Broadening the base

School Football Academy concept, one of Unleash The Roar! pillars, to have 10 schools

In the first major development since the March announcement of a project to lift Singapore football standards, the team behind the Unleash The Roar! (UTR) yesterday announced that 10 schools will join a pilot School Football Academy (SFA) programme from next year.

The secondary schools are Montfort, Sengkang, Singapore Sports School, Anglo-Chinese (Barker), Queensway, Serangoon Garden, Meridian, St Patrick's, Assumption English and Jurongville.

The SFA concept, which falls under the second of eight pillars of the UTR, aims to become a pipeline to produce young players with sound technical ability, complementing existing pathways at the youth teams of local football clubs and private academies.

Mr Eric Chua, Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture Community and Youth, who was named chairman of the newly formed UTR executive committee, said in a virtual press conference the SFAs will help Singapore football "build a strong foundation".

Players in the SFAs, aged from 13 to 16, will be able to train four times a week and play significantly more games throughout the year compared to students-footballers in other secondary schools. The SFA teams will play in the National School Games and other competitions and, where possible, head overseas for training stints.

Football Association of Singapore (FAS) deputy president Bernard Tan said that SFAs would help "expand the base" of talented young players. They would also reduce the chances of potential national team-calibre players falling through the cracks because of oft-heard concerns, such as the perceived detrimental effect pursuing football could have on their academics.

"(The SFAs) address a space in the ecosystem that will allow us to bring this game forward… It is a complement to the existing system. The main aim is to grow the base with elite-level training taking place in schools," he added.

Tan had previously told The Straits Times that the UTR team had planned to set up 15 academies in total, and estimated that they would cost between $1 million and $1.5 million annually to run.

To set up the first group of SFAs, a team of technical experts from Spain will be roped in in partnership with La Liga, which runs the top two tiers of club football there, to oversee operations.

Juan Florit, head of La Liga football projects, said it aims to "not only to impart knowledge but (also) most importantly empower local coaches to be the protagonists in this pursuit of a better football ecosystem across all levels".

Each SFA will have a team of full-time coaches, both local and from La Liga, and they will report to a head coach with a Fifa 'A' licence and relevant youth development experience. There will also be specialist coaches in the areas of goalkeeping, strength and conditioning, and performance analysts.

The SFAs are crucial to the goal of widening the pool of players for future generations of the national team, as Singapore also target qualification for the 2034 World Cup.

With the help of the Ministry of Education, the FAS and national agency Sport Singapore had also set a target to increase the number of players receiving elite training at the Under-15 and U-17 level to about 1,400 secondary school boys and girls, nearly treble the current 500.

Amir Khan, father of 12-year-old Damai Primary pupil Anas who hopes to become a part of the inaugural batch of SFA players, said: "I believe it is a good starting point. (The students) will receive the right support to excel both academically and in football."

On the eight-month gap in announcing an update to the UTR plan, SportSG chief executive Lim Teck Yin explained that Covid-19 had disrupted on-the-ground work.

He added: "It's not that the work stopped. There was a lot of engagement going on in the background with schools… the national football curriculum... (and reaching) an agreement with our international partners."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2021, with the headline 'Broadening the base'. Subscribe