Long-term consistency key to success of Unleash The Roar project: FAS deputy chief

Football Association of Singapore deputy president Bernard Tan during a press conference on March 9, 2021.
Football Association of Singapore deputy president Bernard Tan during a press conference on March 9, 2021.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Throughout much of Tuesday (March 9) afternoon, figures rolled off Bernard Tan's tongue as the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) deputy president shared details of its Unleash The Roar project to the press.

The desired number of players aged six to 12? Some 2,000 players per cohort.

How frequently he wants them to play the game in a year? About 30 weeks' worth.

And how many elite youth players does he hope will be developed? Some 250 boys and girls per cohort across 20 development centres, which includes new Schools Football Academies (SFAs) which will be based in secondary schools.

But he later told The Straits Times that all the numbers, data, studies and reports that the FAS and national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) have compiled over the last two years will do the government-backed project no good if there is no consistency.

This was a lesson he learnt early on in his stint with the FAS, he said, when asked about the Cubs Programme project he had fronted in 2015 to increase participation of football participation at the grassroots level.

Tan, who began serving in the FAS in 2013, noted: "The Cubs Programme was done with a number of schools that were very enthusiastic at the start. But then personnel (involved) changed, people changed, and the programme got sidetracked.

"So for the success of (Unleash The Roar), there needs to be an alignment with the vision, and for the long term. For example, if a school does the SFA, do it until 2034. Have that commitment, do it all the way."

The SFA concept is one of the key ideas that Tan, who co-chairs the Unleash The Roar project with SportSG chief executive Lim Teck Yin, hopes can help churn out quality players for the national team as they work toward the goal of getting Singapore to qualify for the 2034 World Cup.

Tan did not name specific schools he hopes to have the tie-ups with - he would only say he wanted 15 - but added the FAS has identified those with "good footballing tradition".

"We have to have a variety - some elite schools, some neighbourhood schools, some schools that help (the less privileged) students," he said.

SFAs fall under the second of eight pillars of the Unleash The Roar project, which also features a planned nationwide adoption of a national football curriculum, yet to be unveiled.

The curriculum will be developed by FAS technical director Joseph Palatsides, building on previous syllabi from predecessors Michel Sablon and Slobodan Pavkovic. Both Sablon and Pavkovic had complained about resistance from private academies and schools in implementing their respective syllabi, and Tan said he is aware this remains a challenge.

But he plans to solve it through accrediting schools and academies to become a part of the FAS development ecosystem, so that the national football body can give its input in implementing the curriculum and have "joint-accountability and synchronicity".

He also noted that coaches may only execute the plan not to its fullest, "maybe 80 per cent".

"But that is acceptable, so long as there is the right spirit and we are aligned," he said.

Away from the technical aspects of developing young footballers, Unleash The Roar also outlines plans to work with the Ministry of Defence to tap support avenues for footballers during National Service (NS), as well as offer local and overseas scholarships for top youth talents.

Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth parliamentary secretary Eric Chua had revealed in Parliament on Monday that the FAS is in discussions with overseas football institutions such as La Liga, German Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund as well as Australian colleges such as Maribyrnong College.


Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth parliamentary secretary Eric Chua revealed that the FAS is in discussions with overseas football institutions such as German Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund. PHOTO: REUTERS

Tan Meng Wei, whose daughter Danelle, 16, is the youngest international scorer for the women's national team, and son Merrick, 15, is in the youth set-up of professional club Lion City Sailors, has been exploring options for Danelle to study and play overseas.

The 48-year-old chief executive of a child care centre group said: "We look forward to initiatives involving overseas tertiary opportunities as well as the NS plans.

"I'm always happy with concrete plans that takes Singapore football forward a few steps. It's a long journey but the few steps in the right direction is always the best start."

Former FAS director of coaching Seak Poh Leong said the move to engage players in schools was a good one, although he added the youth set-ups of local clubs should not be left behind.

"When you talk about youth development, everyone can contribute," he said. "But going big with schools is a good start… and a plan with support from the (Government) is very helpful.

"If we can implement the plans over 15 years, I believe we can see a constant flow of supply of players."