FAS name Belgium mastermind Michel Sablon as new technical director
It is the first ray of sunshine in what has otherwise been a gloomy year for Singapore football.
The Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) announcement yesterday that it has secured the services of Belgium's Michel Sablon as the new technical director has already started to spread cheer in the football fraternity.
But even amid the smiles, the call has gone out for a quality team to be built around the former technical director of the Royal Belgian Football Federation to ensure success in youth development here.
"His resume looks very, very good, he's exactly the kind of guy you'd want to bring in here," said former Singapore international turned television pundit John Wilkinson.
Sablon was on the coaching staff of Belgium's senior sides at the 1986, 1990 and 1994 World Cup Finals.
He was the director of the Euro 2000 Finals and, perhaps most crucially for Singapore football, Sablon was the technical director of the Belgian FA from 2001 to 2010, where he designed a 10-year master plan that would revolutionise the sport in the country of 11 million inhabitants.
Based on his blueprint, Belgium's golden generation flowed out of Brussels and into Europe's big leagues, featuring the likes of Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) and Romelu Lukaku (Everton), who were part of a team beaten by Argentina in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup.
Added Wilkinson (photo): "Of course one man can't change everything, and I'm sure he, more than most, would know that.
"I hope that he's already got a team of talented coaches on the plane over here."
Sablon will at least have some help.
In its initial plans, the FAS had said that along with a technical director, it would appoint a Coach's Instructor, who would be tasked to get local coaches up to speed with best practices in their craft.
Among Sablon's most important priorities right now will be to study the football climate in Singapore and then put up a name to fill that position.
The Belgian has been tasked to appoint a top-class Coach's Instructor, who will help develop the technical team and grow a whole new pool of coaches for the country.
The person will have to hold a Pro Licence.
For Rafi Ali, that is a position that will oversee important work.
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"I hope he can bring here what he has managed to do in Belgium - develop young players who have strong basic technical ability, and good understanding of football," said the former Singapore international (photo), who has been lobbying for a revamp of the youth development system in the country.
And in Sablon he asserts that there is hope.
"It's great that we've brought in somebody with that kind of experience in football circles, and he has proven quality with his work with Belgium.
"What are his plans? That is a very important question now."
Sablon, 67, will be officially unveiled next Thursday.
In a press statement released by the FAS yesterday, he offered an initial look the issues he will address.
He said: "Belgium and Singapore are countries with a small population size, and while the challenges and constraints are, to some extent, different, I am confident in building on the success of FAS' youth development system.
"Youth development is a long-term project and takes time to yield results. I will work closely with my partners and colleagues to further strengthen the current structure and system.
"In addition to the development of our youth players and coaches at both the elite and grassroots levels, I also look forward to overseeing the bid to host the Fifa Under-17 World Cup which is, in my view, a game-changer for football and sports in Singapore."
Last September, the FAS revealed its plan to host the 2019 Fifa Under-17 World Cup, or possibly the Under-20 tournament, with vice-presidents Bernard Tan and Edwin Tong tasked to come up with the blueprint for the bid.
One of the key factors of Sablon's plan in Belgium - and it is one that could make a significant impact here if he can replicate it - is to ensure young players were not allowed to neglect their education.
"I hated my youth team coach... and it was only when I got older that I realised that he was not only preparing me to be a professional footballer, but also the eventuality that I will be out of the game," said Wilkinson.
"It's a thankless job really, but we need coaches like that here."
MICHEL SABLON - A GOLD STANDARD*
- Holder of the Uefa Pro Coaching Licence
- Three-time laureate as the best coach-instructor from the Belgian National Coaching School
- National coach of Belgium's Under-14, Under-15, Under-16 and Under-18 teams from 1980 to 1983
- Head coach of the Belgian Olympic and Under-21 teams from 1983 to 1985
- Assistant coach to the national team at three World Cups (Mexico 86, Italy 90 and USA 94)
- Director of the 2000 Uefa European Championships from 1996 to 2000
- National technical director for the Royal Belgian Football Association from 2001 to 2011
- Tournament director for the Uefa Under-17 Finals in 2007.
- Uefa Jira panel member since 1995 (The Jira Panel is named after renowned Czech player, coach and administrator, Vaclav Jira, and consists of experienced technicians and coach educators, many of whom have coached or played at the higher levels of the game. It convenes to discuss specialist steps in coach education.)
- Lecturer on National Football Academies since 2009
- Fifa coach-instructor since 2008
- Member of the board of directors for the Bid World Cup 2018/2022.
* Just some of Sablon's long list of roles and accomplishments
SABLON NEEDS TIME TO PRODUCE RESULTS
Alex Weaver and Abdullah Noor are two men who know about youth development.
Englishman Weaver started his coaching career as one of Manchester United's academy trainers, while Abdullah remains the only Singapore coach to have guided a team into the Finals of a continental youth football tournament when his boys made it to the 2008 AFC Under-16 Championships in 2008.
Both applauded the move by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to hire 67-year-old Michel Sablon - the man credited with revolutionising Belgian football - as the new technical director.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Warriors head coach Weaver (photo) said: "It's a fantastic appointment. This is a man who knows how to put in place a youth programme and execute it to perfection.
"Not many people in world football have the track record that he does, but we have to remember that he's not going to deliver top youngsters within one or two years.
"We're going to see results in five or six years, at least. And if we can't develop players with him on board, then Singapore football is going nowhere."
Former national striker Abdullah (photo), meanwhile, stressed that Sablon's appointment is not the end of the work.
"FAS needs to get all of the top youth coaches in the country on board to assist Sablon, along with some of his own staff," he said.
"The whole country, too, must get behind him.
"I spent a good part of my career coaching youth, so I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to start them young.
"This is the last throw of the dice for Singapore, so we have to get it right."