SINGAPORE - In the first major development since the March announcement of a project to lift Singapore football standards, the team behind the Unleash The Roar! on Friday (Nov 19) announced that 10 schools will come on board under a pilot School Football Academy (SFA) programme from 2022.
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 Unleash The Roar!, aims to become a pipeline to produce young players with sound technical ability, complementing already existing pathways at youth teams of local football clubs and private academies.
The announcement was made in a virtual press conference chaired by Eric Chua, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Culture Community and Youth, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) deputy chairman Bernard Tan and interim technical director Philippe Aw, who is also FAS' head of methodology.
Mr Chua, who was named chairman of the newly-formed UTR! executive committee, said: "For Singapore football to raise our game to play at the highest level, we must first build a strong foundation.
"The initiatives announced today will not only allow our brightest young talent better access to a higher-level of training and competition on a daily basis, but also pave pathways for them to develop their game at some of the top football institutions overseas."
Players in SFAs, aged between 13 and 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.
Tan had previously told The Straits Times in March that the UTR! team had planned to set up 15 academies, 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 - coaches, sports scientists and analysts - will be roped in as part of a 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: "Youth development in Spanish football is something that both clubs and the league place utmost importance in, and through the learnings developed across the years, we trust that we will not only impart knowledge but most importantly empower local coaches to be the protagonists in this pursuit of a better football ecosystem across all levels."
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.
Enlisting 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 Under-17 level to about 1,400 secondary school boys and girls, close to triple the current 500.
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 .
These were announced as part of plans for coach development, which falls under the first pillar of the UTR plan.
Tan also previously told ST that the FAS was exploring an incentive-based system for SFAs that produce players who eventually play professionally in the Singapore Premier League, for the national team, or professionally abroad.
The would ensure the development of individual players is the top priority of SFAs, and avoid a win-at-all-costs mentality toward games in the elite league youth league they are slated to play in, which can come at the expense of player development.