By Teng Kiat
Want local football to progress? Then we need to be more professional, according to Singapore coach Bernd Stange.
That was one of the main lessons the German took away from his Singapore Selection team’s 5-0 loss to Juventus on Saturday night at the new National Stadium, which was the first-ever football match to be played there.
The hosts visibly tired in the second half after managing to keep the score to two goals at the break, despite the Italian champions operating mostly in third gear throughout.
The contrast in quality was stark and Stange believes that the only way to bridge the gap between Singapore football and top-class opponents is to have “full professionalism” in the way players train here and better infrastructure.
“We have players on the pitch today and they are semi-professionals, or close to amateurs,” he said at the post-match press conference.
“They are working the whole week for National Service (NS) and other things; they have a lot of other commitments.
“We have good programs [in place], we have the basic ideas [and] how we want to follow [them] but if players are not available and facilities are poor, it’s very difficult to compare with [teams like] Juventus.”
The 66-year-old, who has coached in different parts of Europe as well as Australia and the national teams of Iraq and Belarus, believes especially that young players here are hindered by the need for NS and commitments like studies, where the education system does not favour athletes.
“If you’re 19, 20 or 21 years old and you’re semi-professional for a long time, like Al-Qaasimy [Rahman], who [just] came back from NS now, my expectation [for players] should be limited,” Stange asserted. “Now they are free, they have to work and they have to train harder. There is only one way to success and that is training… and we have to do more and work harder on our players.
“The first lesson is [we need] full professional training for all of our players, we need more practice and if we cannot deliver, it is very difficult to make big steps forward.”
Lions midfielder Hariss Harun shared the same sentiments with his coach, although he admitted that some issues remain “beyond our control” for now.
“There’s still a long, long way for us to improve, there’s lots of catching up [and] we are way behind in many ways,” he said. “For me, what is simple is that we need to start from grassroots level, that’s the easiest (best) way. You have to have continuity.”
Suzuki Cup mission
But Stange is aware that time is not on his side, admitting that good performances need to be on show sooner rather than later in order to draw the crowds back to the 55,000-seater stadium.
“It’s good, but it’s the first event in the new stadium [so] it should be fully crowded,” he said of the 27,338 attendance on the night. “You need supporters, you need a fully crowded stadium and then it can be a cauldron of fear for opponents.”
The next big chance for the Lions to show their prowess is the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup, with Stange declaring that the aim was to retain the crown.
“There’s no patience on my side and we want to deliver results,” he asserted. “It’s the first time since 1998 we are playing without foreigners; [during] the last Suzuki Cup, we had five, six foreigners on board [but now] it’s all local boys and that’s the way we are going now.”
Hariss will be one of those expected to spearhead the national team’s charge and he also called on Singaporeans to pack out the stands and show their support.
“If we have a full house, with the stands close to the pitch, it’ll be a wonderful experience for us on the field,” he said.