Singapore soccer: Very strange, this

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Zainudin Nordin

By Tan Bah Bah

Zainudin NordinSingapore soccer is in very serious need of an immediate boost of self-confidence. The rather strange declarations of the current FAS President are not exactly what thousands of soccer fans expect to hear from the country’s top soccer boss.

Replying to press questions about the poor performances of Singapore teams in recent months, Zainudin Nordin said: “Losing is part and parcel of football but I’m afraid people will look too much into the results.”

Let’s look at the results.  The national team lost to Jordan and Oman in the Asian Cup qualifiers. It lost its friendlies to China, Myanmar and Hong Kong. Five losses were one loss too many. But there might be excuses, the overarching one being that many of these teams, especially from the Middle East, have traditionally been a cut above those in South-east Asia.

Now, let’s check out the other results. The National Under-19s at the AFF Youth Championship beat the Philippines, drew with Timor Leste and lost to Laos and Cambodia. All these aforesaid countries were not powerhouses of regional soccer by any stretch.

So, what’s happening, FAS?

Soccer aficionados are more than aware of the limitations and possibilities of soccer in Singapore. They are neither asking for miracles nor chasing mirages (remember the bizarre Reach World Cup 2010 Finals plan?).

They know that with globalisation and the spread of information and expertise in sports science and techniques, there are really no secrets anymore that we can tap on to give us an enduring advantage.  Inherently, no country has any special style which cannot be copied by others. Occasionally, as Cameroon did in 1990 when it beat Argentina, the world suddenly took notice of a new kind of cavalier soccer. After that, the better teams analysed the Cameroon team and got familiar with it.

Talent has always counted but more so today when the competition to lure and buy good players is intense.  Singapore’s talent pool is small, not helped by the reluctance of young male Chinese Singaporeans to play the game as a career.

We understand. For those still not clear about the direction of Singapore soccer, I reproduce verbatim the exchanges during a Parliamentary session in January this year:

“Ang Wei Neng, MP, Jurong GRC:†

To ask the Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) whether the Ministry has plans to ride on the success of Singapore’s performance in the 2012 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup to further improve the standard of Singapore football; and (b) what are the plans to retain good national football players to play for Singapore clubs when they are sought after by regional football clubs with more lucrative terms.†

Acting Minister Lawrence Wong (MCYS) :†

The recent Suzuki Cup triumph can be attributed to the developmental system that the FAS has put in place since 2000, to identify and develop young talents with increased funding support from the Singapore Sports Council and sponsors, such as the Tote Board and Singapore Pools. The SSC is currently working with the FAS to conduct a holistic review of football development in Singapore to further improve the standard of Singapore football.†

When the standard of Singapore players improves, it is only natural that they will be sought by foreign football clubs. The best way to retain our players is to make sure they have good development and growth opportunities in Singapore, such as playing in the LionsXII team in the Malaysian Super League, and for various S-League teams. Notwithstanding this, we recognise that professional players do sometimes relish the exposure they can gain from an overseas stint. If they play better as a result, they can still contribute to the national team when they are called up for international matches. Hence, we need to strike a balance between trying to keep all our players in Singapore and giving them the opportunity to play for regional and international football clubs.”

Yes, it’s tough. Yes, we have a plan. Yes, the new coach, Bernd Stange took over only in May. But, unreasonable as it may sound, soccer fans are interested in results  – and results alone.  Stange has been on the job for four months already. One draw against a minnow South-east Asian team and two defeats by two other regional minnows are unacceptable, by any standards.

Gerard Houllier had this to say at Liverpool when asked about his lack of success in the British Premier League:

“You can’t say my team aren’t winners. They’ve proved that by finishing fourth, third and second in the last three years.”

You know what happened to him? He was sacked.

Tan Bah Bah is a retired journalist. He was a senior leader writer/columnist with The Straits Times and managing editor of a local magazine company.