Sablon defends poor results of national youth teams, promises results in 'four or five' years
FAS technical director Sablon defends poor results of national age-group teams, promises results in 'four or five' years
Last night, Singapore's national Under-15 football team were thumped 11-0 by Japan in a qualifying match for next year's AFC Under-16 Championship.
It was the second defeat of their qualifying campaign for the U-15s, following their 6-1 reverse to Malaysia on Wednesday.
The result extended the wretched record of Singapore's age-group national teams in competitive matches this year.
In 19 matches, the U-15, U-18 and U-22 teams have won just five times, losing on the 14 other occasions.
They have scored 19 goals and shipped a whopping 58, for a combined goal difference of -39.
These results have led some in the football fraternity to question whether Football Association of Singapore (FAS) technical director Michel Sablon's plan for local football is working.
The Belgian was appointed in May 2014 to replicate his success with his own country, after he developed the blueprint that produced players such as Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne.
In an exclusive interview with The New Paper yesterday, Sablon defended the results of the age-group teams.
The 70-year-old pointed to the deliberate "weakening" of teams that see a handful of talented players from each generation promoted to play in higher age-groups to accelerate their development as one of the reasons.
For example, the U-18 team that took part in the AFF U-18 Championship in Myanmar last month featured six 17-year-olds and two 16-year-olds, in the 23-strong squad.
Said Sablon: "It's normal that people react to bad results.
"But I have repeated this to my (age-group) coaches, in capital letters: Do not let results beat you.
"We need time for people to understand things we are doing, like the weakening of teams.
"Also, we are not focused on making good teams - we are focused on making good players.
"At the end of the day, the final goal is to produce players for the (senior) national team."
Sablon also addressed the U-15s' 12-0 thumping by Indonesia in a friendly match at the Wibawa Mukti Stadium in Bekasi in June.
He alleged that Indonesia fielded U-18 and U-19 players to ensure that they won the match, which was to inaugurate the new stadium.
That was why, he said, Indonesia could beat Singapore only 2-0 in a competitive match at the AFF U-15 Championship a month later.
But Sablon stressed: "Still, the thing is, if we lose - even in big figures - it does not mean all the players are bad."
He earmarked several U-18 players who could become key players for the U-22 team that will compete at the 2019 SEA Games, such as defender Irfan Najeeb, midfielder Jacob Mahler and striker Idraki Adnan.
Sablon admitted, however, that he was irked by criticism.
"It's like what (ex-US President) Theodore Roosevelt said, 'We have to keep our eyes on stars and feet on the ground'," he said.
"We have to realise we have a long way to go, because in the previous 10 years (before Sablon arrived), there was no proper development plan in place.
"All the players in our age groups now, from U-16 to U-19, have fundamental weaknesses, both technically and mentally."
When asked if former FAS technical director Slobodan Pavkovic, who was in the post from 2008 to 2014, should shoulder some of the blame, Sablon said: "I don't blame anyone. Everyone (involved in football then) is equally responsible.
"But now, the people who are doing something to change things, are the ones getting criticised."
Sablon presented his plan for youth development at the Fullerton Hotel 16 months ago.
His blueprint for Singapore football is broken down into 11 components and includes an overall development philosophy, coaching education, a revamp of schools and Centre of Excellence competitions, and specialised goalkeeper development, among others.
Despite the poor results, the Belgian said the plan was on track, and he's set to make a public presentation on its progress in the coming weeks.
He has lost key staff such as fitness supremo Balder Berckmans (joined Australian club Central Coast Mariners in April) and Young Lions coach V Selvaraj (resigned in May because of personal reasons).
But Sablon said the FAS has appointed capable replacements in former national player Noh Rahman and former national coach Vincent Subramaniam.
He is adamant that his plan for Singapore football will bear fruit, if the FAS council provides sufficient support.
Said Sablon: "If we don't take the proper steps for development, from grassroots to the "golden age" (10 to 13 years old) to the national age-group teams... we will never have better players.
"But, if we continue our plan, in four or five years, we will have 18-year-old players who have gone through the whole system, and they will be better than the players we have now."