FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan believes there is reason why Singapore football can look to the future with a hint of optimism.
On the day that Singapore football was being sold the promise of a bright new future, a harsh reality check was delivered by the end of that very evening.
Wednesday afternoon saw the launch of the Singapore Premier League at the National Stadium, where words such as ‘premium’, ‘professionalism’, and ‘vibrant’ were constantly rolling off the tongues of those tasked to lead the way forward.
Three hours later, at the same venue, it was the Indonesia Under-23 team that looked the more premium and professional team, playing a brand of vibrant football en route to a 3-0 friendly win over their Singapore counterparts.
The same Indonesia which not too long ago had just returned from the international wilderness following a FIFA ban, yet have managed to finish runners-up at the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup and claim the bronze medal at last year’s Southeast Asian Games.
While optimism in Indonesia could not be higher at the moment, especially with prodigious talent like Evan Dimas and Egy Maulana seemingly emerging magically out of nowhere every other year, it is the polar opposite for their neighbours.
Delighted to be there for the bold launch of the new #singaporepremierleague — all the very best to the @FASingapore and the clubs. See you at the @SGSportsHub for the season-opener on March 31! https://t.co/GoEtxuVKhs
— JohnDykes (@JohnDykesFC) March 21, 2018
Even at the launch of the Singapore Premier League, under the gaze of a roaring lion that is the logo of the new top-tier competition, questions were being hurled at Football Association of Singapore (FAS) leaders as to whether this was merely a makeover: throwing a fancy new dress on what is effectively still the S.League.
And these were – still are – very fair queries.
But perhaps the biggest hint as to why there could soon be reason to be optimistic, far more telling than a new name and an impressive mascot, is the realisation – from those who matter – that Singapore football is now starting all over again at square one.
“The [FAS] council and I knew that a revitalisation of our domestic league was necessary for Singapore football to move forward,” said FAS president Lim Kia Tong in his speech.
“It is my greatest pleasure to announce that from today onwards, Singapore’s top-tier football league will be known as the Singapore Premier League.” – @FASingapore President Mr. Lim Kia Tong 🎉⚽ pic.twitter.com/whgX8WcOPj
— Singapore Premier League (@SGPremierLeague) March 21, 2018
Edwin Tong, Lim’s vice-president, added: “More than just a rebrand of the logo and a change of name, the Singapore Premier League is a transformation of a product.”
Make no mistake about it: Singapore football, for whatever reason (and we are way past playing the blame game now), has been on the decline for years.
However, for the first time in a long while, the FAS appear to be willing to accept that Singapore football is indeed at Ground Zero and it is time to work its way back up.
Singapore U-23 coach Fandi Ahmad, perhaps unintentionally summed it up best in the immediate aftermath of the defeat to Garuda Muda.
Not a bad night for 🇮🇩 U-23 as they beat 🇸🇬 U-23, as well as a cameo appearance by one Egy Maulana‼️https://t.co/GzVomgy4bB
— FOX Sports Asia (@FOXSportsAsia) March 21, 2018
“Congratulations to Indonesia, who were the better side,” said Fandi.
“They’re full of technically-gifted players with speed and power – [they] were a different level and it was a good lesson for us.
“It wasn’t easy and we need to do a lot of work.”
Singapore may be small in population but they are a proud footballing nation by ASEAN standards, so it cannot have been enjoyable for Singapore’s favourite footballing son to openly acknowledge their opponents as superior, especially considering the Lions have four AFF titles to their names compared to Indonesia’s none.
Yet, if you look past the pride, history and sentiment, Singapore are at present not as good as the Indonesians.
For that matter, not as good as Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippines and even Malaysia (who have their own problems but that is another story for another day).
And it is perfectly fine to not be as good as some of these nations that the Lions used to brush aside with ease. Even the now-mighty Thailand had their time in the doldrums.
Many believe the crucial point in reviving one’s fortunes is the moment of realisation and acknowledgement that things are not going according to plan.
While the FAS still have work to do to convince all of their doubters, there was plenty to suggest from Wednesday’s launch event that they do realise and they acknowledge.
There is no longer any layering over the cracks: Singapore football is at a low point.
The best thing about a low point? The only way is up.
And, with or without the new roaring lion, that in itself is reason to be optimistic.
Photo credit: Singapore Premier League