Rebrand S.League and revamp youth development: Experts
Moving forward, experts say S.League must be rebranded and revitalised, youth development revamped
There have been some highs and lows for Singapore football this year, but the local fraternity is brimming with optimism as it looks ahead to next year.
The positivity does not come from blind faith, but stems from the unusual situation in which football finds itself heralding in the new year.
"There is a unique opportunity now, with the LionsXII out of the Malaysian Super League, and almost all the players (the exception being Safuwan Baharudin signing for Malaysian side PDRM) joining S.League clubs. And we must make use of that opportunity," said former Football Association of Singapore (FAS) technical director PN Sivaji.
Last month, the Football Association of Malaysia decided not to renew the Memorandum of Understanding that saw the LionsXII enter Malaysian domestic football in 2012.
Former Singapore international R Sasikumar agrees with Sivaji's view, and takes it a step further.
"The S.League is key, without a doubt. It is the heart of football for any country and, if your heart is not functioning, your entire body will have to be on life-support," he said.
"People are suddenly more interested in the league now and we must keep this momentum going, and make a good show of the S.League.
"That's where the investments and resources should go - the league needs a bit of love.
"Marketing is key, and it's time for a massive rebranding of the league.
"The product needs new packaging to put bums back on seats, and I hope they look at the key touchpoints."
The former defender believes more can be done, and suggested a slew of marketing moves - including rebranding, new broadcast perspectives, entertaining matchday experiences and a digital and mobile presence - that could be implemented to breathe new life into a flailing league.
Former Tampines Rovers coach Steven Tan, meanwhile, feels that youth development pipelines must be strengthened if there is to be a sustainable ecosystem.
"Every country that has adopted the system well has been successful and we, too, must have good youth systems and a pathway for young footballers," said the former national winger.
"And the role that the FAS technical director (Michel Sablon) plays is vital."
Since his April appointment, Sablon has moved to revamp grassroot football, and is looking to make changes to how schools approach the game.
Tan feels that the appointment of quality coaches and focusing on their education are key, and Sivaji agrees.
"I think coaches' education is something which we have neglected for the last five to 10 years," said the former national coach.
"I think to put the ecosystem in a proper place, we need more than just coaching courses.
"We need to have mentors for our coaches, so they can continue to learn and keep up with what the best are doing."
But, for everything to take shape, the fraternity needs leadership and direction.
"For a lot of these things, it really comes down to direction-setting in the FAS," said Sasikumar.
"It's no secret that the elections are scheduled to happen next year and, while it won't be an easy task to get things going (now), I don't envy the job of whoever comes in as president. But I think he's in a very interesting position."
Tan hopes that the FAS can rope in good people who have the interests of Singapore football at heart.
"I understand that a lot of these things that we need to change can't come before the elections, and that is key. Hopefully, we get a new president who can shake things up, and one who doesn't surround himself with yes-men," he said.
"There are many questions to be asked about Singapore football but, so far, there have been no real answers.
"The people at the top need to set a vision and have a plan - we've set in place many plans which haven't worked before, and it's clear that it's back to the drawing board.
"And we must get it right."
The FAS has implemented several master plans in the past - from Goal 2010 which targeted qualification for the World Cup Finals, to the last Strategic Plan announced in 2009 that aimed to get the Lions into the top 10 of Asian football by this year.
While there were interesting effects that came out of these plans, both failed to hit their primary targets.
Sivaji called for frequent reviews of any plans that the FAS may put in place, to "tweak them to raise the bar, or even lower them if necessary".
"We should set reasonable targets, be transparent about milestones, and change things when necessary, before the plan is carried out to its end," said Sivaji.
"I don't think our football can go any lower, we can only go higher, but we need to get the important things right."
People are suddenly more interested in the league now... That’s where the investments and resources should go — the league needs a bit of love.
— Former Lion R Sasikumar on the S.League