Sunday, September 6, 2009

Point of View (2004)

With conclusion of the 2004 season, the question now is what views one can draw from it. It could be either positives or negative but there were a few topics I had views on.

Right from the start, the old topic of youth development rear it head when the Young Lions abandon it previous goal of only drawing fringe players from the clubs. With the Young Lions finishing third in the league, one can easily say it was in the right step but let not be too haste for the topic here is youth development.

The 20 players of the Young Lions squad called up at the start of the season (Excluded foreign & overage players) showed many like Lionel Lewis, Hassan Sunny, Mahathir Nasir, Juraimie Dawood, Baihakki Khaizan, Ridhuan Muhamad, Mustaqim Manzur, Syed Fadhil, Jamil Ali, Shahril Ishak and Agu Casimir, all who could have started in the lineup of the teams they were playing for so it is no longer a matter of giving younger players experience.

That is not correct in view of youth development.

One can understand the possible various reasons behind the change in goal from unwillingness to place developing players under a rookie coach to ensuring any future national team build up team spirit but there is a need to balance things. Fringe players could be diamonds waiting to be discovered and they need games in a tougher environment than the Prime League to ensure they can shine out. One only needs to look at the development of Farizal Basri this season and Aliff Shafaein last season with both were fringe players at their clubs before the call-up but it would no longer be the case now.

If the Young Lions had done that, it will help supplement the youth development of the clubs especially as at the moment, in my views, only 2 clubs, Geylang United and Home United, are doing a decent job of developing players.

In term of youth development, the Eagles have no match with the pillars of the National Team almost exclusively from them showing the great job they have been doing while the Protectors are bearing the fruit of labour for the policies they pursed as this season, players like Imran Sahib, Ratna Suffian and Ridzuan Fatah Hasan have developed beyond the wildest imagination.

Nevertheless, youth development did take a small significant step forward with the forming of the National Under-21 towards the tailing end of the season but up to now, the more significant step of forming the COE for the Under-14 and below still have not gained the urgent momentum even with the appointment of the new Technical Director of Football P N Sivaji early this year.

The age of the base for providing the next generation of players have to be younger and every year it is delayed there is wastage of talents.

Along the way during the season, other topics took on a more significant notice and one was the media. The saying ‘who need enemies with friends like them’ sound more than appropriate for the local media as the general reporting on local sports (Not just football) is more than disappointing.

Splitting up SPH & MediaCorp reporting, one must ask if any SPH sports reporters are based in Singapore and how unbiased they were. It is remarkable how often SPH two major English papers, Straits Times and The New Paper, have to turn to freelancers for reporting on local football and the shocking lacked of knowledge & informations on clubs & players. It is not as though the league & players are based on the other side of the globe. After that, there is the constant blasting of local football of which not all are justified.

It leads to the question if SPH is sore about losing the contract with S-league to a rival and therefore that unwilling to promote the product even if it involved a Singapore brand name.

A scenario would be the reporting on AFC Cup, they were dismissive of Singapore clubs chances in the competition at the start claiming better opponents but once results started going Singapore way, they changed track to claim the competition is second grade. It is clearly meant to tell the public the Singapore clubs are not great no matter the results. For the Chinese paper, Shin Min, it is much more balanced but like all SPH reporting it is much limited & only on the S-Weekly which is out once a week.

On the other side, with the contract from S-league MediaCorp reporting is clearly leap & bound above the SPH two English papers but one must wonder if they would have done as good a job if the contract was not won by them. Still it would be unfair to claim otherwise as MediaCorp are doing a much better job than their rival.

Nevertheless if local sport still does not get better mileage from SPH it is difficult to see a change in situation as SPH control almost the entire printing media industry in Singapore.

If the media was not helping, neither was the marketing by SBU. Formed to help S-league with marketing, one must questioned the focus of SBU.

Since May this year, SBU constantly break out news on the entry of foreign clubs to S-league pushing the title race into the back pages. It was an exciting season & the marketing focus should have been on the three way battle between Tampines Rovers, Home United and Young Lions but other than being at the matches, one would not have felt it at all. There were simply no marketing on the three clubs or the title race.

It would not have cost the sky to produce posters like those of the Sultan of Selangor Cup or programme sheets about the clubs, players & important matches to draw fans attention. Instead one read about Chinese, Indian, African & even Malaysian clubs joining the league as being the top stories released by SBU. A golden chance in promoting the league was wasted.

