FAS to form panel to review SEA Games performance; recommendations to be made public
The under-22 squad will not be involved in any international tournaments until the review is complete, the Football Association of Singapore's chief Bernard Tan tells CNA.
SINGAPORE: A review panel will be convened to look into the performance of the Singapore men's football team at the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, with the ensuing recommendations made public, the chief of the sport's national governing body told CNA on Saturday (May 20).
In addition, the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) acting president Bernard Tan added that the under-22 squad will not be involved in any international tournaments until the review is complete, and until "implementation" of the findings has reached a stage where authorities are satisfied that the country will be at a "competitive" level.
Upcoming fixtures for the Young Lions included the under-23 Asian Cup qualifiers as well as the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, from September to October.
Earlier this month Singapore were eliminated in the group stages of the regional tournament for the fifth consecutive time, and suffered a 7-0 mauling by Malaysia in their final game. It was Singapore's heaviest defeat at the Games since the competition became an age-group affair in 2001.
"I feel pained about it and I'm quite sure it came across in different ways over the last few days. More importantly, I want this pain to be felt by all involved in football, especially the FAS," said Tan.
"It's a time for introspection ... I want the FAS to have also a fighting culture in which we have ... the attitude that this is just not acceptable, and we will do everything in our power to fix it."
In an interview with CNA, Tan said that the panel will be headed by former national head coach Jita Singh, with three FAS council members involved: Ex-national footballer and SEA Games assistant chef de mission Lim Tong Hai, former national captain Razali Saad as well as football academy coach and founder Harman Ali.
The panel will be given four weeks, and their report will be discussed in-house for two weeks after, before recommendations are released publicly.
Tan stressed the importance of not throwing anybody under the bus, including the players.
"Some of the players here are good players. They had a bad tournament and a bad few matches. But I don't want them to also walk away with the fact that the entire nation blames them for this," he said.
"In spite of what has happened, I think some of the players will go on to be an 'A' national. But obviously, they too have to spend some time reflecting on this tournament, and improving themselves as we go forward."
Speaking after Singapore's demolition at the hands of bitter rivals Malaysia, head coach Philippe Aw admitted there was a "stark" gap in quality between the Young Lions and the rest of the teams in the region. Things will only get worse if measures are not taken to address the standard of football in Singapore, he said then.
On Thursday, FAS announced that Aw would been given time off “after his intense duties" as head coach of the SEA Games team.
"There's a clear gulf," Tan acknowledged on Saturday. "A significant difference ... When you observe the age groups at 21, 19, 17; there's a clear difference in standard."
One difference between the Young Lions and Thailand's U-22 footballers, he said, was that the latter had significantly more experience playing in their local league.
Tan added that it was important to ditch the mindset that teams should go to tournaments to just garner experience.
"I've asked questions in the past ... I think we need to change that attitude," he said.
"We need to ask ourselves, whether our teams are competitive. And if they're not, what can we do to make them competitive and not just write it off as an experience ... That one I'm quite adamant to change."
OPENNESS AND ACCOUNTABILITY
In an Instagram post last week, Tan called the 7-0 defeat "one of the worst nights in our history".
He later apologised for a curt response to a comment on his post, saying emotions were "running high with some abuse" on his social media pages. He added that FAS had advised him and its members that open engagement with stakeholders was "best done in formal organised settings".
"I can understand the pain, I empathise with the Singapore fans. I know what it's like to feel this way, I probably feel it doubly worse," said Tan.
"I know the expectation is that this should never happen again."
The FAS chief admitted that the current situation was a low point for Singapore football.
"But we've got to pick ourselves up," he said. "It's also an opportunity ... to be slightly more reflective and ask ourselves seriously, even for things that we never questioned ourselves before: 'What can we do better?'"
FAS on Saturday held a closed-door session involving various stakeholders in the game, including fans, ex-players and coaches. Tan said the association will also work on highlighting where progress has been made, while making stakeholders part of the process.
He pointed to an upcoming slew of initiatives, including to "accelerate" the development of young players for them to debut in the top-tier Singapore Premier League from 17 years old onwards.
"That will be a mark of success for us because the younger players are making the debuts earlier, the SEA Games squad is going to be stronger," said Tan.
And FAS is sending players to "better ecosystems" to further their footballing education, while approaching talent identification in a "much more systematic way", he added.
The association is also looking into naturalisation of players for the national team.
Tan said initiatives under the national project "Unleash the Roar" have also been moving at a "much more rapid pace" since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's not perfect, but it's all falling together, and that gives me a lot of cause for optimism. I know that the message to the fans that 'please be patient' has been one that has been recurring a long time," he said.
"I hope the fans - I know they're disappointed - they will support us when we're down, just like they support us like when we're winning."
Said Tan: "In a few years' time, you probably be able to see the results of some of the age-group teams being better. And over the next five to six years, we should be much more competitive in the youth level games over the ages of 17 to 22.
"Hopefully we will be able to get to a place where you can start to see results."