Forum: Developing youth football talent is the way to go

Lion City Sailors during a training session on March 5, 2020.
Lion City Sailors during a training session on March 5, 2020.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

It is heartening that Singapore's first privatised Singapore Premier League (SPL) club Lion City Sailors has chosen to pursue its growth into a top Asian football club and to help the development of Singapore's football ecosystem by grooming and supporting young football talent (Million-dollar move by Sailors, June 11).

This youth development push is in the same vein as other SPL clubs such as Geylang International, which partners ActiveSG in initiatives such as the Epson Youth Challenge as well as the ActiveSG Football Academy.

For instance, once debt-ridden Spanish La Liga club Valencia, now owned by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, has seen its focus on youth development reaping huge dividends - it qualified for the elite Uefa Champions League and won the coveted Copa del Rey last year.

Valencia was recently named in a report by international consultancy KPMG as one of Europe's 25 most valuable clubs, and as the La Liga team with the fourth-highest value, behind only the Big Three of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

Youth development is clearly one of the factors critical to a strong foundation and steady pipeline of football talent for any football ecosystem, and there is research that bears this out.

For instance, one report suggests that youth academies and the Under-17 German professional football league are crucial to the development of Germany's football talent.

In a Harvard Business School interview, Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary former Manchester United manager who developed the club's youth team, which included future stars like Ryan Giggs and David Beckham, to bring success to the club - articulated as much when he said that if you give young people your attention and an opportunity to succeed, it is amazing how much they will surprise you.

With Lion City Sailors' move and the national team's same focus on youth development (I believe in the Lions: Yoshida, May 31, 2019), we can be hopeful of achieving the long-term goal of restoring Singapore football to its former glory.

It is now up to the fans to get behind the Lions and the SPL clubs, as well as other stakeholders in Singapore's football value chain, including the Football Association of Singapore, to lend them the support to turn this goal into a reality.

Youth development is clearly one of the factors critical to a strong foundation and steady pipeline of football talent for any football ecosystem, and there is research that bears this out.

Woon Wee Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2020, with the headline 'Developing youth football talent is the way to go'. Print Edition | Subscribe