Coaches react: Results do matter, as a barometer of progress
Past and present coaches react to FAS technical director Sablon's comments on youth development
Results are not the be-all-end-all in youth football, but they have to be assessed and analysed to see if a development plan is on the right track.
That is the view of past and present local coaches in response to Football Association of Singapore (FAS) technical director Michel Sablon's exclusive interview with The New Paper last week.
Sablon, 70, is credited for developing the blueprint that produced Belgium's current "golden generation" of football stars, which include Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.
He was brought in by the FAS in April 2015 to put in place a pipeline that would produce talented Singaporean footballers.
But the journey has not been easy and, this year, poor results posted by various age-group national teams in Asean and Asian tournaments have led to some in the football fraternity questioning if his plan is working.
Just last week, the national Under-15 team suffered heavy defeats by Japan (11-0) and Malaysia (6-1), although they thrashed Guam 9-1, in the qualifying campaign for next year's AFC U-16 Championships.
Speaking to TNP, Sablon defended the poor results, stressing that the plan he put in place aims to produce talented individual players, not teams.
Singaporean Mike Wong, who is currently technical director of Laos, said: "I respect his view. Yes, results are not the only things that matter, but, in the age of social media, I feel a certain level of performance must be there.
"Big defeats are bound to happen, when you are trying to put in place a development plan.
"But it cannot be the case where every match is a poor result."
Wong was previously the technical director for Brunei for three-and-a-half years from October 2013.
His appointment came a month after the Brunei U-16 team were thumped by Australia (19-0), Vietnam (11-0) and even so-called regional minnows Cambodia (8-0) and Myanmar (5-0) at the AFF U-16 Championships.
Said Wong: "The president of the Brunei Football Association wanted a development plan for the next five to 10 years.
"But we had to bear in mind that even in the short term, we needed results.
"We are dealing with so many people. If the teams kept losing, the public would not trust our plans, sponsors would not come in to back us, and so on."
Three years on and, even with him moving on to his new post with Laos, it appears Wong's plan for Brunei football is bearing fruit.
At the AFF U-15 Championship in July, Brunei beat Cambodia for the first time in their history. And, at the AFC U-16 Championship qualifiers last week, they beat Macau (4-0) and Hong Kong (2-1).
In his current post, Wong said: "I have good support from the president (of the Laos FA).
"Of course, I have to convince him I am on the right track.
"I have KPIs (key performance indicators) to meet and, although I may not hit them 100 per cent, if I deliver 80 or 90 per cent, the (FA) will accept."
In his interview with TNP, Sablon also said he felt there was a lack of public support from the FAS' top brass - who were elected in April - for his development plan, when the critics have wielded their knives.
Former Singapore captain and coach Seak Poh Leong agreed, saying: "Yes, it is a key question that should be answered. Do they (FAS) back the plan, and agree it will take some time?
"If the answer is 'yes', they should come out and say it - which they have not."
However, the 64-year-old said the recent poor results posted by various national age-group teams are a reflection of the poor choices made by the previous FAS administration.
"We have to accept that the current problems are a result of issues from past years," said Seak, who was also FAS' director of coaching (a precursor to technical director) in the late 1980s.
"He (Sablon) should not be held responsible.
"When we were winning Suzuki Cups 10 years ago, that was when we should have put in place the right plan."
Sablon has promised results in "four or five years", saying that young players who go through his plan from the beginning will become better players than the ones at present.
Critics have dismissed the Belgian's promises, insisting the poor results are proof his plan has already failed and that he should make way.
But Seak said: "If we make a change now, who else can (FAS) bring in?
"And you would have to start from zero again.
"What would you expect the next TD to do? Rub a magic lamp to get instant results?
"Anyway, if Sablon dares to commit in saying his Under-12s are going to be our best hope, then let's see in four years if they will produce results. If they do not, he has to go."
What the FAS says...
"I am surprised by Michel's claim that the FAS does not support his plan.
"He should know better, given that he has met the Exco (executive comiittee) and FAS senior management on several occasions to discuss the plan, its implementation and also progress.
"Whilst the FAS sees the various challenges which Michel has identified, it is equally important that clear measurable benchmarks and targets are put in place so that youth and technical development can be charted and its progress regularly evaluated.
"For instance, if results in matches are not to be an indication of how the coaches and the technical department are performing, then it is critical we understand what tangible indicators of progress should be applied so that we can clearly account for how we appraise the success or failure of the technical staff.
"One of the key concerns of the FAS lies in ensuring that good young players are regularly scouted, identified and developed, and then properly integrated into the coaching set-up.
"The youth coaching system has to deliver this, and also ensure that the player base is as broad as possible.
"Perhaps Michel saw our request for setting tangible targets as a lack of support, but FAS is accountable to our stakeholders and to the public, and it is only right we ask for accountability considering the way the region's youth teams seem to be playing at a much higher level than our boys.
"From a systems standpoint, we wanted to know what the gaps are and as a result, difficult questions have to be asked.
"It cannot and should not be status quo especially when the desired outcomes are not coming through.
"These issues have been regularly discussed with Michel, and we will continue to do so.
"It is unproductive and unbecoming for this to be dealt with in the media." - Yazeen Buhari, FAS' deputy general secretary