By: Suresh Nair

 

WHEN Aleksandar Duric talks, there’s absolute silence. His football comes from his heart and head and when he speaks, you better listen seriously, like a football-version of Lee Kuan Yew.

I was bowled over when he captivated the audience at Thursday evening’s “Ideas for Change” dialogue, organised by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).

He was the penultimate speaker out of nine distinguished personalities but this Bosnian-born footballer of Serbian descent, is simply extraordinary.

And when Duric spoke, he instantly arrested the attention, just like the good ‘ole years when he was a prolific international striker. Simply because he spoke about the power of passion, he spoke from the heart, without fear or favour, as he was sincere about helping the younger generation of footballers to come up in sporting life.

As he spoke, well over his limited 12-minutes time slot, I realised the true importance of the seven-letter word: Passion.

Passion is the internal force you put into the things you do. Passion is energy, passion is action, passion is your inner power. Passion is an emotional state that compels you to act. When you add passion to your desire or goal, you get great results.

Indeed, the football formula should be: Desire/Goal + Passion = Great Results

Desire is what you want consciously and passion is an emotion and comes from your emotional mind or subconscious: From your heart. When the conscious and subconscious mind are aligned and work together the results are always great.

Passion supports your desire and gives you the power to act and get what you want. Emotions are strong feelings that inspire you to move, and passion is a very strong emotion.
But Duric hammered home the point of having the “right educators” in place, especially in the formative years, failing which he feared for the longer-term future of Singapore. And he appealed to the FAS to put the right measures in place to correct the situation.

“I really worry about Singapore football, where it is headed to, when you allow unqualified coaches who don’t teach the kids the proper way,” says Duric, now the principal of ActiveSG Football Academy. “There are so many so-called coaches in some academies who are not up to the mark and it’s a serious situation the Football Association of Singapore must address.”

Duric means business. At 44, he played for the Lions and in terms of personal discipline and professionalism, he sets the highest standards. And at the ActiveSG Football Academy, he exemplifies his belief in the purposefulness of sport for the development of our young players.

BEST COACHES

At the seven ActiveSG centres , he handpicked the best developmental coaches with the highest qualifications: From former Singapore skipper Terry Pathmanathan, the most decorated S-League award coach Richard Bok and positive role-model names like Hyrizan Jufri, Isa Halim, Mohamad Hairil Amin, Robin Chitrakar and Steven Tan.
At the Academy, Duric says, the boys and girls learn, play and develop progressively through fun exercises, small-sided games and exciting competition. Beyond the basic skills, the child will learn about the important values such as discipline, respect and team spirit, and acquire valuable life skills including communication, goal setting and problem solving through the game of football.

“The holistic football programme, done with the blessings of Michal Sablon (the Belgian-born FAS Technical Director) is designed to build character and encourage the children to pursue their sporting passion with the right attitude,” he says. “That’s why if the FAS doesn’t seriously look into the registration of the so-called academies and alloq unqualified coaches to run riot, I really fear for the longer-term future of Singapore football.”

I’ve always admired Duric, the Bosnian-born footballer of Serbian descent, who played for Lions with pride and wears the Singapore jersey with the highest honour. He calls a spade a spade, without fear or u, which is something sorely lacking at the FAS headquarters at Jalan Besar Stadium.

For those who don’t know this “angmoh”, Duric was junior kayaking champion of Yugoslavia, when he was 15 and was ranked eighth in the world at 17. He represented Bosnia and Herzegovina in the C-1 500m canoeing event the 1992 Summer Olympics. After the Olympics, he returned to Hungary to resume his football career. In 1999, he signed for Tanjong Pagar United in the S-League where he was converted to a striker for the first time in his career.

His track record here has been awesome: He won trophies with subsequent clubs Home United, Geylang United, Singapore Armed Forces and Tampines Rovers. He won eight League titles and three Singapore Cups in 16 seasons, amassing three “Player of the Year” and four “Top scorer” awards on the way to becoming the S-League’s all-time top scorer.

At international level, Duric debuted for Singapore at the age of 37 years in 2007. He became the first foreign-born player to start a match as captain in May 2008. He was in the Singapore squad for the AFF Championship in 2008, 2010 and 2012, the latter of which Singapore won. He retired from international football in December 2012 with a record of 24 goals in 53 matches.

