Stange wants more commitment from national U-23s
SEA Games gold will remain a dream unless players train like professionals, says Stange
They spent January honing their skills in Turkey, cut their teeth plying their trade in the domestic Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, and are now in Austria testing themselves against high-level European opposition.
All with one aim - winning gold when the South-east Asia (SEA) Games comes to Singapore next year.
But, watching the national Under-23 side in close quarters in the serene settings of Flachau, Salzburg, national coach Bernd Stange believes more needs to be done to give the Republic's youngsters a genuine shot at becoming the first Singapore side to strike gold at the SEA Games.
"Conceding 11 goals in two matches was a warning sign for us. The results and performances told us that our SEA Games team are not yet ready to perform at that level," said Stange, referring to 6-1 and 5-0 losses in Austria, to Czech side FK Pribram and Germany's Borussia Dortmund's U-23s respectively.
"The gap is too big because most of our SEA Games players are semi-professionals, and they are not ready to play against full professionals at this level."
Stange, 66, was speaking to The New Paper before the U-23s' 5-0 win over German side TSV Freilassing in the final fixture of the tour last night.
"That was why we made the decision to cancel the last match against (Russian Premier League side) Kuban Krasnodar and choose another opponent who is of a lower and suitable level. We do not want to demoralise the best young footballers in the country," he said after last night's match.
With school and National Service commitments, U-23 coach Aide Iskandar has struggled to consistently get a full squad for both training sessions and competitive matches, something Stange wants changed.
In Austria, players trained twice a day, a professional standard that Stange wants to keep to, even after the players return to Singapore this week.
"We have strong reasons to form an internal Football Association of Singapore (FAS) task force after returning to Singapore to push this team forward; we have to give them the chance to have more training, and to be able to have more commitment to football," said the German. "We have to do whatever we can to release them from other commitments if we are to give our team the best chance to win the gold medal."
Stange pointed to efforts by regional rivals who have sent their U-23 teams on extended overseas stints in preparation for 2015 - Malaysia's Harimau Muda A are competing in the Queensland League in Australia - and warned of falling behind.
"Our opponents, like Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines, are preparing their teams on a fully-professional level overseas, but our players will be returning to semi-professional level once we return from this training tour, which means they will no longer be available all the time like they are now," he said.
"If there is not enough training, we cannot build up muscles, skills and abilities. This is the commitment I refer to, to be full professionals."
Stange conceded that there was a "big gap in the standards of education and development, physical strength, speed and challenges", specifically in the 5-0 loss to Dortmund.
But, even in defeat, there was still a silver lining.
"We saw many positive things... the boys are very committed, very passionate, and they kept on running and fighting to avoid a heavier defeat," said Stange.
"We are not panicking because of this result, but we do have concerns and we must find a way to solve them because expectations for next year's SEA Games are extremely high. It was good to see what we have to do in the next 10 months."
We have to do whatever we can to release them from other commitments if we are to give our team the best chance to win the (SEA Games) gold medal.
— National football coach Bernd Stange