Wanted: More skilful footballers
Ex-Lions weigh in on Fandi's comments about footballers lacking high technical proficiency
Fandi Ahmad, V. Sundram Moorthy, Dollah Kassim. The mere mention of these names brings back memories of these players thrilling crowds at the old National Stadium with their spell-binding skills.
But Fandi, currently coach of the Young Lions, recently lamented that his players are lacking in skills and tactical understanding.
Hence, they are working on their strengths - fitness and speed - and are constantly motivating them.
To be sure, modern football is not won on technical proficiency alone. But, in this era of compact defending, a moment of magic is often what is sorely needed to pry open stubborn backlines.
But the tricks of the trade, which the late Majid Ariff called "weapons", take time to be honed.
Several former Singapore internationals that The New Paper spoke to believe that it boils down to distractions and how much players are willing to sacrifice for the sport, although coaches and parents can also play a part.
Ho Kwang Hock, a former Lions striker in the 1970s, stressed that the technicalities of football take years to master.
If technically you’re not good enough, there’s only one thing that can help, which is to get yourselves so fit that you can play for 180 minutes... But can the players do that?Former Singapore international Ho Kwang Hock
Referencing players in his time like the late Dollah, known as the "Gelek King" because of his dribbling prowess, he insisted that raw gems need to be polished.
The 62-year-old told TNP: "No matter how much genius you have in you, you need to work on it.
"When you are young, getting fit is the easiest thing to do. But technical-wise, you'll need years to develop and you need to be consistently putting in effort.
"If technically you're not good enough, there's only one thing that can help, which is to get yourselves so fit that you can play for 180 minutes, not 90 minutes.
"But can the players do that?"
Ho also insisted that players now do not have the same patriotism as those in the past did.
Reminiscing his playing days under the late "Uncle" Choo Seng Quee, he recalled singing the national anthem at 6am before every centralised training session.
Said Ho: "It's only when you feel it in your heart that the passion and sense of pride of playing for your country will grow.
"Unless you are proud to play for your country, you shouldn't be wearing that jersey."
Former national goalkeeper David Lee added that perhaps getting paid to play football professionally has stripped off the players' motivation to push themselves.
The 59-year-old, who was the Lions' No. 1 custodian in the 1980s and 1990s, said: "Last time, as amateur players, we were given only an allowance to train. The only rewards we got were match bonuses.
"Sometimes, the players now tend to get too easily contented, so they don't work harder. You ought to be working harder to earn the extra bonus and keep your first-team spot."
Besides that, Lee emphasised the importance of clocking in hours on their own.
"Those days, players will come way earlier before training to work on their weaknesses and the basic skills, but that seems to be lacking now.
"Putting in extra training on your own will go a long way, because when the season starts, the coaches will be focusing on tactical and team work.
"They've got no time to brush up on your individual skills, so it's really up to you to put in the extra work."
Former midfielder Malek Awab, who was part of the 1994 M-League and Malaysia Cup-winning team with Lee and Fandi, has similar sentiments.
The 57-year-old added that the players should work harder and leverage all the support they have now.
He said: "Players now are very lucky because they get paid, get better attire and footwear, and even have the benefit of sports science.
"So use that to your advantage and don't let there be distractions. Nothing beats hard work.
"Just keep working hard because hard work pays. We're not saying that the players now are no good, but we just want to see them become better."
Former Geylang International coach Noor Ali, currently on a one-year coaching stint with Japanese second-tier club Matsumoto Yamaga, believes players are not lacking in passion but more of guidance.
He said: "I won't blame players who are not technically good because there was no system or structure in Singapore to mould these players from a young age."
The 42-year-old believes that this is where coaches can make a difference. (see story below).
Coaches' motivation versus digital distractions
In this age of instant gratification and digital distractions, coaches and parents play crucial roles in helping young athletes become proficient with their skills.
That's what two former internationals Mohamed Noor Ali and Aleksandar Duric believe.
Noor Ali, who coached Geylang's Prime League squad for five years before helming the S.League team in the middle of last year, feels that coaches should take the initiative.
The 42-year-old, who is in Japan on a coaching stint, said: "I've coached the youth for many years and I told them that if they want to come down earlier before training to work on their basic techniques, just let me know and I'll be there.
"And that's what Ifwat (Ismail), Asshukrie (Wahid) and Noor Ariff did.
"All you need is one player to come early, and slowly the rest will follow. But I have to start the ball rolling."
Basically, we all are fighting against technology, and that’s why we don’t get enough skilful kids playing footballFormer Singapore international Aleksandar Duric
Principal of the ActiveSG Football Academy and former national striker Duric agrees that coaches play a crucial role in nurturing footballers from a young age, but added that it is also a battle to win the parents' support.
The 47-year-old said that children are getting less playing time with distractions from their mobile gadgets.
He said: "Basically, we all are fighting against technology, and that's why we don't get enough skilful kids playing football, or even kids who are even ready to play any sport.
"Actually, it's about trying to win the parents over first, before we can even get kids to spend more time playing football and working on their skills."
Although it may be a struggle with children now, Duric, who retired from playing at the age of 44, emphasised that skills alone do not make a good footballer, what's more important is one's attitude.
Said Duric: "I wasn't a skilled player but I was committed and worked very hard.
"The younger generation are giving up very easily because they're not strong mentally and physically like we used to be.
"We need to teach the younger boys that nothing comes easy, and everyone has to start somewhere." - SHARIFAH MUNIRAH