THREE former Singapore international stalwarts used the analogy of a “dead horse” in summing up the prevailing mood at the FAS (Football Association of Singapore).
The trio won major regional tournaments from the 1980s, including the Malaysia Cup, but preferred to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. They admitted that much feedback from the football fraternity had gone unnoticed at the FAS Jalan Besar Stadium headquarters.
For the record, flogging a dead horse (alternatively beating a dead horse, or beating a dead dog in some parts of the Anglophone world) is an idiom that means that a particular endeavour is simply a waste of time as there will be no outcome, such as flogging a dead horse, will not cause it to feel pain or anything else.
Their reactions are among 35 coaches, club officials and players The Independent received after Thursday’s article where Vincent Subramaniam, arguably Singapore’s highest qualified, award-winning coach, who left the FAS on Monday said in an exclusive no-holds-barred interview with The Independent, what’s ailing the No 1 sport here.
The 64-year-old with the highest AFC coaching degree (the AFC Pro Diploma), says the root of the problem is in “poor coaching” and it would take the FAS “six to 10 years” before they come back to a decent regional playing field to compete with the best in Asean.
‘BETRAYING THE GAME’
Significantly, Vincent, now based in Bangalore, India, says: “There are coaches who are betraying the game and are not ‘ethical’ in their profession. This we must act quickly to change. The profession must have credibility, honesty, respect, accountability. The curriculum was not respected or never exist,” he says matter-of-factly.
Former Home United honorary general secretary Muhammad Azni reiterates that “coaches play an important role in the entire eco system of football”. He says: “Good or bad football players, the coach has a direct responsibility in producing them.”
“He identifies, recruits, trains, develops, mentor and produced the football players. Although largely seen as a trainer, the coach is a key figure that shaped many good footballers,” he adds. “Together with football skills, the players’ character, emotional and intelligent quotient in football are honed largely during the training.”
He says he has observed that local coaches “barely gets trained to sharpen all these other soft skills. Technical skills are provided but this part is not developed over the years. Most coaches want to win trophies but showed very little interest to develop the true potential of players outside technical skills”.
Azni emphasises: “That is the root of our coaching problems…win the trophies but never about developing the players. In my view, that’s an area where money should be poured to train the best out of our local coaches.
“When we have many more true high quality local coaches, then the baseline to choose the good players would have been raised significantly. We can’t go wrong in investing quality or technical skills. In fact, we should have both before coaches get certified.”
MOST NUMBER OF TOP COACHES
Award-winning former national coach Jita Singh, the SNOC 1981 ‘Coach of the Year’ says Singapore probably has the most number of AFC Pro Diploma holders, the highest coaching certificate, recognised by FIFA and AFC.
“We’ve more than 20 highly-trained individuals, most of them former internationals, and after graduation, they should’ve been given higher-end appointments by the FAS to test their coaching skills, especially at youth-development levels,” he says.
But Singapore-based AFC Pro Diploma holders have, rather ironically, moved on to other Asean countries, probably because of a lack of home-grown appreciation, such as Micheal Wong (Technical Director, Laos), V. Sundramoorthy (Head Coach, Laos), P. N. Sivaji (Technical Director, Hantharwady United FC, Myanmar) and Robert Lim (previously, youth development in Thailand & Vietnam). Other prominent names out of town are AFC “A”-Licence holders Aidil Shahrin (Head Coach, Kedah, Malaysia) and Stephen Ng (Head, Youth Development, Brunei).
Another former national coach, who declines to be named, says the “top-qualified coaches should be pushed to the S-League clubs which is the pinnacle of Singapore football”. He adds: “The answer is not always with foreign coaches as we’ve experimented with so many from Trevor Hartley, Micheal Walker, Burkhard Ziese, Jan Poulsen, Barry Whitbread, Raddy Avramovic, Bernd Stange, Slobodan Pavkovic and Michel Sablon”.
Jan Poulsen, the ex-Denmark coach who was with the Danes’ Euro 1992-winning team, says: “Basically I agree with Vincent Subramaniam. In order to get football to progress you must have a good infrastructure, good coaches, a good youth development structure (competitive leagues) and a common philosophy – the Singapore way.
