MADRID – Talented footballers in Singapore will be able to hone their skills overseas under a new initiative launched by the Unleash The Roar! (UTR) national football project on Monday, as it announced Spain’s La Liga Academy as its first overseas training partner.
Unveiled in March 2021, the UTR project aims to strengthen the nation’s football ecosystem with a structured player development framework.
In December, Sport Singapore chief executive Lim Teck Yin revealed that an overseas training base would be set up for the best youth footballers to further improve themselves.
Local youth footballers will go on short- to medium-term attachments twice a year at the La Liga Academy, which is a part of ESC (Education Sports Coliving), a complex used by both La Liga and the National Basketball Association (NBA) to groom the next generation of stars.
The Straits Times visited the 4,200-hectare facility in Madrid last Tuesday. It houses an international school, two full-sized football pitches, a basketball court, high-performance gym, swimming pool, dining room, game rooms, a library and residential facilities for 450 athletes.
Speaking at the ESC campus, Singapore’s Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Eric Chua, who is also the UTR executive committee chairman, said the idea is to expand the “arsenal, or the suite of possibilities, that is available to our youngsters as much as possible”.
He added: “The training and competition found here can’t really be found back home locally, at least not yet. Of course, over time, we hope that locally we can also grow our training environment... one of the ways in which we can shortcut that is to make sure that our boys are exposed to playing and training at a very competitive level as well.”
Since 2015, the La Liga Academy has trained boys and girls around the world using the La Liga Methodology, which was conceived after studying La Liga clubs’ academies.
Focusing on the player’s overall development, it comprises four key areas: tactical-cognitive, technical-coordinative, physical-conditional and psychological-socio-affective.
Mr Chua said ESC was chosen mainly due to its high-performance setting, where “sufficient emphasis” is placed on both football and academics.
He added: “That’s what we want to emphasise throughout UTR programmes in SFAs (School Football Academies).
“We want to make sure that the message out there to parents is that we want to play football well but, at the same time, we don’t want to neglect our studies.”
The key message, he noted, is about making more options available.
He said: “So previously, a young player together with the parents would be sourcing for different options that are available around the world, more or less by themselves. But what we want to do is to help you in this journey as much as possible.”
In November 2021, a partnership with Spanish top tier La Liga was inked with 10 schools under the pilot SFA programme.
Players in SFAs, aged between 13 and 16, train four times a week and play more games throughout the year compared to footballers in other secondary schools. And promising players are sent for training stints abroad.
The UTR project on Monday also announced that two girls’ SFAs will be introduced in 2023 for the first time.
Woodlands Secondary School will have a football programme for its students while Methodist Girls’ School will partner Boon Lay Secondary and Westwood Secondary.
While the formation of the SFAs exposes budding male and female footballers to a higher level of training and intensity under local and Spanish coaches, partnerships such as the ESC one will open up more pathways for the very best to continue their football development, said Mr Chua.
“With overseas bases like ESC, our talents will be forced out of the comfort zone and immerse themselves in a top development centre where they can be exposed to a higher level of training and competition,” he added.
The first batch is already in Spain on a Nov 5-Dec 2 training award trip.
The 20 boys, age 12 and 13, were selected from the SFA programme, the ActiveSG Football Academy Development Centres and the Football Association of Singapore’s talent identification programme.
They played friendly matches against youth sides from La Liga clubs Rayo Vallecano, Getafe, Fuenlabrada and Atletico Madrid and will spend the final 10 days of the trip attached to Real Sociedad, Deportivo Alaves, Celta de Vigo, Atletico and Levante.
Mr Chua does not rule out longer stints in the future. One of the eight pillars under the UTR project is overseas football scholarships.
He said: “If we have a rare stroke of genius and that person is good enough to thrive even in a European environment, we will do our best to support that person.”