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 By Kelvin Leong

Singapore football needs more than just a new president to rise again

Singapore
Singapore are four-time ASEAN champions.

Sometimes, change is a good thing for an organisation. Especially for the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), who have been run by government-appointed council members for more than 30 years.

On Saturday, the FAS holds its Annual General Meeting (AGM) at its Jalan Besar headquarters. It will seek to amend its constitution, with FIFA's approval, to allow for a full election of a new president and council members.

Incumbent president Zainudin Nordin will step aside, making way for what is shaping up as a four-way fight.

FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong is rumoured to be the man who will lead an FAS team that includes Bernard Tan, and Balestier Khalsa chairman S. Thavaneson.

Hougang chairman Bill Ng is believed to be possibly teaming up with former Tampines Rovers chairman Teo Hock Seng for the chance to lead Singapore football to a higher level.

Ex-Woodlands Wellington general manager R. Vengadasalam has already announced that his team of experienced football personnel are going to contest, while a fourth contender is slated to complete the equation.

FAS vice president Lim Kia Tong
Current FAS vice president Lim Kia Tong is set to lead the FAS team at the upcoming election.

Once the new constitution is approved at the AGM, the teams will have to submit their potential candidate list, and go through stringent checks. That's before an election -- to be held in November before Singapore's opening game at the AFF Suzuki Cup against Philippines -- will take place to choose football's new leader.

So, what exactly can Singapore football expect from the winning team? Surely, the priority has to be to chart a new path. That should include three key areas: lower division football leagues, youth development, and bringing belief back to the national team.

Easier said than done. The current FAS team have tried various ways, like rejoining Malaysian domestic club football through the now-defunct LionsXII, and putting faith in foreign coach Bernd Stange. But the German's only Suzuki Cup outing in 2014 led to a disastrous group stage exit.

One constant groan from coaches has been the dearth of players who are good enough for the national setup. And to counter the problem, FAS have kept the top local talent with the Young Lions, and LionsXII, hoping to forge a stronger team. But the initiative has delivered mixed results.

Singapore coach V. Sundramoorthy
V. Sundramoorthy is the man tasked to help Singapore win their fifth ASEAN title come November.

One look at the S.League will tell you where the problem lies. With only seven local clubs competing in what is Singapore's only professional football league, each team registers around 25 names. That produces a list of about 175 players that the national team selectors are able to choose from. So why haven't we taken the Island Wide League (IWL), and National Football League (NFL) more seriously?

These are good breeding grounds for players who fail to make the cut with the S.League clubs. But a check through the past few years' records, and it'll tell you that the IWL and NFL have been severely neglected.

With the S.League having no promotion-relegation system, bettering the management of the lower tier competitions could be a good first step to expand V. Sundramoorthy's options.

Just take a look at reigning ASEAN champions Thailand's recent 2018 AFC World Cup qualifiers against Saudi Arabia and Japan. Few people would have heard of 23-year-old striker Siroch Chatthong because he plays for Division 1 side Ubon UMT United. And yet, Kiatisuk Senamuang gave him an international debut against the Saudis, underlining the benefits of a strong multi-tiered, domestic club scene.

Another area that needs to be fixed quickly is youth development. While technical director Michel Sablon has taken huge strides to bring more kids onto the pitch, there is simply not enough pulling power to entice local teens to become professional footballers.

Singapure U19
Singapore's youth football teams have not delivered on the international stage for the past decade.

Sending a couple of talented youngsters to FC Metz, Newcastle United or Matsumoto Yamaga for a fortnight or so, won't be enough to produce the next Fandi Ahmad. Sure, it's good for publicity, but if such short stints can produce top players, Barcelona's famed La Masia academy would be out of business.

A longer-term approach has to be put in place, especially for the 19-22 age group, where it is notoriously hard to make the cut in Singapore football.

The better ones will graduate from the National Football Academy and join the Young Lions. But a squad size of 20 to 40 players means that there is a long line of potential youngsters whose footballing aspirations are curtailed, forcing them into a career away from the pitch.

And for these changes to take place, a strong team of outspoken leaders, willing to be the alternative voice, must be in power.

Far too often in recent years, Singapore officials have given generic statements of "we'll try our best," or "we're grateful for this opportunity."

One should be humble, and not walk out onto the pitch with arrogance, but there is a fine line between that and confidence. And the latter seems to be lacking.

There needs to be newfound belief that Singapore can, and will beat opposing teams, especially when going up against the likes of Cambodia. It can't be a case of only shouting to the world when you're winning.

Teo Hock Seng
Former Tampines chairman Teo Hock Seng, middle, is a well respected figure in Singapore football.

Singapore are four-time Suzuki Cup champions, and there is a reason why they got there. Because the Lions are good. But Singapore football bosses need to re-instill that confidence back into the once-dominant side of Southeast Asia.

Someone like Teo, whose leadership saw the Stags win five S.League titles in his 15-year reign, could be the answer.

And, if it's true that Ng and Teo have got a stable of former national team captains in their camp, they could help breach the massive gap between players and association to better the rights and management of the one-season contract S.League warriors.

So it really doesn't matter who wins the upcoming elections. The chosen one must be brave enough to say "no" when the time is right, and push forward plans that benefit the fraternity, not individuals. It's often easy to follow a written formula, but as the saying goes, "fortune favours the brave."

Stand up and change Singapore football, or stay away from the impending first-ever poll. Two years is a long time to waste.

ESPN FC editor Kelvin Leong is a former media officer for Singapore and ex-regional editor of ESPNSTAR.com. Twitter: @KelvinLeong29.

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