Few football competitions in Singapore attract as many teams or command as much support as the Schools National Football Championships.
Which is why former national team defender Kadir Yahaya was taken aback by what he feels is a lack of commitment from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) when it comes to talent-spotting young players from these competitions, which feature over 2,000 students from close to 200 schools.
Kadir, who was coach of the St Joseph's Institution (SJI) team who lost 0-6 to Hong Kah Secondary School in yesterday's B Division football championship final, voiced his frustrations.
"The FAS has to be serious about the schools competitions," he told The Straits Times.
"Schools football is a big thing for Singapore. From primary schools, secondary schools and tertiary institutions, they are all playing football. The hype is so big.
BETTER JOB NEEDED
FAS should not just be about funding but instead they need to directly work with the schools and have a system where we can get the best players, regardless of their race.
KADIR YAHAYA, SJI coach, on more pro-active action from the FAS
"If FAS was serious about schools, there would be a key figure here to grace the occasion but I did not see anyone, not just today but throughout the whole competition since I have been at SJI."
FROM GROUND UP
Scouting and talent identification is a process. I saw a coach from the NFA (National Football Academy) here today but it should not happen just for a final.
MOHAMED ZAINUDEEN, Hong Kah coach, on finding potential stars
Kadir, who guided Singapore to a Youth Olympics bronze medal in 2010, was roped in by SJI in 2012.
Hong Kah's coach Mohamed Zainudeen agreed.
"Scouting and talent identification is a process. I saw a coach from the NFA (National Football Academy) here today but it should not happen just for a final.
"It should be happening consistently throughout the season, whether it is a B division or C division match," he said.
Zainudeen revealed that while he was the head of youth development with S-League club Balestier Khalsa in 2005, he was tasked by then FAS technical director P.N. Sivaji to attend schools matches and submit reports on players who impressed.
"It was made mandatory back then but now I don't see that happening at all," he said.
A primary concern in the local football scene is the fact that the sport, at the elite level, does not attract the majority of the population.
And while the FAS has plans to increase participation levels and time spent on the sport in schools, Kadir feels that it has to pay attention to the fact that not many Chinese players stay in the sport beyond inter-school competitions.
He said: "They have to see the ratio breakdown. My school has a lot of talented Chinese boys but they need to look at what can be done to keep them in the system.
"Who is actually doing the research on the ground to detect the root problem?
"FAS should not just be about funding but instead they need to directly work with the schools and have a system where we can get the best players from the schools, regardless of their race."
FAS has been looking to revamp its youth football developmental plans with key appointments this year. Belgian Michel Sablon was appointed as technical director in April while Frenchman Richard Tardy was announced as the head coach of national youth teams earlier this week.
Kadir is hoping that both of them will put school sports higher on their agenda.
"They must see the level of B division, the C division and the A division and then you can assess what are the areas of improvement and what we currently have in terms of talent," he said.