He told me many times that when you put a true desire and passion together, you are heading for action. He says: “Action is needed to get what you want. Action is the physical force to manifest what you want. Passion is an emotion, so it may have ups and downs; it could be very strong some days and almost nonexistent the next.”

Duric genuinely believes in the right profesional approach to grassroots education of the future generation – by teaching the A-B-Cs rightly and motivating them to give off their best and even to be a good profesional one day.

“To keep your passion alive is very important, so feed it with small daily achievements aimed at achieving your goal. Congratulate yourself every time you do your work. Feel great about those actions,” he says. “It doesn’t matter whether or not you achieve your goal. You fail only when you believe you did and lose your passion. Your passion will help you to look on the positive side even in the worst scenarios.”

THE OTHER SPEAKERS

The other speakers were Dr Swarup Mukherjee from Nanyang Technological University, who warned of a “mindset shift” over the years which has resulted having lesser number of kids playing football these days. His longer-term solution: Use football as a tool in teaching skills like problem solving, spirit of competitiveness, while playing the game and, most importantly, added involvement from parents is something crucial along the process as well.
“The game is the best teacher…the game of football is to let the kids enjoy,” says the PhD “guru” in the physiology of training and performance in professional football.

I relished the honesty, if not passion, in the second speaker, Tan Teck Hock, the honest-talking Principal of Singapore Sports School, who used his childhood experience and joy of kicking a plastic ball in his younger days as a classic example.

With the lack of playing fields, he drove home the point that it isn’t necessary to play the game on a grass surface like he did in his childhood days, which he described it was played in an “unstructured” manner.

“But developing and making the best of the motor-skills of the kids, with the right hand, leg and head co-ordinations, and allowing them to play indoors, too, with no weather restrictions, is one of the best ways towards personal development of their sporting skills,” he says.

Third speaker Colin Braberry, the President of St Michael’s Soccer Association, shared how important parental involvement is in his setup with some of them actively volunteer themselves in various aspects of the organisation, on top of imparting values like character building and creating a conducive environment which helps to foster bonding among peers with their parents.

He spoke passionately of how his Christian Brothers’ School (CBS) organisation started off from “an initiative of the SJI Old Boys’ Association” back in 2007 on a informal basis before formally registered as an organisation with the Registry of Societies in March 2015.

His formula for success: There should always be a “fun” element in kids’ football that prioritised over the outcome.

SENSE OF BELONGING

Fourth speaker was educationist Bernard Teo, who was responsible for the revival of football programme at his alma mater, St Joseph’s Institution (SJI) after 12 years hiatus in 2012. He gave a rousing example of how former Lions defender Kadir Yahaya, almost single-handedly guided the Josephians to their first football title in 30 years in 2015 by clinching the National Schools’ South Zone ‘B’ Division Football Championship .

Again, riding on the seven-letter word ‘passion’, he confessed that the football-mania back in 1973, when he and his classmates went to the old Jalan Besar Stadium to cheer their seniors on in their quest for the national title and stated it was that “sense of belonging” fuelled that nostalgic adrenaline rush.

He rightly posed a question to the FAS: Why is it not possible to see such sentiment replicate on a broader base like in the 22-year-old S-League?

Fifth speaker was Lioness’ head coach Yeong Sheau Shyan, who rightly, if not bravely, moaned about the critical lack of support for the women-in-skirts. She believes women’s football deserves the equality enjoyed by the men and wants the FAS and the football fraternity to have a “change of mindset” on how they view women playing what Pele called “The Beautiful Game”.

She used netball as a rousing example, where significant corporate support went behind to make the sport a regional-beater and wants the FAS to give serious thoughts to offering more sincere support to the women folks.

Sixth speaker, Joe Keiser of AC Milan Academy Scuola Calcio, spoke like an articulate marketing-branded American and brought more focus to the development of grassroots football grassroots among thousands of young Singaporeans and even the expatriate community.

Keiser called for a “reinvention at the grassroots” with serious thoughts being made by the FAS to dig their spades deep in the ground to rebuild the sport at the heartlander levels.

