The Lions

National team: Long-term vision will bring results

Yasir Hanapi (No. 24) celebrating after scoring for the Lions. The team are ranked 160th in the world and this is the time to look to the future by unearthing a new generation of players.
Yasir Hanapi (No. 24) celebrating after scoring for the Lions. The team are ranked 160th in the world and this is the time to look to the future by unearthing a new generation of players.TNP FILE PHOTO

As part of its campaign pledge, the newly elected Football Association of Singapore (FAS) council promised to raise the standard of the national team.

It wants the Lions to regularly qualify for the third round of the World Cup qualifiers and the Asian Cup finals, as well as be consistently crowned Asean champions.

Yet, having toyed with various ideas in recent years to boost the Lions' fortunes - from corralling the best youngsters to form the LionsXII to play in Malaysia, to ex-national coach Bernd Stange's ill-fated attempt to introduce the tiki-taka playing style - the time has perhaps come for the FAS to think long-term in order to achieve excellence with the national team.

"The FAS has to formulate long-term policies for the national team," said former Singapore defender R. Sasikumar, now the managing director of sports marketing agency Red Card Group.

"That's the first thing they need to fix. But while we are fixing, the other countries are (improving)."

Yet, with the Lions mired in poor results - and being ranked a lowly 160th in the world - this is the time to build a new generation, even though the process might impede results in the near future.

In the opinion of long-time Lions fan Tan Hwee Heng, who has supported the national side since he was 13, the team still has a good foundation to build on.

The 42-year-old sales manager said: "Right now, Thailand are easily the strongest team in South-east Asia but we are probably the only team in Asean right now who can beat them."

The reason is head coach V. Sundramoorthy's tactical nous and his emphasis on discipline and a safety-first approach. It is not inconceivable that Sundram can build a tough-to-beat side with his abilities.

There are some positive signs. At the last AFF Cup, the rampant Thai team needed a late goal to defeat the Lions 1-0. The Lions also started the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers with a creditable 0-0 draw away at Bahrain.

But there is a flip side to having an iron-clad defence. As Tan explained: "It does not attract fans. Perhaps Fandi Ahmad (FAS head coach of youth) can assist him, as he is known to favour offence-based football."

With veterans like Shahril Ishak (33 years old), Daniel Bennett (39) and Fahrudin Mustafic (36) in the twilight of their careers, Sundram needs to rebuild soon.

"Our talent scouting needs to go far and wide," said Sasikumar. "We need to send a group of boys and spread them all over Europe."

Former Lions striker Aleksandar Duric agreed: "The FAS should have enough connections to secure contracts for our boys in Europe. It's time for them to venture further than just Malaysia or Thailand.

"They might not get in the first XI but there's still a chance to benefit from the high-intensity training over there and learn from a more professional mindset."

The 46-year-old feels that even tacticians like Sundram should be sent overseas to upgrade their knowledge.

He said: "Sundram should have a chance to learn from top national coaches as football is constantly evolving. He has to keep up with the developments in areas like training and sports science.

"Best of all, he doesn't even need to go far. (Marcello) Lippi and a host of top coaches are all in China now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 07, 2017, with the headline 'Long-term vision will bring results'. Subscribe