Young Lions get serious for SEA Games
Youth side will be all under-22 in 2017 S.League as Tardy unveils busy schedule next year
There is a major effort underway as Singapore targets glory at next year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games football competition.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, national youth teams head coach Richard Tardy outlined his plans for the Young Lions.
For starters, the Garena Young Lions, to be coached by former Singapore international V Selvaraj, will kick off the upcoming S.League season with 30 players all born in the year 1995 or later as the SEA Games football competition next August will be an under-22 tournament.
The team's senior players like Khairul Amri, Firdaus Kasman, Christopher van Huizen and Fareez Farhan will all be free to sign for other clubs.
"Last year we took Amri and Firdaus to help add some experience to the team, and we didn't know at the start of last season whether the SEA Games will be an under-22 or under-23 competition," said Tardy, who will be in charge of the team at the SEA Games.
"It would have been difficult to start with an entirely young team. Still, we had a team with an average age of 21.5 years, which is the youngest in the club's history.
"It gave the opportunity for under-18 players like Rusyaidi Salime, Joshua Pereira and Hami Syahin to progress.
"But now that we are so near to the SEA Games, it makes no sense to take overaged players.
"Honestly, it will be very difficult to compete in the S.League, we know. Those with one-year experience can help us.
"We must think about the future of Singapore football and the future is coming from the youth.
"I'm sure that in two or three years, we will find some senior national players from this team."
The 66-year-old Frenchman urged support from all stakeholders as he revealed the comprehensive training schedule in store for the Young Lions, who will sit out of local cup competitions.
He said: "Our season this year ended on Oct 15 but we trained until Nov 30 because I didn't want them to go a long time without training.
"They now have a three-week break before they come back in the last week of December to get ready for the new season.
"Next month, we will have a training camp in Phuket with good facilities and a good field to get back to a good level physically before the season starts.
"In March, we will play in a Dubai tournament against strong teams from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, China and Thailand.
"I don't want easy games even though I know they are good for the spirit.
"Our best preparation will come in July when we play a minimum of three games in the AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers against one or two strong teams as we are in the third pot.
"Only by doing well against strong opponents can we say we have improved."
Ever since the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) appointed him in July 2015, Tardy has been candid in his assessment of youth footballers, pointing out their technical and physical weakness.
In September, he told TNP that if the SEA Games were held then, the Young Lions would not even qualify for the semi-finals.
However, Tardy has seen progress, even though he admits the boys are still behind the likes of Thailand and Vietnam in terms of technique.
He said: "The distance between dreams and reality is action. We can dream of doing well but as a coach, I must be a realist and say we have to work very hard to do well at the SEA Games.
"We drew with Vietnam in the Nations Cup and lost 1-0 to China and Iran. This means we are not far off.
"Technically, I don't think our level is enough, and we have problems heading, shooting and crossing, which we will work on specifically for 60 to 80 minutes every week.
"But the base is physical and we have no big problems there in terms of injuries and cramps like we had before. Tactically, we must improve more such that individuals can adapt to whatever system we have to play during a game.
"It is not my job to set a medal target but even as we train to develop national players for the future, we will also start to focus more on results next year.
"I want the players to show me the fight in them, that they feel responsible for the SEA Games when they wear the national team jersey and their will to fight even the idea of losing."
Oct 15, 2016 - Last S.League match, a 3-1 defeat by Tampines Rovers
Nov 30, 2016 - Garena Young Lions continue to train until the end of last month
December 2016 - Players take a three-week break from football and resume training from last week of the year
January 2017 - Two-week training camp in Phuket, Thailand. Double sessions in the morning and afternoon and two friendly matches to get into shape before S.League starts
March 2017 - Friendly tournament in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, against the hosts, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, China and Thailand
May 2017 - Two friendly matches
June 2017 - Two friendly matches in Qatar
July 2017 - AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers; minimum three games
August 2017 - SEA Games