Football: FAS deputy president Tan wants Singapore's best players to ply their trade overseas

Football Association of Singapore deputy president Bernard Tan wanted the best players to begin their careers in the league from 17. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - A Lions side at the 2034 World Cup comprising mainly of players who ply their trade outside Singapore - that is what Football Association of Singapore (FAS) deputy president Bernard Tan envisions the make-up of the future national team to be.

He told The Straits Times following Tuesday's (March 9) unveiling of Unleash the Roar!, the FAS' blueprint to set the Lions on the path to the 2034 World Cup: "The Singapore Premier League serves a national purpose - it must be to build a stronger national team. To have a strong national team, just like Iceland, players (must) play in top leagues in the world.

"In Goal 2034, we want our players to play in the best leagues in the world. That's when you get the best national team.

"What is the function of the SPL if our best players play overseas? They must start here and they may even end here... just like many leagues in the world, where the top players go overseas because the domestic league is smaller."

While he stopped short of branding the SPL a developmental league, he said that he wanted the best players to begin their careers in the league from 17, " get picked up because we are performing so well in Asian Football Confederation tournaments" and play overseas.

He added: "And perhaps they can come back at the age of 37 or 38 after having a full career and play here and contribute back. That is the image I have of the league. The pathway must push the best players to play in the best league in the world."

The idea of the best local players plying their trade outside of their home country and contributing significantly to the national team is not new. The likes of Denmark and Iceland have done this to considerable levels of success. In the 2018 Fifa World Cup, only one out of Iceland's 23-man squad was based in the country's top tier, while the rest were based in various clubs across Europe. The Danish squad had only three players who were from Denmark's top flight.

The reaction from the Singapore fraternity to Tan's comments was mixed.

Geylang International head coach Noor Ali said that with the Under-23 rule - where each team's starting line-up must include three players aged under 23 - the SPL was already a developmental league.

"Not just for players but for coaches like me and Gavin (Lee) for example. We are able to use the league as a stepping stone and develop ourselves at this stage," said Noor Ali.

"My only concern would be if the clubs in the SPL share the same view. I am lucky to have a club who allow me to develop young players. We have had the likes of Umar Akhbar and Noor Ariff who we have blooded in recent years. Ultimately, a lot of coaches will be judged based on results.

"It won't be easy to produce players to play overseas just like that. There is a lot of groundwork needed to be done for that to happen."

Tanjong Pagar United chairman Raymond Tang supported Tan's idea.

He said: "There is no doubt that a Singaporean playing regularly in a better league overseas can improve. We have good examples like Hariss Harun, Ikhsan Fandi and Gabriel Quak.

"But the players must join clubs that are able to offer a higher standard of football and they must have the hunger and determination to succeed overseas. Hariss, Ikhsan and Gabriel succeeded because they all got out of their comfort zones and the national team benefited as a result."

Tampines Rovers chairman Desmond Ong added: "It sounds fantastic if it works. The concern is if our very best players don't meet the required standard. But we need to trust that the system that we build will be capable of producing these players, and on a consistent basis".

However, others were against the idea of the SPL acting as a feeder league.

Said former youth coach Khairul Asyraf, now a coaching consultant to clubs in the region: "If you set out to be like that, then the SPL will always be mediocre.

"Maybe if we get all our processes right, we can still be a competitive league. I don't see why we always have to be a developmental league."

He also took issue with Tan's statement that "by age 17, they should be ready to break into the Singapore Premier League",saying: "You can't expect everyone to break into the league at 17. In fact, that is rare. That shows a poor understanding of a footballer's development.

"With the correct planning, we can focus on having a competitive league and producing players for the national team. If we follow the idea of having all our best players go overseas, the league will be less competitive, then we will suffer for the long term."

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