‘PRACTICAL COACHING ON PITCH’
“As Fifa instructor, I have twice in Vietnam and three times in Cambodia ( latest just two weeks ago) and the biggest problem for the coaches is to transfer theory in to practical coaching on the pitch. I don’t follow Singapore football so closely enough that It allows me to say what to do, but again, you have a very experienced technical director in Michel Sablon, so please follow his experienced advice.”
Former FAS general secretary Steven Tan shook his head countless times and said: “I have too much to say, probably not worth saying. You can summarise and read Vincent Subramaniam’s real thoughts: No blue print, no leadership vision, no effort, no accountability, short on commitment and effort, lacking high calibre facilities, no dedicated and passionate coaches, non-existent curriculum…is there anything right in front of us?”
Former Singapore assistant national coach Robert Lim, of Tiger Cup 1998-winning fame, who has coached in Thailand and Vietnam, touched on the syllabus issue. He asks: “Are we strong enough to wield the stick? Do we check on the coaches? The entire football demographics, culture and management in clubs are not up to scratch.
“The academies in Vietnam, for example, where I worked with. had dormitories, buildings with offices, classrooms and most importantly an exclusive use of a proper training ground. We have zilch!”
Rubbing towards shoddy grassroots development, Lim says “school football is a nightmare, to say the least…we have only a few decent schools”.
‘PROBLEM MORE SYSTEMATIC’
Another former FAS general secretary rubbed salt to the wound by saying that the “problem is more systematic…as it’s a long-term commitment to development from the highest level”.
Declining to be identified, he recollects how Japan, which had an amazing 50-year strategic plan, offered its development plan and curriculum for every age-group to Singapore. He says: “We visited Japan FA and they were willing to share. I don’t what became of that when I left.”
He said the “leadership needs to take ownership of that systemic issue”. He says: “It’s not having a plan. It’s being committed on a long-term basis. Unlike Astroturf, football development is watching grass grow and pulling the weeds.
“It’s a very sustained effort and commitment demonstrated by leadership and investing resources and, most importantly, showing it by patience, nurturing and disciplining.”
“We need to expect more of all – leaders, officials, coaches, fans, parents. We need to believe the best in us and demanding the best. Not trite politically correct dribble (pun intended)”.
Saluting Vincent Subramaniam, he praises: “I respect his commitment to Singapore. There are no footballing ‘Rambos’ in the world. Football is a team sport and football development even more so. The challenge is bigger than one man. It’s leadership which shapes culture.
“When FAS consistently under-performs it’s not a person, not a department. If other small countries can improve, no need to win the world cup, just improve, then it’s a systemic matter. So we must just fix the system and it requires money, time, courage, faith and bold leadership to believe that’s the way to go.”
QUALITY OF COACHES
Former Lion City Cup striker Johana Johari, now an AFC Pro Licence Diploma holder, who has coached Hougang United, says the “quality of coaches leaves very much to be desired”. He says: “They’re not good footballers. Some never ever played in the NFL. Some are Prime League drop-outs and today coaching big clubs, which is very dangerous.
“Vincent Subramaniam is a very good example as he explains to most of his peers, coaches and colleagues with his vast experience with AFC & FIFA. He has become more knowledgeable because of vast international exposure.”
He moans that the S-League (now called SPL) is 23 years but “we have yet to produce quality coaches…we even have a SPL club which offers low-quality coaches with no senior coaching experience, simply because he is cheap and can take instructions”.
Kalwant Singh, former Tampines Rovers striker in the 1980s, now based in Los Angeles, USA, who keeps a close watch on Singapore football, says “coaching is the key to development and the best coaches should always be reserved for youth development as without this there is no future”.
He says: “Vincent is spot on in stating that there should be more accountability with coaches. Just like teachers are accountable to make sure that students get educated, coaches have to do the same with development. We do have some of the same problems with coaches in the USA, who put themselves ahead of the development of the players. These coaches don’t last.
