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How To Search For Another Imran And Shawal?

I would say to those folks who are upset about the poor showings by the various age-group sides of the national team of late - LET'S FACE THE REALITY.

The reality is we are now one of the footballing minnows in the region where we were once part of the dominant force with the constant bragging of being the four-time champions of South East Asia.

MINNOWS IN SEA

Taking into account the recent string of poor results that saw the defeats by the likes of India, Laos, Chinese Taipei, etc. had shown how things fell apart since Coach Raddy Avramovic gifted us the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2012.

Still, the Asean title is something that is not substantial enough to place us on the pedestal, given its status is not exactly as prestigious as the Asian Cup organized by the continent's game governing body - the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Khairul Amri (front) watches as play continued in a league match in 2016

Sadly, the obsession with parochial glory in local football proved to be a hindrance to moving the game forward when it should and the local game administrators should have realized it when we were soundly beaten by Jordan months after being crowned as the Asean champions in 2013.

But those signs were not being paid much attention to and resulted in what we have today.

This is why when columnist John Duerden commented in his recent piece for TODAY saying the concept of Garena Young Lions "looks to be approaching its sell-by date", I couldn't agree more.

"YOUNG LIONS" - OUTDATED CONCEPT

The "Young Lions" project, which was started in 2003, has been seen as the cornerstone in the development of national players despite being perceived as an "elite" program that attracted much criticism because of its reclusiveness.

While there were those who lauded the concept of having the de-facto national youth squad to gain experience by playing against much tougher opponents in the S.League, the current embarrassing form of the team that is the core of Singapore's representative to this year's South East Asia (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur had many believed things aren't likely to improve after that humiliating outing on home soils two years back.

Sablon against "Young Lions" exit from S.League

In an interview with The Straits Times back in March, Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) Technical Director Michel Sablon cautioned the move to pull the "Young Lions" out of the professional league.

"The only way to close the gap is to do what we're doing - put young players in a demanding environment to play at a higher level than they normally play. We are working for the future of Singapore football and it will take time." said the Belgian in that interview with the SPH broadsheet.

True to extend certain of what the former Belgian assistant national coach preached, however, looking at things over the years and it's hardly convincing to see players, who went through the system, benefit much from extended playing time.

ONLY THESE MUCH THEY CAN DO ...

We really have to ask how much improvement was shown by those "Young Lions" alumni after they moved on to other clubs, as in have the tutelage that provides the best facilities prepared them to take Singapore football to the next level?

At this stage, we can only count the last three Asean titles won as the best testament the "Young Lions" had done for Singapore football with those teams populated by their alumni.

Throughout the years, cries had been made to disband the "Young Lions" and release players to clubs that are always at the losing end to release young players they groomed to the former for the "national cause".

Having these young players released to clubs would allow another way to groom them in a new environment which might turn out to be a better option, who knows?

Instead of having a group of inexperienced chaps to fend on their own against much tougher opponents, we have seen all this while, youngsters should appreciate the presence of experienced seniors to guide them on and off the field.

Besides having seasoned teammates to show them the ropes, it's also up to these young players to prove their worth.

Imran Sahib plays for Tampines Rovers this season

Citing the example of Imran Sahib during his first stint with Home United in the early 2000s.

IMRAN SAHIB THRIVED UNDER COMPETITION AT BISHAN

Back then, the Protectors, under English coach Steve Darby, were packed with the likes of Egmar Goncalves, Indra Sahdan, Peres De Oliveira, etc. but Imran was impressive enough to establish himself as a regular winger alongside another guy by the name of Sutee Suksomkit.

It is proven that the presence of experienced players in a team is essential to promote competition within the team and motivate youngsters to work harder to earn their stripes, as no one is indispensable and only those who worked hard will deserve a place in the first eleven.

That is something absent in the present culture of the "Young Lions" even though they had Lions striker Khairul Amri as a "mentoring figure" last season that didn't quite work out and saw the marksman rejoin the Stags this season.

Shawal Anuar (center) - a rarity out of the NFL in recent years

Furthermore in that same interview, if Sablon had suggested that the "Prime League ... is simply not strong enough to push the team." why isn't there a viable plan to improve its competitiveness of it together with the amateur National Football League (NFL)?

ARE WE GOING TO WIELD THE AXE?

After all, both Prime League and NFL are always singled out as important part of the local football ecosystem, so why not allow the disbandment of the "Young Lions" and send the youngsters back to where they have to work their way to prove their worth to become another Shawal Anuar in the making?

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