Dear Michel, here's what you're getting yourself into...

BONJOUR Michel. Welcome to Singapore.

They say the hallmark of a good tactician is to be able to anticipate your opponent's next move. And you were spot on in your first press conference yesterday.

We, the media - deemed the enemy by many a coach, did wonder why at 67, and having helped mastermind Belgium's rise from 55th in the world 10 years ago to the current No. 3, you would want to come to a nation ranked more than 150 places lower.

As you said, you could be fishing or playing golf back home.

But before we could ask, you had an answer for us: You were impressed, you said, with the passion you saw at the Football Association of Singapore and with the country's economic progress in just 50 years.

Likewise, it was hard not to be impressed with your resume. Like Mourinho, like Hiddink, you seem to be a man with football's Midas touch - which is just how we like it in this country. As you know, we like to be very good at things.

We are No. 1 on the list of the world's most liveable cities; No. 1 in the world airport awards; No. 1 in size when it comes to cities with domed stadiums (and you will soon get to know the National Stadium well). But when it comes to football, we are, well, 162nd.

So you can perhaps understand the average fan's frustration, especially now when we can't even beat Guam. Who are ranked 175th.

Which is why I thought it would be hospitable of me to help you understand the challenges of the role you have accepted.

There will be scepticism to start with because others with impressive CVs - like Jan Poulsen, a former assistant coach to the 1992 European champions Denmark - have come and found the mission impossible.

Many will work with you, but perhaps some might need a little persuading. Your predecessor came up with a football syllabus for youth development - how to pass, how to move - but not all played ball. The coaches' reluctance stemmed from the fact that they were told what to do. They'd rather be engaged and shown why one system is better than another.

You're also going to face a system where we trumpet the tagline "Support Our S-League" yet ship the bulk of our national players to Malaysia to play for an FAS club side and thus dilute our domestic league. It's as if we've gone strangely deaf to that football adage which states that your national team is only as good as your league.

Your next challenge will be the clubs, whose youth development programmes are deemed so pathetic that the FAS has had to take that responsibility off their hands in most cases. Yet, as you pointed out yesterday, the reason why top footballing nations do well is that they have a broad base of youth at every age group playing at a high level.

In Singapore, with only a few club academies and a handful of centres of excellence for the young, the numbers reach only into the hundreds. At the elite level, coaches complain that the senior national team, the national Under-23 and U-22 teams and the LionsXII essentially have to pick from the same base of about 40 players.

You will also have to contend with and perhaps tolerate the Singapore culture. We are too pragmatic a people, a price to pay for being single-minded in building a nation this quickly.

Football may be the unofficial national game, we watch it, bet on it, curse it, but not all play it.

It is not played at all schools because many schools are too results-oriented. They'd rather concentrate only on things they can do well in.

Football as a career? We'd rather be bankers, lawyers and doctors because there is no money or future in football, so many believe. You will soon realise that only a small fraction of the country's 5.5 million are willing to put on football boots for a living.

You helped work wonders in Belgium. I hope you can do the same here. But you will need time, patience and more importantly help to make bold changes, not merely tweaks like altering our playing style.

Unless these can be done, your task will be an uphill one. But hey, you have already shown an astute mind. And if you can still achieve success despite the challenges, it would be nothing short of a miracle. For that, I would be the first to petition for a waffle in Singapore to be named in your honour.

marclim@sph.com.sg