Sablon: Singapore football right on track
FAS technical director Sablon says upcoming two tournaments will highlight progress of young players
The countdown has begun.
In just over six months, the national Under-22 team will kick off their South-east Asia (SEA) Games campaign in Kuala Lumpur.
The tournament will be an opportunity for the team, led by Frenchman Richard Tardy, to lift the pall hanging over local football recently.
In November, the national team were knocked out of the group stage of the AFF Suzuki Cup for a second consecutive time.
The S.League, meanwhile, continues to struggle to attract fans as it prepares to kick off its 22nd season.
But there is reason for hope, according to Football Association of Singapore (FAS) technical director Michel Sablon.
The Belgian was roped in by the FAS in April 2015 to take Singapore football to the next level by developing players who can compete with the best in Asia.
Sablon, after all, is famed for coming up with the 2004 blueprint that developed his country's "Golden Generation" of footballers like Vincent Kompany, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
He is confident Singapore are on the right path, describing this SEA Games and the next one in 2019 as the two barometers of progress.
"At the SEA Games, for the first time since I've been here, we will be trying to achieve a good result, while also focusing on good performance," said the 69-year-old.
"We have a very young team. The average age of the current side is 19.3 years.
"Ten players from this team can play for Fandi (Ahmad's side) at the 2019 SEA Games.
"That's an investment we are making, and in 2019, I believe we can get results.
"And that team will go on to form the next national team, along with some older players."
There are many promising players coming through the FAS pipeline, according to Sablon, pointing to a game played by last year's national U-15 team at the International Challenge Cup in November as proof.
BEST 45 MINUTES
"It was the best 45 minutes of football I've seen from a Singaporean team since I arrived here," he said.
The team, coached by Dutchman Robbie Servais, raced to a 3-0 half-time lead over the youth team of Johor Darul Ta'zim, but were pegged back to 3-3 and eventually lost on penalties.
Sablon dismissed the result, saying what was more important was the brand of "fast, attacking football" the boys displayed in the first half.
It is a style of play Sablon wants all local national teams to adopt.
The Belgian said that there has been a change off the pitch, too.
"Recently, I went to a training session of the U-22 team, and I saw that the boys were there 25 minutes before the start of the training session, already on the field," he said.
"And 20 minutes after training, they were still on the pitch, doing their own shooting practice and so on.
"That's what we want: the mindset and passion to get better. It was not the case when I arrived here."
With his contract up in less than two months, The New Paper understands Sablon is in talks with the FAS to extend his stay here.
He is highly sought after, but he insisted he is only focused on his programme for Singapore football. "I am here to realise this project," he said.
"My worry is not about my contract. My worry is what happens if the stakeholders do not come together and work hand in hand for the betterment of Singapore football."
Sablon is convinced that local football will soon reap the rewards of the current blueprint, if all parties pull together in the same direction.
"To me, the key test is in the development of the individual players," he said.
"In five years and beyond, every year we want to develop four or five players to be considered for the national team.
"I am confident that a good national team will come eventually if we stick to our principles and can execute all the plans we have."
Sablon: National Training Centre essential for youth development
Myanmar unveiled one last week. Cambodia have had theirs for years.
Even Timor Leste, ranked 191th out of 205 nations in Fifa's rankings, have one of their own.
However, Singapore, who boast of four Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cups, still do not have a National Training Centre (NTC) that their footballers can call home.
This, despite the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) first mooting their plan to build one as far back as in April 2010.
The main thing holding them back?
The lack of a suitable location.
FAS technical director Michel Sablon said that the NTC would be the final piece in the jigsaw for his blueprint for Singapore football.
"We have a plan, a good programme, and good people with passion," he told The New Paper.
"The only thing is there are some (challenges) - one of them is that we have no NTC to train (at for) the whole day, from morning to evening.
"In Belgium, we had a good plan as well, and we had the opportunity to have an NTC.
"It had six beautiful pitches, two indoor artificial pitches - and now they are building two more.
"It is my prayer to have something like this in Singapore, because it would help with so many things."
TNP reported in October 2015 that the site where the Kallang Cricket Field is located, and a plot of land in Taman Jurong, were being considered.
The FAS' plans for an NTC, which is estimated to cost about $25 million to build, feature up to three full-sized pitches, and also house sports science and medical facilities.
Sablon, roped in by the FAS two years ago, is famed for coming up with the 2004 blueprint that helped develop his home country's "Golden Generation" of footballers, such as Kevin de Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard.
Within two years of him producing the youth development programme for Belgium, an NTC was built.
He reiterated how "crucial" the facility is to Singapore's youth development.
Said Sablon: "Right now, our players move from Serangoon to Gombak to Yishun to Woodlands. If we had an NTC, it would be a different story.
"Having an NTC will increase the amount of individual training for the players by 30 per cent without increasing the number of training hours.
"Sport Singapore has been very supportive and helped us with (the national team's training location) Geylang Field, which is a good start, but we definitely need more if we want to improve further."