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Unleash the Roar football project is ‘on the right track’

It may seem unthinkable, but in 1990, former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson had been on the brink of the sack at Old Trafford after a string of bad results and no silverware to show for in three years.

Ultimately, the Scot would lead the Red Devils to a FA Cup triumph that year before adding 37 more trophies.

Similarly, Singapore football finds itself in the doldrums and Sport Singapore chief executive Alan Goh is hoping national project Unleash the Roar (UTR) will get the same patience that Ferguson was given to find success.

In an interview with The Straits Times on the Hard Tackle podcast published on Jan 24, Goh and Singapore Sport Institute (SSI) chief Su Chun Wei both insisted the UTR project was moving in the right direction.

Citing the early struggles of Ferguson, Goh said: “Not to say that I am going to promise Alex Ferguson type of success but actually, that’s the level of patience that we hope, we minimally give UTR and FAS.

“Of course, we’re not going to abdicate accountability. Hopefully we can compete at a higher level than the results we have seen in recent times. We’ve been there before in our history. And our aim collectively as one Team Singapore is hopefully to replicate conditions to get back there again.”

While a long term ambition under UTR is for the Lions to qualify for the 2034 World Cup, results in the interim have not made for good reading. Fans have also grown disillusioned with poor results and a lack of identity in the various national teams.

The Republic lost 4-1 to Malaysia at the Asean Football Federation Championship in January 2023 and suffered an early exit from the tournament. Months later in May, the Under-22 team were thrashed 7-0 by their Causeway rivals in a disastrous Cambodia SEA Games campaign which then led to the squad being withdrawn from the Hangzhou Asian Games.

Among other criticisms of UTR has been the project’s slow start. It was announced in March 2021 and the first significant move was in July 2022 when the Schools Football Academy programme was launched with 10 schools.

A year later, the inaugural batch of eight teenage footballers were awarded overseas scholarships shortly after the Junior Development (for those eight to 12) and National Development Centres (13 to 16) for promising youths was set up.

Goh said: “These are the pieces. And hopefully in a few years, we start to see more support and more interests, and it will then translate into more success on the pitch.”

Su insisted UTR “is on track” and said: “It is a long term plan...Of course, it takes a longer time for the entire fruits to come to bear.”

He added: “Everyone wants to see winning teams. Everyone wants our senior Lions or Young Lions to be competitive. If we are going on this long journey and we are seeing signs of improvement, we have got to support our Lions...

“We cannot be giving them wet blankets and demoralize them. We need to be together. And as I said, in another three to five years, if we do this collectively as one… I’m pretty sure that everyone will share the collective fruits of this journey.”