Elite youth football league in 2023
Unleash the Roar! project working with MOE for new top-tier competition
The team behind the Unleash The Roar! (UTR) project have revealed that they are working with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to establish a youth league in 2023 that will support the School Football Academy (SFA) programme.
The UTR executive committee announced last Friday that 10 schools will come under a pilot SFA programme from next year.
The secondary schools are Montfort, Sengkang, Singapore Sports School, Anglo-Chinese (Barker Road), Queensway, Serangoon Garden, Meridian, St Patrick's, Assumption English and Jurongville.
Responding to a query from The Straits Times, interim technical director Philippe Aw, who is also the Football Association of Singapore's head of methodology, confirmed that students enrolled in SFAs will continue to compete in the National School Games (NSG) - the annual inter-school competition - next year.
He added: "UTR is working with MOE to establish a youth league in 2023 that aims to facilitate the development of student-athletes from SFAs by providing them with a high-quality, competitive platform where students get to learn from and pit their skills against the best players and teams of their age group in Singapore over a sustained period of time."
The youth league, which SFAs will participate in instead of the NSG, will run throughout the year and comprise 25-30 competitive matches "to provide sufficient match experience in a more challenging environment to raise their level of play," Aw noted.
The league could also have teams outside of the SFAs, "provided the teams are of a similar standard and share UTR's mindset where the competition is primarily about the development of the student-athlete".
A key component of the SFA will see students train four times a week, up from the average of two in most secondary schools.
Each SFA will have full-time coaches, both local and from Spain's top-tier professional league La Liga.
These include specialist coaches in the areas of goalkeeping, strength and conditioning, and performance analysis.
Since the announcement of the SFA, some in the schools fraternity have been concerned that this could result in lopsided scorelines between SFA schools and non-SFA ones.
In January last year, the Singapore Sports School thumped Assumption Pathway School 32-0 in a B Division boys' match. The scoreline ignited discussion about competitiveness and fair play in school sports, with some calling for tweaks to avoid repeats of such one-sided encounters.
Similar warnings have been made in the last few days.
Former youth coach Khairul Asyraf said: "The best players will go to these 10 SFAs and some of these schools are already elite at the school level. And given the high level of training they will be receiving, we will see huge scorelines as early as next year.
"The organisers must understand that proper competition drives development, not just quality of training."
Juraimi Jumahat, 38, whose son Ryan Afshan, 14, is part of ACS (Barker)'s team, said: "As a parent, I prefer that he plays in competitive matches.
"I don't care too much if he loses but he will learn a lot as compared to coasting through matches against opponents who are not at the same level. It would be good for the boys if there is an elite league formed."
Jurongville C Division boys' coach Razif Ariff feels the current format can work. He said: "I think the SFAs should still be involved in the NSG.
"It will give a chance for the schools involved to show the other schools the merits of the programme - that you can excel academically and play good football.
"It's inevitable that we see lopsided scores in the first round but it's a learning opportunity and gives coaches of stronger schools the ability to use the players that might not normally get game time.
"Whatever the final outcome is in terms of the competition, the development of the player must come first."