Fandi speaks out against calls to disband Young Lions
Young Lions coach speaks out against calls for Under-22 side to be disbanded
Calls for the disbandment of the S.League's Young Lions have been made for years, with their under-performance in local and international competitions often cited as one of the reasons to nullify their existence.
Recently, Tampines Rovers' veteran Fahrudin Mustafic also expressed similar sentiments, in the wake of the S.League's rule changes.
From this year, the six senior local S.League clubs must have at least six Under-23 players in their squad, three of whom must be in the starting line-up.
Fahrudin, 36, believes that the Young Lions should hence be disbanded so that the best youngsters can be distributed among the clubs.
However, Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad, who took over the reins of the Young Lions last month, firmly believes that they should be kept together, as it would aid their cause for August's Asian Games - should they get the nod - and next year's SEA Games.
Fandi told The New Paper: "In this set-up, we make these boys have stronger belief in themselves, just that they have to work harder.
"The players in this generation are lacking in tactical ability and technical-wise, they're also very weak.
"So what we have to do is work to their strengths, which are speed and fitness, build on their football knowledge and constantly motivate them."
Along with calls for dissolution of the Young Lions, critics have warned that keeping the U-22 side together will result in complacency among the young players, as they would be assured of playing time.
But Fandi, 55, thinks otherwise, as only those who impress in training will be picked to play.
He said: "The players won't have it easy. Only those who perform well in training will get to play...
"So we're looking at a lot of teamwork, togetherness, team bonding and, most importantly, they must be very fit to play at the highest level."
Fandi, who rose to stardom as an 18-year-old match-winner in Singapore's 2-1 victory over Selangor in the 1980 Malaysia Cup final, is quick to remind critics that these youngsters are the future of Singapore football.
He said: "We can't depend on the old players forever. These youngsters are the future, so we need them and we need them to play at the highest level."
The Young Lions project was set up with the objective of giving youngsters regular game time ahead of the 2003 SEA Games. However, in the past eight editions of the biennial Games, Singapore have won only three bronzes and were knocked out in the group stage five times.
They finished bottom of the nine-team S.League last season, with just six points and 10 goals from 24 league games.
Fandi, who led the Young Lions to a third-placed finish in the 2006 S.League, hopes that with a different approach, they will have a better showing this time round.
Said Fandi, who is adopting an attacking approach: "What's important for us is to improve, because we're not looking to be the S.League champions.
"We're looking to surprise people and show them that these boys mean something to the future of Singapore football.
"Of course, it matters whether we win or lose, but at the end of the day, we must also play entertaining football that people will enjoy watching."