As the 2012/13 European football season comes to an end, the hype around the English Premier League, the Serie A, the German Bundesliga, and the Spanish La Liga has dominated headlines.
But these results, and the world-renowned teams that take part in these competitions, perhaps mask where Singaporeans football fans should be paying attention. Looking to Europe is fine for football inspiration—but where in Europe should Singaporean players and fans really be paying casting their gaze?
In order to develop top-rated senior professionals, Singaporean players need to have proper development paths. Knowing that, what is the next step? How does a player from Singapore find his way to into top European leagues? Unfortunately, there is no easy solution.
One of the first things players and administrators need to keep in mind is that a lot of top EU leagues have non-EU player restrictions. Straight away players from Asia, or anywhere outside Europe—including South America and Africa— are disadvantaged.
Other factors such as training adjustments, a new living environment, culture-shock, will all play part in how Singaporean players can adjust and succeed. But all international players have faced these obstacles, and still made it through.
But there is a way, or a system, that can be put in place to help players overcome certain disadvantages. A large part of this is something called “the stairs path”. This is the method that most Eastern European countries use to push their players into top leagues.
Take, for example, a few of the Serbian players currently who play at highest level at Europe: VIdic, Ivanovic, and Krasic. Vidic didn’t just jump straight into the Manchester United first team. His first move was in Russia, playing with Spartak Moscow. For Ivanovic, it was, similarly, Lokomotiv Moscow, and for Krasic that was CSKA Moscow.
For Serbian players, the Russian leagues are a natural ‘first step’ on their way to the global stage.
So, what’s next for Singaporean players? If you follow the above logic, there are several steps that Singaporean players need to make in order to get anywhere near top five leagues in Europe. Let’s say that Singapore’s S-League is at the base of the stairs.
The next step would be a move to a recognised ‘feeder’ league, most likely in Eastern Europe - Macedonia, Slovenia, or Serbia are very good starting points. Here players learn to adapt, increase their training levels, and adjust to different methods.
This will probably be the most important period for any player leaving Singapore, as the standard difference is big, and it takes time for things to fall to its place.
After 1–3 years, next step would be a move to a stronger league in Europe, one that is constantly monitored by leading scouts, like Russia, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Only then, after years of hard work, good luck, and dedication, will Singaporean players possibly have the chance to make it into the ‘Big Show’.
So, if I had a vision for Singaporean football it would be this: It is nice having Chelsea, United, Liverpool, and Manchester City fly through Singapore on an end of year tour. It is nice that they run kids camps (for a price). But I would rather see Singaporean players, fans, and sponsors exposed to clubs and leagues where there is actually a chance of local talent being spotted and developed. For local football to advance, Singapore should be far more excited about a visit from Partizan Belgrade, NK Maribor, or Sparta Prague. And there is much Singapore could do for these clubs commercially. This would truly be a win-win arrangement; I have no doubt about this.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Luka Lalic is a professional football coach, specialising in youth development. He holds a UEFA “B” coaching license and has developed junior football programmes n Europe and Singapore. He was a Serbian age-group international and began a professional playing career at the age of 17.