Football: Mid-July ideal for S'pore Premier League to restart, say coaches

The Singapore Premier League had to halt matches due to social distancing measures. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Premier League (SPL) should only restart in mid-July at the earliest, at least six weeks after the circuit breaker period ends on June 1, coaches from the SPL clubs told The Straits Times.

With the 2020 season halted for over two months - it was suspended on March 24 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic - players could take up to six weeks of "preseason" training to get back into competitive shape.

Coupled with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the coaches said that the lengthy disruption means footballers will need more time to get back into gear.

Young Lions coach Nazri Nasir said: "This break is almost like the off-season period, and even then the players only have a break of three or four weeks, and are able to maintain fitness.

"So they would need between four to six weeks before they are ready to play competitive games, but given the (tight schedule), they might only have two weeks... That would be hard for the players to adapt."

Agreeing, Tanjong Pagar United coach Hairi Su'ap noted that coaches need to build up the intensity of training sessions patiently due to the long hiatus.

Adrian Pennock, coach of defending champions Brunei DPMM - who have not trained as a team since mid-March - said a minimum of three weeks was required.

"If the players come back too early to competitive matches, you will find there will be lots of little muscle injuries," said the former Bournemouth and Norwich defender.

The 49-year-old added: "I'm sure all the SPL teams have given their players individual programmes to do in isolation and as coaches we hope they're doing it right but even if they do, it's not the same as playing a game of football."

Like football leagues around the world, the SPL had to halt matches due to social distancing measures introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected over 17,000 people here and caused 15 deaths as of yesterday.

Teams have had to tailor individual training programmes for players to do on their own, relying on video conferencing platforms like Zoom to communicate and conduct team fitness workouts.

Young Lions captain Jacob Mahler told ST that he has been working on his strength and conditioning and speed work online with the team's sports trainer. "We film ourselves doing the exercises and send them to him so that he can check it and make sure we are doing the right thing," said the 20-year-old midfielder.

"Apart from that, some of us do a little more extra such as push ups and core exercises. We usually do all these over zoom sessions, three times a week, together as a team."

He also juggles and dribbles the ball in his garden at home.

But the online transition has not been seamless for some players and coaches.

Former national skipper Nazri said his young charges sometimes appear unsure of what to do during Zoom calls, while Hairi said it is hard to demonstrate or point out what players are doing right or wrong.

Albirex Niigata general manager Koh Mui Tee also pointed out the difficulty in tracking the recovery progress of injured players.

"Our trainer cannot physically assess them and so (the assessment) is only based on feedback on what they can or cannot do," he said.

But the coaches said that keeping players' morale up is most crucial in these Covid-19 times.

"My team manager and I communicate frequently with the players to give them moral support, especially for the foreign players who are new to Singapore and do not have many friends here," said Hairi.

Nazri added: "Since it is the Ramadan fasting month now and most of our players are Muslim, we are focusing more on their mental health, and we ask them to take care of themselves and to remain positive."

Mahler admitted that it was "mentally tough being stuck at home" and has spent his time watching Netflix and analysing his old action video clips to see how to improve. He also plays Fifa and Fortnite with his teammates.

The Singapore international is eager to get back in action, adding: "Football is my life. Going without kicking a ball for a month is unheard of and I am itching to get onto the field."

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