Sablon's here to stay
New FAS technical director agrees his development programme will take time to flourish; says S.League must improve
Michel Sablon's appointment as the new Football Association of Singapore (FAS) technical director on April 9 was heralded by many as a rare bright spot in a disappointing two years for local football.
The Belgian was the mastermind of his country's blueprint that produced its current "golden generation" of footballers like Chelsea's Premier League Player of the Year Eden Hazard and Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany.
There were some in the Singapore football fraternity who remained unconvinced, though.
Sablon needed almost a decade before the fruits of his plan began to show in Belgium, and they argued a two-year contract for the 67-year-old was nowhere near enough for any sort of football revolution here.
The grandfather of five, though, says he's here to stay.
In an exclusive interview with The New Paper on Wednesday, he stressed: "The two years is not final. It is simply an administrative agreement. I told the FAS president (Zainudin Nordin) not to worry about it.
"If I need three years, I will be here three years. If I need four, then four, or however long it will take.
"Some parts of our plan can perhaps be done faster, others take longer.
"A coaches' education programme, for example, you never do it in three years.
"So, the main thing for me is to start the (overall youth development) programme and make sure it runs well."
Sablon, who pioneered coaches' education in Europe alongside Gerard Houllier and Andy Roxburgh in 1994, has already developed a Grassroots Manual and presented it to the FAS' exco, and he's also made recommendations to tweak the youth national teams set-up as well as the youth football calendar.
He revealed that a meeting with Zainudin in Paris last year, which stretched to "almost a whole day", was what convinced him to uproot to Singapore.
"Before I came here, I spoke a long time with the president and Winston (Lee, FAS general secretary)," said Sablon.
"I met them in Paris for almost a whole day. And that meeting was, for me, the decisive moment.
"I had jobs (as a Uefa coach instructor) to do in Europe, but they convinced me that I could build a youth development programme up from scratch, from the beginning, and most importantly, that I would be given time."
Sablon was impressed by Francophile Zainudin, who learnt the language while on an Economic Development Board scholarship to earn a degree in Electronics and Electrical Engineering in one of France's "Grandes Ecoles", or elite schools.
"He speaks French like I do," chortled the man, who turned to coaching in the Seventies after a broken leg in two places wrecked his playing career just weeks after signing his first professional pre-contract.
Sablon, who proudly declares he took "zero sick days" in his 26 years with the Belgian Football Association, comes across as a hugely passionate football man.
He says the 4-3-3 formation is the best system to develop youngsters, and while he preaches positive thinking - "the only way to be successful is in the strength of positive thinking, you never achieve things as a negative thinker" - he does not close an eye to problems, one of which is the state of the S.League.
While he notes that the FAS has embarked on a thorough review of the competition, which is into its 20th season this year, he stresses the need for a vibrant domestic league if football is to move forward.
"For the moment, it's a problem, you can see from the (poor) public attendance," he said.
"But I've had a discussion with (S.League chief executive officer) Lim Chin and (chief operating officer) Kok Wai Leong, and they are aware there is a problem.
"I don't know this organisation and my focus is on youth development, but I know they are working and trying to find solutions to make it (the S.League) more attractive.
"They are looking to improve the football product, and that's important for youth development."