By Michael Y.P. Ang
While Gabriel Quak’s confident finishing within a minute of his competitive debut for Singapore during the Lions’ surprising 2-1 victory over Syria in last month’s Asian Cup qualifier was understandably a memorable moment for the 22-year-old winger, it was certainly a significant, if not priceless, match-winning goal for Singapore.
It gave the Lions their first win in 11 competitive matches (World Cup or Asian Cup qualifiers) against a higher-ranked non-Asean team, ending 45 months of misery for the national team and giving Singapore’s football fraternity a huge confidence-booster.
Before that, the Lions had lost 10 consecutive matches against continental opponents, a losing streak that began in January 2010 under former coach Raddy Avramović.
Besides shoving aside the Lions’ losing habit, the 2-1 win is also significant because it was earned by a team solely comprising native-born players.
Let’s hope coach Bernd Stange can build on last month’s victory to lift the Lions to greater heights.
While the German works on improving the national team, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) should tackle persistent problems within the sport.
In recent years, I have noticed grave signs creeping into our national game. I see three corrosive characteristics plaguing Singapore football. Farce, apathy, and stagnation have become synonymous with football in the Republic.
FARCE – FAS’ Farcical Governance of Football
The way the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has been governing its sport since Zainudin Nordin took over the FAS Presidency in April 2009 is, at times, so absurd and disorganised, one cannot help but conclude that Singapore football is full of farce.
1. Lowering preset target to avoid admitting failure to meet goal
In April 2010, the FAS showed its commitment to pursuing football excellence with its comprehensive blueprint for football development. Under the FAS Strategic Plan, the main target is for Singapore to ascend to Asia’s top-10 ranking by 2015.
Another important goal was to reach the 10-team Asian fourth-round World Cup qualifiers that would begin in 2012.
However, after the Lions recorded Singapore’s worst-ever campaign in the group stages of World Cup qualifying, losing all their third-round matches in 2011-12, Zainudin conveniently lowered that target by claiming that Singapore has met its goal of reaching the third round!
2. ‘Disbanding’ the Lions – words only, no action
Perhaps the clearest sign of a disorganised FAS comes from that comical episode involving the Lions’ ‘disbandment’ in January 2011.
Following the Lions’ disastrous ASEAN Championship (Suzuki Cup) campaign the previous month, when Singapore crashed out in the first round for the first time since 2002, Zainudin decided to rebuild the national team by proclaiming that only a few of the Suzuki Cup players would be retained to form the core of a new Lions squad.
Merely four months later, however, then-national coach Raddy Avramović took the opposite route, retaining 14 of the 22 Suzuki Cup players to prepare for the second-round World Cup qualifiers against Malaysia.
Was Zainudin fully in control of the FAS?
3. Hiring a foreigner with lousy business background to run S-League’s business affairs
In January 2012, the FAS hired a Frenchman, who was banned from managing any sole proprietorship in France and whose own companies there had been liquidated, to run the S-League as a business more effectively.
The FAS attributed this misstep to the Frenchman’s “honest mistake” for not fully disclosing his business background.
Does the FAS solely rely on its job applicants to voluntarily reveal pertinent information, without doing adequate background checks?
This raises doubts about the professionalism of the FAS recruitment process.
4. FAS President claims Singapore football on right track – but is it really?
Singapore football enjoyed a little spark in December 2012 when the Lions won a record fourth ASEAN Championship.
During an Istana reception for the Lions the following month to celebrate their historic triumph, Zainudin said: “The evolution of the Lions into champions shows that the development of Singapore football is on the right track.”
Although the Asean Championship is the lowest level of competition the Lions participate in, winning it is nevertheless worth celebrating. In some small measure, it lifts the Singaporean spirit.
However, why did Zainudin put so much weight on such a minor regional title, yet last month called on Singaporeans not to look too much into the Lions’ results on the more-important continental stage?
Prior to Tuesday’s win against Syria, the Lions have scored only four times and conceded a whopping 31 goals in 10 consecutive defeats in competitive matches.
Even if Singapore keeps winning the Asean Championship but continually fails to leave its mark on the continental stage, this cannot be considered as being “on the right track”.
Michael Y.P. Ang is semi-retired. He was a sports administrator at the Singapore Sports Council’s sports excellence division and sports journalist with Channel NewsAsia.
In Part 2 tomorrow, he will cover two other corrosive characteristics plaguing Singapore football – apathy and stagnation.
By Michael Y.P. Ang