SINGAPORE - Eight months after it was first announced, the Singapore Football Academy (SFA) programme under national football project Unleash the Roar! (UTR!) has attracted over 300 Secondary 1 and 2 boys from 10 secondary schools.
Officials are looking ahead to the next stage, with the programme expected to eventually reach 1,400 girls and boys across all levels in 16 schools, said UTR! executive committee chairman Eric Chua.
Plans for a youth tournament involving the SFAs and scholarships for overseas stints were announced by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong at the official launch of the SFA on Saturday (July 23).
The competition is being planned for early next year while the scholarship programme, with short- and long-term options for players to train, compete and study overseas being explored, is expected to be launched at the end of this year. More details will be announced when ready.
The SFA programme was first announced last November following a partnership with Spain's La Liga, with 10 schools in the first group of SFAs.
The schools are Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road), Jurongville Secondary, Montfort Secondary, St Patrick's School, Meridian Secondary, Assumption English School, Queensway Secondary, Sengkang Secondary, Singapore Sports School and Serangoon Garden Secondary.
The progamme encompasses on-field training, complemented with sports science support and each SFA features a team of full-time SFA coaches, comprising La Liga and local coaches, who work under the leadership of the FAS technical director and the ActiveSG Football Academy principal.
Some matches of the tournament will be played at the National Stadium, said Mr Tong, who noted that "when you play (there), you will feel a sense of awe and be inspired to want to come back one day as a full-fledged international for Singapore wearing the Singapore crest on your team jersey".
He added: "We realise that football alone is not going to be enough... We are working towards sending these bright talents overseas to play football and get an education so their parents can have a peace of mind that their sporting and academic objects are met.
"We want them to be taken out of their comfort zone in Singapore and put in an environment where they will thrive, where they're constantly challenged with new coaching techniques and where players around them will be better and inspire them to do more."
ACS (Barker Road) student Mika Bazil Baihakki, whose father is former national footballer Baihakki Khaizan, is part of his school's SFA team and the 13-year-old is excited that such an opportunity will be available.
The Secondary 1 student said: "It's a big change for a lot of youngsters that want to play football. I believe a lot of people want to (reach) a higher level and there are lots of youngsters dreaming of playing in the big leagues."
Mr Chua, who is also the parliamentary secretary of the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth, added that plans are also in place to bring youth teams from the region to Singapore for those who cannot travel.
He also said that the SFAs will be extended to girls soon and the UTR! team is working with the Singapore Disability Sports Council to make the sport more inclusive.
On the progress of the UTR! project, whose goal is to qualify Singapore for the 2034 World Cup, Mr Chua said: "We should free ourselves from (setting) any particular targets or timelines. So long as we're charging along in the right direction, that's progress being made.
"In the past nine months, we've spent a lot of time behind the scenes getting things done... There's been steady momentum and we will seek to increase the momentum of UTR! as a whole but we're seeking everyone's patience and understanding."
Led by national agency Sport Singapore and the Football Association of Singapore, the project aims to boost football in Singapore across all levels through eight pillars of implementation including building interest among the young and developing multiple pathways.