by Damon Yeo
Of late, our national football team seemed to have re-appeared on the headlines of several major local newspapers. The last time the local media seemed to be this interested in the Lions was probably back in the mid-90s, when we were still part of the M-League setup.
However, the attention this time round was negative and was focused on the stance of newly-appointed FAS President Zainudin Nordin. Giving one of his first interviews as the new honcho of our Football Assocation, Zainudin suggested that the entire national team will be dropped and younger players in youth groups will be propelled straight into the national team.
A few days later, in different interview, Zainudin appeared to have softened his stance, first saying that a few players will be retained and later adding that Foreign Talent Scheme (FTS) will stay as well.
Personally, Zainudin’s very harsh words right at the beginning is very understandable.
Having just taken over an unfavourable task of leading football right from the top, he has his work cut out for him. To many local fans, the national team and the S-League had sunk to the lowest point since leaving the M-League.
Then again, this situation poses lesser risk to Zainudin – after all, one can probably argue that when you are at rock bottom, the only way to go is up.
We Are Not Like the French
This “disbanding” of the national team draws some similarity to what the French FA did after their disastrous World Cup campaign last June. After reports of infighting and revolt against the then-manager Raymond Domenech, the French FA “suspended” the 23 players they brought to South Africa and effectively ended the international careers of several ageing players.
However, that is about where the similarities between us and the French end.
France boasts one of the best domestic leagues in Europe and there are world-class French players plying trades in major clubs elsewhere in Europe. Their pool of players to draw from is many many times larger than that of Singapore.
Even so, the French had since slowly recalled almost half of those 23 whom they have suspended in the first place.
The French are known historically for their revolutions and passion, yet the FFA is sensible enough to retain the core of the team. Surely, FAS cannot simply permanently axe all involved in the recent Suzuki Cup just to make a statement.
The short-term future is perhaps a little bleak. However, there is an opportunity here for the FAS to brighten up our medium-term future at least.
20-year-old Hariss Harun has widely been regarded as one of our brightest talents in years. It was very unfortunate that he had to miss out of the Suzuki Cup because of injury. His previous exertions at the Asian Games probably did not help.
What the FAS need to do, is to send Hariss, and other young talents like him, to trials overseas and hope that they land a playing contract in other leagues elsewhere. No disrespect to the S-League, but playing domestic football is unlikely to improve our young talents very much.
At last count, as many as nine national players are currently with overseas football clubs and performing admirably. Again, this is a good thing for the overall development of the players.
Rather viewing it as a hemorrhage of talents from domestic football, the FAS should step in to facilitate such moves, while developing and improving the S-League at the same time.
Zainudin also called for patience from the fans. This is probably what is needed as we are likely to experience a further dip in performance in a few years to come.
What is likely to happen here is a slow and perhaps painful transition of our national team.
Without mentioning names here to fuel to the speculation, several ageing players are likely to have played their last game for the Lions.
Young players with little of no experience will be propelled into the limelight. Some will have a long career with the Lions. There will be some who will not make the cut despite the opportunities.
Either way, success usually does not come right after radical changes.
Whether Zainudin can turn the state of Singapore football around is something only time (and results) can tell. But the truth is, change was needed and his appointment has provided the impetus for change.