He knows his business like a Singaporean as he arrived here in 1983 and even played in the Singapore Business Houses Football League (SBHFL) in 1986. I enjoyed how he spoke about how ANZA (Australia-New Zealand Association) grassroots football started 40 years ago and how it has smartly adapted in order to remain relevant to today’s generation of children.

Seventh speaker spoke like a true heartlander. Lawrence Ng, a decorated grassroots leader who is People’s Association CSC Council Chairman, appealed for more co-ordinated work between FAS and the community, which he said was “passionate in promoting healthy living and community bonding through sports”.

PASSIONATE APPEAL

Eight speaker, who literally brought the roof down with his ultra-passionate appeal, was Duric and may I reiterate his message: “[If] we have more players in the community, then we have a larger pool of people who are committing to play football more seriously, to try and compete.

“Then we have opportunities for more competitions and more leagues at different levels, and then we will have a market for more coaches and technical officials and then, eventually, a strong youth system for our national youth teams and, if we get that right, a strong national team.”
The final (and ninth) speaker was the new Chairman of Tampines Rovers, Krishna Ramachandra, a distinguished corporate lawyer with Duanne Morris & Selvam LLP, an international law firm. Much as he runs five-times S-League champion, he spoke in an unusual role as a passionate “appa” (in Tamil, father), whose teenage-son wants to be a professional footballer!

Not many advocate to his fire-brand way of promoting football but he has brought new excitement to Tampines with a novel approach, sometimes even taking an audacious gamble in bringing former England striker Jermaine Pennant for the 2016 S-League season.

Using his fatherly personal experience, 46-year-old Ramachandra says, much as he advocates academic meritocracy, he intends to encourage his son to achieve his dream to be a professional footballer.
“It’s how the parents draw the line,” he says. “They must motivate the kids to go for what’s in their heart, give it the best shot and if by some off chance, it doesn’t work out, there’s always the finer academic path to seek in order to move on in life. But never deprive your child of going for his passionate dream.”

Talking like a modern-day “appa”, and with his son watching him among the multi-generational audience, he says: “Certainly, in my generation, you would not have entertained something like that. But I realised that his generation is different and we need to embrace their dreams.”

But Ramachandra, who describes his parenting style as “pretty avant-garde”, fully supports his son. Rather than viewing football as the polar opposite of the academic route, he positively sees it as an avenue through which the teenager can learn the importance of transferable life skills and knowledge.

For the record, 14-year-old Rohin Selvam Ramachandra, probably one of the rare Singaporean teenagers to tell his parents he wants to be a pro footballer (at the risk of getting a hard knock on the head!) is now at the Singapore Sports School.

Rohin, who is in the National Football Academy’s Under-14 team, can juggle a football with his feet 1,500 times consecutively – no mean feat even for a good adult player. I also recollect that when he was 11 years, at Primary 5, he scored 51 goals in 13 games for Anglo-Chinese School (Primary).

WHAT WAS MISSING: Qs & As

In a nutshell, the “Ideas For Change”, a new initiative spearheaded by Bernard Tan, Vice-President of FAS Provisional Council, at the NYSI Satellite @ Kallang, was noteworthy as a starter and modelled after the concept of TED Talks, where speakers are given limited time to speak. But I seriously wondered why he never thought of the Qs & As. (Questions and Answers)

Many of those who attended the two-hour session felt that the audience should have been allowed to voice their respective value-added opinions and a strange failure in not advocating this surprised me.

Simply because maximum grassroots feedback is important to lift the very sorry state of Singapore football, which has gone to the doldrums, with the lowest ranking of No 167 at FIFA status.

As Aleksandar Duric spoke from the heart, without fear or favour, the organisers should have offered some leeway to the audience to come up with more constructive ways to needle the younger generation of footballers to come up in sporting life.

I just wish the FAS big-wigs, sitting at the Jalan Besar Stadium headquarters, know the importance of the seven-letter word: Passion.


Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who was invited to attend Thursday’s “Ideas for Change” dialogue at the NYSI Satellite @ Kallang. He believes change must start at the very top, right from the FAS