From that, it is time to turn the focus on the topic of a Super Club and Asian International Club competition. There could be some reacting with horrors on the idea of a Super Club emerging as it would return back to the days when Geylang International override all in the old Singapore Premier League (SPL) or for the more European knowledge the other SPL, the Scottish Premier League, where Celtics and Rangers are in a league of their own.

While that may come true, one must not discard the pro of a Super Club in the S-league as such a club would have the pulling power to bring sponsors and fans that would otherwise not have enter the picture. Also, the problem of a Super Club totally dominating the league is more the result of other clubs unable to step up the extra miles to meet the challenges rather than the fault of the Super Club. Turning to European Leagues like Dutch and Portuguese League, both leagues also have Super Clubs dominating the league but outside of these group of Super Clubs there are clubs who constantly step up to meet their challenge improving the quality of the league. This showed the most important aspect of Super Clubs which is enhancing the league. The Super Clubs will have the ability to lead the way and once clubs outside the Super Clubs group are willing to emulate the Super Clubs, not in term of finance, but in the way it does things then there is every hope that those clubs can improve enhancing the league in the process.

At the same time, a Super Club emerging would also be timely because of the creation of competitions like the Asian Champion League (ACL) and Asian Confederation Cup (AFC Cup). The importance of such competitions cannot be underestimated for players spend most of their time developing with clubs and not the National Team.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance for as many Singapore International players to be involved for their development. However this is not the case at the moment as the recent National Team call-up showcased. Out of the 30 players competing for a slot in the final Tiger Cup squad, just 9 players played in the AFC Cup. Super Clubs could ensure as many International players as possible played in such Asian International Club competitions.

Also, to fully develop the potential, players must be constantly playing in Asian International Club competitions, not just a one off. Taking Protectors and Eagles, playing in this season AFC Cup, as example - From the past five years, Protectors had been involved for four years while Eagles just involved in two years so a talented player with Protectors would no doubt developed better under the new environment.

The best thing though is adapting to environment unfamiliar to ASEAN. Just recently, the Singapore National Team had a horrible time adapting in the Middle-East & was duly thrashed. It is a result of local players not playing often enough in regions outside ASEAN competitively and it would not go away without the aid of Asian Club competitions. The group stage of ACL or AFC Cup already ensure Singapore clubs played in regions outside ASEAN on a yearly basis unlike the International arena where the National Team could go up to 2 years without playing outside ASEAN.

Finally, towards the end of the season the topics of finance and foreign clubs appeared on the radar.

When Tampines Rovers won the league title apart from the fans, players and coaching staffs, one would also expect the financial side of the club to be up in arms as well for the financial rewards it could bring to the club coffers but it is not the case in the S-league. It could cost up to $2 million for any club to equip themselves to challenge for the league title but winning the title itself only bring a mere prize of $120000 and even with the possibility potential sponsors coming forward with a title victory it still does not make sense for the investments pumped in.

Therefore, it is a shocked at this junction that the league justified the decision to provide foreign clubs with seed money.

It does not matter whether the money came out of another budget, the fact is the sum next year could come up to $300000 and even more in the years to come so in 3 years time the $1 million mark would have been breached and yet during the same 3 years the total prize money for final placing in the league would not have even crossed three-quarter of that.

Without increasing the prize money, the league cannot say local clubs do not wish to stand on their own for the league are not installing the correct environment for it. Only with better incentives can better-run local clubs have the necessary funds to develop at a more rapid rate and, in future, be able stand on their own without the aid of the league seed money.

Also, with better incentives the foreign clubs would be of better quality for at the moment neither Sinchi nor Albirex Niigata can be considered better than average.

I cannot buy into the argument that a foreign club winning the S-league would be a national shame for what use are foreign clubs if at best they are only going to be mid-table teams. Any local clubs could achieve that and if the main purpose for foreign clubs is to be just feeder clubs for their parent club back home (Like Albirex Niigata) and not to challenge for the title then the argument for their inclusion is meaningless.

After that, one wonder if the lesson about Sinchi debut had been learned for now a Cameroon club with little structure of a well-run club is set to make their debut next year. Without mentioning whether the team is strong or weak, the concern is if the club is not well-structured, no matter how strong the team is, it will have not have a prayer of hope to succeed for the club could be jumping from one crisis to another and ultimately the team would be affected.

Therefore one would expect criteria to be tougher after the farce of Sinchi two years inclusion in the S-league. It does not seem the case.

No doubt out that there could be other views on the same topics or on a bigger range of topics but for this person these are what I could gather from the 2004 season and one hope when 2005 season come about certain things would be different.

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