Singapore head coach Fandi Ahmad admitted that the Lions are going through a “slump time” and need to “wake up” in order to catch up with the regional rivals.
Since taking over from V. Sundramoorthy in May this year, Fandi has had to wait till four months for his first competitive game that will come on Friday against Mauritius in an international friendly. The Lions will then take on Fiji four days later.
As he rushes through preparations for the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup, Fandi is aware of how much progress the neighbouring countries have made – the Malaysian and Vietnam U-23 teams had successful tournaments at the Asian Games.
“I must say outright that I am not surprised (with Malaysia’s progress). We’ve been left behind in the last few years and I think they have a good development. I’m not saying we have a bad development (plan) but we do have some restrictions and it is very difficult,” Fandi said at the pre-match news conference for the Mauritius game.
“If you watched the Malaysian team at the Asian Games, they played very well and even all the teams around us (from Southeast Asia), we used to be like them 10 to 15 years ago but now is a slump time for us and we have to wake up.
“This is a new set of youngsters pushing the experienced players… having said that, we need to improve in our international matches and the only way (forward) for us is to play good football. Win, lose or draw I will be responsible but important thing is we must show we can play good football. When we play good football, the result will come.”
While Fandi did not mince his words about the state of football in the Lion City, the tactician is refusing to throw in the towel as he lays out a long-term plan to fast track talented youngsters to play alongside the experienced veterans.
“They (Singapore’s ASEAN neighbours) are all better than us. We have 11, 12 Southeast Asian countries and I think we are currently number seven or eight. We used to be number one or two but we didn’t have many youngsters coming up to replace the likes of (Noh) Alam Shah, Indra (Sahdan).
“We have (Khairul) Amri who has been playing forever now. We have Shahril (Ishak) who is 34? We have to change but we still need them around.
“That is why we brought in some youngsters like Jacob (Mahler). Seven, eight months ago, he was playing for the U-18s and I have been watching him. I brought him for the Hassana Bolkiah tournament and he performed very well and told me, coach I want to stay in this team.
“This shows that we have talent but we never really scouted them (in the past). I have a 16-year-old, Steven Tan’s son coming through and we need to speed up their development… this is where we went wrong. We need to give them opportunities to play against bigger boys because everybody will improve.”
Fandi may have his mind set on rejuvenating the national team but he knows there is a fine line to balance getting the results needed and giving his players game time.
He added: “This is a very difficult question because as much as we want the results, we need to see (and assess) the players. So for me, this FIFA dates, for the fans, for the people it is important to win but choosing the right players is also important because this is not the real proper tournament (Suzuki Cup) yet.
“So I have to balance it and give opportunities to some senior players and also some youngsters. Hopefully we get the results too and things change. Football is a very funny game. Sometimes it happens for you and sometimes it doesn’t.
“In your heart you want to give everybody a chance but sometimes you have to be selfish for the team. So, at the end of the day, I have to decide on game day but this is an important game to gain confidence for our next game against Fiji.”
Fandi will have to decide on his first starting lineup on game day but will not have key forward Faris Ramli available as the PKNS forward suffered an ankle injury in training on Wednesday and has been replaced by Khairul Nizam.