In every country, football fans enjoy a good complain – and Singapore is no different! The usual excuses follow along the lines of: “Local players are not well football-educated”; “Foreigners are taking our places in the team”, “imported players are either too old or not good enough”; “Clubs are cutting budgets”. But few people focus on solutions and ways to make the current situation better.
Time would be better spent asking: “how can we develop an effective youth (COE) league that can produce ready-to-play senior players?”; “how do we attract the best foreign youth coaches for the money available?”, and “how can we persuade schools to co-operate with external sports teams?”
Fundamentally Singapore needs to ask “Is the standard of our game good enough?” “Do we want it to get better?” and “Do clubs have enough money to really succeed?”
The main part of this chain - youth development - is a part of the local football scene that is broken, and that has to be fixed. Or, things will never change! It is as simple as that.
The future is here, can’t you see it?
Today, I will introduce you the future of Singaporean football: Asis (Nur Muhd Asis Ijilrali). This kid is 9 years old, and he is the brightest light in Singaporean football today. However, the problem with the local game is that so few people can see Asis’s potential.
It seems as though nobody cares, and no one is prepared to do anything about realizing his potential. The clubs don’t know him and you have not heard of him, at least today you read about him.
Asis’s future is so bright he could be plying his future trade not here, but with the best in Europe. In Europe - where he will have a school that will understand his sporting commitments, and a clear progressive path towards becoming a professional footballer.
Football – like any chosen profession - can be hugely rewarding. It is a business which is going to only grow throughout Asia.
That is why so many international clubs are looking to build their regional profiles. A career in football needs parental support and this is an area where Singaporean families can make the biggest difference to the national game.
Not all children will become doctors, or lawyers, or social media start-up gurus. Some children don’t want to become bankers or brokers. Some children want to become professional footballers – and some children are good enough to succeed at football on the global stage.
But the local football development programs do not provide individual or family support to allow the youth players with potential to fully realize this path as a career option.
The system forces them to eventually close the football book, and forces kids to focus on other careers. This is the biggest hurdle to the development of the game in Singapore.
This is also where a large number of coaches here are failing youth players. The current football development system produces nice kids - too nice to play football!
The way local children are coached produces a lack of aggression and passion. The kids, guided by their coaches, play football just as a ‘game’. Remember, “Football is a gentleman's game, played by hooligans…”
Attitude is a fundamental ingredient to success, and a kid’s attitude should be worked on! The coaches and parents – the key motivators of young players – need to push kids to be the best they can be.
Otherwise, there is no future for our children, or the local game. Too many coaches see a child as just another customer. And that attitude is terminal for the development of local talent.
I have found the one local kid who can make it to the big time. There are no guarantees, but Asis can make it. So many different factors come in to play, but luckily, he has parents who understand the commitment needed, and who can see the career possibilities!
Luckily he has a coach who understands his situation, and is able and willing to provide him with opportunities. If he tries very, VERY hard, he will have a fair chance. And that is the beauty of this game. That one kid, from thousands of his generation in Singapore, and millions of his generation all over the world, will have possibility to get out there and show what he is made of.
Singapore football fans and businesses should be asking how they can help Asis achieve 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.