take Jose Luis Gaya, Valencia's left-back who is now a Spanish international. Since age 11, he travelled over 100 km every day to attend training in Valencia. How many of our kids and families have the passion to do this?
In Singapore, studies will always be the No. 1 priority. That is completely understandable. I tell my children the same thing!
But what we are missing here is a balance between education and free activities. In Europe, children enjoy greater freedom.
Their belief is that it is important to have sports for character development.
While kids here would spend only a few hours on the ball weekly, Spanish children spend hours on the ball daily.
Here, parents are concerned that spending too much time on the pitch would mean missing valuable hours with their books.
There is so much focus on studies that many other things get neglected. But, for a young footballer wanting to succeed on the field, a better balance is necessary.
A LIMITED TALENT POOL
Valencia have a big pool of good players who are always pushing each other to improve. Every training session is a competition. Every touch they take is pressure.
When you compete against the best, you get the hunger and desire to improve, every day.
But in Singapore, the number of good players is minuscule. The other kids will not be able to push the most talented ones to do better. That is why the best players need to go somewhere else to feel the pressure.
We already have a proven success story: Joseph Schooling, who left Singapore at 14 for the United States, a swimming powerhouse. Seven years later, he would deliver Singapore's first Olympic gold medal. This approach is a proven blueprint for sporting success.
A VALENCIAN CONNECTION
Like how Schooling prospered, we can also succeed by establishing a partnership with Valencia.
The club have a stellar record of developing their academy children into world-class players, such as David Silva and Isco.
At Valencia, the academy is also a priority project. We will be in good hands.
Parents do not have to worry when it comes to academics. Valencia boys are required to do well in school, in addition to their football training.
There's no better way to reach the top than to be constantly exposed to the elite. To make Goal 2034 a reality, the first steps start in Valencia.
The writer is a former Singapore national footballer and principal of the ActiveSG Football Academy, a youth football initiative under the national sports agency.