Time to revamp entire squad after Lions’ meek AFF C’ship exit, urge coaches
After a chastening defeat by causeway rivals Malaysia, coaches and former footballers said the result must serve as a catalyst for a total reset in local football.
Singapore’s AFF Championship campaign ended on Tuesday after the 4-1 loss at the Bukit Jalil Stadium. This is the fourth time in the past five editions of the regional tournament where the Lions, four-time champions but not since 2012, have not progressed beyond the group stage.
Clement Teo, former head coach of Singapore Premier League (SPL) side Hougang United, said the country needed to “start from ground zero”.
Teo said: “We struggle because we are afraid to revamp the whole national team and give ourselves a few years to come back. It is difficult because of our culture - we must always be No. 1 and we are always looking at short-term results and bottom line.
“This failure is not a bad thing because it bursts the bubble and prevents anyone from having any unrealistic expectations.”
Former national defender R. Sasikumar, who was part of the 1998 Tiger Cup (predecessor to the AFF Championship) triumph, noted there is no quick fix but highlighted the need to do something drastic came a decade ago.
He said: “Every time the Lions have a bad tournament or result, it feels like we are flogging a dead horse and talking about the same issues from revamping grassroots to hiring the right man for the job.”
Sasikumar pointed to the government-led Unleash The Roar! project as cause for optimism. Sport Singapore and the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced a blueprint in Nov 2021 with an aim to strengthen the local football ecosystem.
UTR has since yielded the School Football Academy (SFA) programme and strategic partnerships with German club Borussia Dortmund and Spain’s top flight La Liga.
Sasikumar said: “The bad news is that football does not work in a way where you introduce something now and the results show up immediately. We are playing catch up but with UTR, it is a good start.”
Former Malaysia technical director and current Balestier Khalsa coach Peter de Roo urged football administrators here to focus on improving the standard of the SPL and to blood younger players into the national team. In the Lions’ 23-man squad, 13 players are aged 30 and above.
The Dutchman said: “Technique is a limiting factor as soon as the tempo goes up and the space becomes smaller and Singapore was no match for Malaysia’s intensity. Enthusiasm and intensity has to do with age.
“If you want to play a more adventurous style, it is easier to introduce that with a better mix of young and old. Some of the older players struggled with the intensity against Malaysia.”
Lions head coach Takayuki Nishigaya has attracted plenty of criticism after the exit, with fans taking to social media to vent their frustration. Sasikumar highlighted the Japanese was the least experienced coach in the competition, and it showed in the Lions’ performances.
Teo disagreed, however, stressing that Nishigaya – who was hired in April 2022 – cannot shoulder all the blame and criticised players who had been “anonymous and not made an impact”.
“The easiest thing now is to point fingers at the coach, but how long has he been here?,” asked Teo.
“The sad truth is many of the senior players are on a decline while many of the younger players have not stepped up. Unfortunately, some of them look like they are just going through the motion; If can, can, if cannot, never mind.
“It is very frustrating because this is the national team we are talking about.”
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