Continuity from youth football to senior level sorely lacking

Ajax youth coach Casimir Westerveld with children from ActiveSG Football Academy. The writer says the lack of youngsters participating in competitive football beyond the youth level is an issue.
Ajax youth coach Casimir Westerveld with children from ActiveSG Football Academy. The writer says the lack of youngsters participating in competitive football beyond the youth level is an issue.PHOTO: SPORT SINGAPORE

It is clear that Singapore is a footballing nation in decline.

This is not merely down to a small population or a shortage of talent or passion among the players.

Uruguay, with a population of 3.4 million, has won two World Cups.

It appears that it is the collective size of the footballers' hearts, and not the objective number of citizens, that matters.

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A formidable soccer team can emerge only when there is a national passion for the sport and an efficient system of identifying, developing and retaining young talent.

In Singapore's case, interest in the local league has to be revived by raising its standard substantially.

The lack of youngsters participating in competitive football beyond the youth level is an issue.

Most parents steer their children to academic pursuits and enrichment programmes in music, art and other skills.

The number of young footballers is insufficient to serve as a pipeline for the national team.

There has to be an excellent talent scouting and training infrastructure, with continuity from the developmental stage to the senior level.

This is sorely lacking, and was a major factor behind the break-up of our Youth Olympic Games squad, which had defied all odds to finish third. Not a single member of that squad joined the ranks of a senior team.

The standard of coaching at the developmental stage must be raised.

In addition, in order to convince more home-grown talent that a professional career in football is viable, corporate sponsors will need to fund the recruitment of foreign players to transfer their technical know-how to local team mates.

As for the foreseeable future, I agree with Mr Toh Cheng Seong that our most realistic goal appears to be a SEA Games gold medal within the next 10 years (Give the Lions more realistic goals; June 22).

Simon Owen Khoo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2017, with the headline 'Continuity from youth football to senior level sorely lacking'. Print Edition | Subscribe