Unleash the Roar: Multi-prong plan to raise S'pore's football standard
No one magic bullet, says FAS, as observers warn of potential issues
In explaining their blueprint for the road to World Cup 2034 yesterday, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) charted the possible progression of a budding pre-teen talent to an overseas-based Lions star.
The kid starts out learning to love the sport in primary school under a standardised National Football Curriculum, before honing his craft at one of the School Football Academies and an elite youth league in secondary school.
He might then be fast-tracked to continue his development at Borussia Dortmund or a La Liga club, opt for early enlistment in NS with concessions, before a career in one of Asia's top leagues and return during the international break to play for the Lions.
That was the alluring potential pathway FAS deputy president Bernard Tan described at a press conference at Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday.
Sat alongside SportSG chief Lim Teck Yin, he was divulging more details on the Unleash the Roar initiative - a national project to raise the standard of football in Singapore that was announced by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong in Parliament on Monday.
Said Tan: "There's no one single magic bullet that will bring football success.
"We will need a broad-ranging re-imagination and re-energising of Singapore football to ensure that key aspects are in place to set a platform for our young ones to be able to rise to a standard that can bring consistent sustainable success."
Singapore's last grand plan to qualify for a World Cup was first mooted in 1998, when the Goal 2010 project set the lofty target of reaching football's showpiece event in South Africa.
Perhaps chastened by that failure, there is some scepticism of the 2034 blueprint.
Former Lions defender Kadir Yahaya, who coached the Singapore team that won the Youth Olympics bronze medal in 2010, told The New Paper: "We always have a grand plan, from Goal 2010, to the target of being in Asia's top 10 to (former FAS technical director Michel) Sablon saying we can be like Japan by 2020.
"We always have plans but we never follow through... Where is the follow up, where is the succession plan?" said the St Joseph's Institution coach, who added that beach football and futsal should play more prominent roles in uplifting the standard of Singapore football.
A veteran local football official, who declined to be named, though, suggested that World Cup 2034 might come too soon for any revamp, considering qualifiers will begin in 10 years.
He noted that while there will be a sprinkling of youngsters who are products of the Unleash the Roar project, the bulk of the team that embarks on qualification will be between 26-29, meaning they are 16-19 now.
He explained: " I wouldn't say it is impossible, but it'll be a huge challenge to unlearn the bad habits and inculcate the new habits that are going to be implemented.
"The golden age of learning is 9-13... These guys who are 16-19 now... if they have been educated well, we would not have these abysmal results at the (age-group) international stage for the last few years."
Tan admitted that he "can't make excuses for age-group results" but explained the rationale for the 2034 target.
He said: "2030 is too short, and if we went to the public and said 2038, (around) 18 years from now, the kid may not even be born yet. A little bit tough.
"We chose 2034 because it is a medium-term target that current participants can aspire to. We're looking at 6-12 (year olds)."
Former Lions defender and founder of sports marketing agency Red Card Global R. Sasikumar noted that rather than getting hung up on the 2034 "destination", there should be a greater focus on "the journey that we're going to take for the next 14 years".
He noted: "If we say in 2034, we are going to win the SEA Games gold, is that inspirational? People will start laughing and say we spent all this money to win the SEA Games... If we say we spend all this money to qualify for the World Cup, then they'll say it is ridiculous.
"There must be a balance of understanding and expectations."
Former Lions captain and coach Seak Poh Leong, meanwhile, felt that regardless of whether the 2034 target is met, continuity of the project is key.
He said: "Anything with continuity will... help the situation. We are at level one, so we do something now, we can move up the levels; if we don't do anything now, we will still be at level one." - Additional reporting by Narendaren Karnageran