“We start players at four years of age and most of our players practice at least five-six times a week in addition to achieving very high grades at school. Players who are not wanted by other clubs but have the heart and will to train hard are those we take with open arms. Coaches have to remember that not all players are big and fast. Teaching them the rudimentary skills is very important.”
Kalwant, who is also a Singapore hockey international striker with a Masters academic degree, pointed out that “one of the saddest things I have seen in Singapore is that most fans can relate to English Premier League teams and not local SPL teams. Yet these same fans are the first to condemn the level of Singapore football. Yes, there is work to be done and lots of it but it can be done”.
“Let’s use education as the vehicle to get it done. We do it in every sport here and it works. Not only you get great players, but you will also have them educated.”
A leading MediaCorp broadcast journalist, who asked not to be named, said “Singapore football is hemorrhaging”. He explains: “The FAS needs to take a long hard look at where they have gone wrong and arrest it. Promises were made and hardly delivered on. Please stop the rot.”
He advised that “professional and semi-pro players, and even coaches, just cannot play for the love of the game. They need to be better compensated for the time and energy they put into the game”.
Kuala Lumpur-based award-winning sports journalist George Das says “Vincent is so right in pointing out the rot. Like him, many others before him gave done the same but the national body don’t listen”. He adds: “To continuously churn out talent, you definitely need to work in schools. There’s no short-cut to long-term success.”
Lau Kok Keng, a prominent football-fanatic corporate lawyer, says there are “about 200 football coaches registered with the National Registry of Coaches which has various quality control requirements imposed on certified coaches on the Register”.
He poignantly asked: “Is it really about poor coaching or poor learning? Do the young players of today have enough passion, drive, commitment and discipline to succeed even if they are trained by the best football coaches in the world?”
Former Singapore 1973 SEAP Games hockey gold-medal winning vice-skipper Arul Subramaniam, a former SAF senior officer, expressed “disappointment” at the non-renewal of Vincent Subramaniam’s contract.
He says: “I’m saddened that his contract was not being renewed despite his international-class coaching credentials that others do not possess. He’s a very valuable home-grown talent and the FAS should have given him an extension of three years to see tangible results.”
An AFC (Asian Football Confederation) official from Kuala Lumpur, who prefers to be anonymous, says “there are all betrayals to the truth and pure football” after reading the Vincent Subramaniam article. He says: “Vincent has in-depth know how of Singapore football , I agree with him that the core business of football in not in anyone of their hearts,
“The coaches and educators are very crucial in a development structure, there must be strategic vision and plan to lift the standards, it can only be done through good and pure coaching, if you don’t focus on the teachers, how do you expect to have good students? This has to be done at the roots, get the best coaches for this level, only then you see results in the near future.”
‘VINCENT’S VIEWS ARE TRUE’
FAS council member Yakob Hashim, a former Malaysia Cup goalkeeper and qualified coaching instructor, says: “What Vincent has mentioned in the article is true. But you should officially ask the FAS for a formal reply.”
At press time, The Independent has yet to receive replies from the FAS general secretary Yazeen Buhari at the Jalan Besar Stadium headquarters
But in a media statement on February 12, the FAS on its website confirmed that “Coaching Instructor Vincent Subramaniam ended his stint with the FAS upon the expiry of his contract”.
The statement says Vincent played a “key role in the Continuous Coach Education sessions for the youth coaches – including those from the Centre of Excellence clubs – to ensure that elite youth development is aligned with the FAS youth development philosophy”.
“The FAS would like to thank Vincent’s contributions to the FAS in his time here and wishes him the best for his future endeavours.”
End of the day, in my personal opinion as a sports journalist who has covered football for over four decades, the FAS big-wigs must touch their hearts and ask if they can really revive a “dead horse” as what the fraternity feels appears to be the state of the No 1 sport here.
More sincere work has to be done, with quality coaches and football educationists, and home-grown coaching and playing talents cannot be ignored. This hard behind-the-scenes work will not be a waste of time if the right passionate “bola” people are in the right shoes at the FAS Jalan Besar Stadium headquarters.