Sablon's blueprint for Singapore football
Singapore football's new technical director Michel Sablon, famous for the blueprint that produced Belgium's current golden generation, tells SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ in an exclusive interview he wants to change mindsets and get youngsters to have fun in football
1 It has been nearly two months since you were appointed on April 9. What have you been working on?
The objective of my job here is to enhance the quality of Singapore football by creating a new youth development plan.
The plan we have come up with, which was proposed to the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) exco last week, starts with a grassroots manual which will be launched on Aug 15.
It contains our philosophy, a way of developing kids in the same way, be it at the grassroots level, in schools, or FAS Centres of Excellence.
The main thing is we start from small-sided games, from one against one, three versus three and so on, up to 11 v 11.
The manual has details, like how, at six and seven years old, we start the kids by playing fun games, to have fun with and without the football. Then, at eight and nine, a bit more technical games.
What I call the golden years are when the player is from 10 to 13. That's when they go from 5 v 5, to 8 v 8 and then to 11 v 11.CCo
Right now, our objective is to have as many children playing football as possible.
There are 187 primary schools in Singapore, you have 220,000 children in them. If we have 10 per cent of them playing, that's already about 22,000.
2 FAS vice-president Bernard Tan has also zoomed in on widening the base of youngsters in primary schools playing football. How do you plan to implement the manual at that level, where some schools are coached by teachers who do not possess coaching badges?
We have (Varatha) Rajan, who was a teacher at the Sports School (and is now FAS general manager of youth development) and we have discussed about organising a workshop for the teachers. He has the contacts.
We want everyone teaching football to youngsters in Singapore to apply the same philosophy. Not because it's FAS' philosophy or mine, but because it's proven this way of teaching is the best for children.
3 How much priority have you placed on developing local coaches?
Coaches' education is one of the pillars of FAS' strategic plan and, to me, it is the most important one.
Right now, we are in discussions with the AFC (the Asian Football Confederation), because it will also introduce a new coaches' education system soon.
I know because their new technical director Andy Roxburgh (former Scotland coach and Fifa technical director from 1994 to 2012, who was appointed in March) is a good friend of mine.
I started coaches' education with him and Gerard Houllier in Europe in 1994.
I will meet Andy next week to talk about the upcoming AFC coaches education programme.
Because I have worked with him closely on coaching programmes for 20 years and, since I will speak to him soon, the FAS could be a role model in Asia for the implementation of the new AFC programme.
4 Will there be any change to the national youth set-up?
Currently, we have NFA (National Football Academy) teams Under-13, U-14, U-15, U-16, U-17, U-18 and U-21.
We will skip the U-13 next year because, like I said before, this is a crucial transition year to come from small-sided games to 11 v 11.
Plus, selecting players at 10 or 12, is much too early. You cannot say if a player will become a good player or not.
I give you an example. Kevin de Bruyne (who stars for Bundesliga club Wolfsburg) is now one of the best young midfielders in the world.
But he was a shy, small guy who was not a really excellent player at that age, 10, 11, 12.
In addition, we will create an U-20 team from next year, because I think the gap of three years between U-18 and U-21 is too much.
Then the next step for this new team will be to prepare for qualification to the Olympics.
I know recent results of the national youth teams are not good.
But you have to know the result, at youth level, is absolutely not important.
What we are trying to implement here is a better education of the players. The teams will become better when the players become better.
5 Do you think you can convince youth coaches that winning matches really doesn't matter?
In the new development plan, this is crucial.
I had the same procedure in Belgium when I started.
We changed the playing system for national teams over a day.
There were more unhappy people than those who were happy. But you can see the results now.
The focus was not on results in the first year, it was on making players better. Maybe you are right. The coaches of the national teams now are too focused on results or winning games. But maybe they are evaluated on those results, which is also not right.
The right thing to do is to see in the beginning of the season, how they train, what the training programme is, and how the players progress.
From now on, our youth coaches will not be judged on the results of the team, but on the way they develop the players.
6 You must know of the challenge of Singapore's National Service. How do you plan to work around this?
It's a big problem. I'm not directly involved in this discussion but, when we are credible and can propose a good development plan, then we can go (to the authorities) and perhaps they can help us.
We will not go there and ask for things. We will give them things. When I was coaching the U-21s in Belgium (where military service is mandatory), I was also supervisor of the military team in Belgium.
7 Lastly, can you tell us a bit about yourself? Family? Any hobbies?
My wife is here in Singapore with me. I have two children, a boy and a girl who are both grown up, and I have five grandchildren.
I miss them all, of course, but we Skype every week or two weeks, and I hope they can visit us in a few weeks or months.
But, for the moment, my wife and I have a nice apartment in the East Coast. We feel good, we have been supported very well by the FAS.
Hobbies? I bought a bicycle. I'm Belgian after all!
1 GRASSROOTS MANUAL
A bible for youth coaches at all levels on how to approach training young players from six to 13.
2 DEVELOPING COACHES
A coaches’ education programme aligned with one that will be launched by AFC technical director Andy Roxburgh. Tweaks to the local ‘C’ and ‘B’ License courses.
3 RE-JIG NATIONAL YOUTH TEAMS
The national Under-13 team to be scrapped. U-20 team formed from next year to bridge the gap from U-18 to the U-21 and U-23 sides for Olympic qualifiers.
Plans to use facilities of the People’s Association to conduct grassroots programmes to broaden base of youngsters playing football.
5 NEW YOUTH CALENDAR
A revised calendar so young players do not have to play school, club and international tournaments in the same period, in an attempt to avoid burnout.