SINGAPORE — The wounds may take time to be properly treated, but the healing process has started, and the rebuilding of Singapore’s football will soon take its shape as laid out by Eric Chua, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth during his opening speech at the Unleash the Roar! (UTR) Football Conversation, a townhall session to engage with various stakeholders in the local football scene.
Attended by about 170 participants, the dialogue was held at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre on Thursday after a disastrous 2023 SEA Games campaign by the Singapore national under-22 team in Cambodia. The Young Lions failed to win a single match, ended the campaign at the bottom of Group B and lost their final match 7-0 to arch-rivals Malaysia.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary Chua acknowledged the ‘anguish and frustration’ that fans have commented online, and he too felt the ‘pain and heartache’ of not just the 7-0 defeat but the entirety of the Young Lions’ SEA Games campaign.
“The results has been an impact on our local pipeline of talent. What has been done before, is no longer working well enough to produce talent that would make our national team competitive at the regional level. At the same time, others have forged ahead. We can do two things: to sit by, wallow and do nothing or we can take action to rebuild Singapore football. I say we take action,” said Chua, who is also the chairman of the UTR executive committee.
The Senior Parliamentary Secretary also urged local football fans not to only trust the process, but to also participate in it so that Singapore’s football will be able to ‘Unleash the Roar.’ Only time will tell whether the Lion will one day roar again, or it continues to whimper and is only able to bask on its past glory.
An honest conversation and a national effort to rejuvenate Singapore’s football
There is no denying that the morale in Singapore’s football might be at its lowest. But despite that, there is still significant support for the sport as many might still reminisce about the good old days of the Malaysia Cup era or remember the time when the stadiums were packed when former national coach Radjoko Avramovic led the players out during the Suzuki Cup matches.
But despite the current situation, former Singapore national footballer Aide Iskandar believes there is still hope for Singapore’s football to regain its footing.
“We can only improve if we work together, whatever plan or structure that you have, if you don’t have the proper people or resources to lead and execute it then it will just remain a plan,” said Aide coached the Young Lions to the bronze medal at the 2013 SEA Games.
“We have to acknowledge that we are in a crisis, at the lowest now. We need to have everybody to play a part. Put any ego aside, and be humble in order for us to rise up again. Humble in addressing what are the mistakes, humble in addressing why we didn’t work together, and set tangible targets that we can achieve,” expressed Aide.
Adding on to Aide’s comment is Rafi Ali, who is a regular in the middle of the field for the Lions, especially in the 90s. He explained that the coaches and scouts at UTR are constantly on the lookout for promising young players who have the potential to excel in football.
“I hope everybody listens and thinks constructively. Everybody needs to see what we have done wrong and try to be better. When I speak to the parents, they are concerned about their children. There are no future in Singapore football but their son wants to play football. So I explained to them about UTR. We are going around Singapore and cast our net wider. We will see if the boys are skillful and polish them,” shared the 1994 Malaysia Cup and 1998 Tiger Cup winner.
The Unleash The Roar is a national project first announced in parliament by Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, in March 2021. Its success depends on healthy working relations with various stakeholders, which includes the Singapore government, the Football Association of Singapore, football clubs and academies, the fans, players, and the UTR committee.
Focusing on grassroots and broadening the talent base
During his speech, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Chua mentioned that there is a need for Singapore football to go back to basics, rebuild the grassroots, and develop its youth talent. This is evident in the School Football Academies and the National Development Centres, which started earlier this year.
“Having a comprehensive youth structure and development system in this phase of the UTR roadmap is key to ensuring that we have talented male and female footballers coming through our talent pipeline, so that we can have a strong foundation from which we can build on,” added Chua.
The youth development plan was further explained by Marcus Tan, chief of the sports development group at Sport Singapore. This includes the proposed Singapore Youth League with three age-group categories: under-13, under-15, and under-17. There are three tiers in each category, with a promotion and relegation system.
These initiatives are welcomed by Muhammad Nuzaihan, a football conversation session participant with two sons currently enrolled in F17 Football Academy.
“The pathways shown by them are encouraging. It is now more about how they want to implement it. There are gaps in the talents and do we narrow it, and make improvements. My boys are in the private football academy and they go to school at the Madrasah. So they are out of sight of recruiters at the moment. They do have talents, but not being looked at at the moment. But nevertheless, the youth development plan looks promising.” shared Nuzaihan whose boys are eight and nine years old.
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