Imported football talent – useful or useless?

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By Michael Y.P. Ang

The biggest disappointment about Singapore’s demise at the hands of Syria in last Friday’s second leg Asian Cup qualifier was not the 4-0 scoreline but the way our national team disintegrated towards the end.

Coach Bernd Stange said the Lions lacked both the physical fitness to last a whole match and the mental strength to fight until the end.

This is astonishing! How could the national team be so amateurish?

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Since 1996, hundreds of foreign players and numerous foreign coaches have been employed by S-League clubs, costing millions of dollars, presumably because those imported personnel can contribute in ways their Singaporean peers cannot.

There have also been foreign S-League teams since 2003.

However, Singaporean players do not appear to have benefited from the regular influence of supposedly more-professional personnel.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the Lions lack fighting spirit. After all, it is a characteristic their coach seems to share. On the eve of Singapore’s 2-1 win over Syria last month, Stange himself had essentially given up hope of qualification for the 2015 Asian Cup, choosing to focus on the 2019 edition instead.

The Lions’ lack of professionalism could also be due to the decade-long reign of former national coach Raddy Avramović. He seemed to have overly relied on foreign-born players, fielding naturalised Lions as much as possible, thus depriving many home-grown players of international match exposure.

Some might say it is unfair to expect too much from an under-strength Lions side missing several regulars. However, no one seemed to have considered Syria’s team selection, not even Singapore’s mainstream media.

In August Syria held Jordan, the highest-ranked team in Singapore’s qualifying group, to a 1-1 draw. Only three Syrian outfield players who started the Jordan match were in the first 11 against Singapore.

The Football Association of Singapore might point to Singapore’s 2012 ASEAN championship triumph and the LionsXII’s 2013 Malaysia Super League title as signs of progress. My response is: so what?

Of all ASEAN teams, after two-thirds of the six-match qualifying campaign, Malaysia is closest to reaching the Asian Cup finals. Besides the 10 group winners and runners-up, the best third-placed team will also secure qualification

And where is Singapore? At the bottom of Group A