Questions need to be asked after Singapore’s AFF U-19 debacle

John Duerden John Duerden

John Duerden is looking for answers as to whether a coach’s trip to the World Cup with the Socceroos did in fact benefit Singapore football at the U-19 level.

The World Cup in Russia is not the only show around, the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) U-19 Championships have been taking place in Indonesia. Even Germany will be feeling sorry for Singapore.

The cubs from Singapore started with a last-minute defeat against Philippines but things took a turn for the worse pretty quickly. Next game brought a 4-0 loss at the hands of the hosts in East Java. Then was a 6-0 thrashing against Thailand. A little pride was restored with a 2-2 draw with Vietnam but that did not masks the shocking 5-0 loss to Laos in the penultimate game – yes, you read the last result correctly.

In short, it was a disaster. A youth tournament like this is not about results but it becomes a problem when you are thrashed in three out of five games and finish bottom of the pile with a single point to go with a goal difference of minus 16. That tells you all you need to know about the performances of the team. There are no positives to be taken from this.

If it was coming against a backdrop of success elsewhere then it could be explained away as one of those things, a freak couple of weeks. But it isn’t. Losing to Laos is one thing but being hit for five is a humiliation.

There should be an investigation of how this happened, one that does not put blame on the players, but one that looks at what happened, what didn’t happen and why.

It has to start with the coach of the team Robbie Servais and it won’t be focusing on the Australian’s strategy and tactics.

Servais was appointed in January and this tournament was an important part of his remit. Yet according to reports that have emerged, Servais spent much of June working for Australia as a scout during the World Cup.

“Our national technical director (Eric Adams) discussed the opportunity for Robbie with the Singapore TD and it was agreed that it would be beneficial for Robbie’s development and therefore beneficial for Singapore football if Robbie was exposed to the FIFA World Cup from a personal development perspective,” a Football Federation Australia spokesperson told Channel News Asia.

If true, this is unbelievable that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) allowed this to happen. If it highly questionable if going to the World Cup is more beneficial for a coach of a youth team than actually preparing for an international youth tournament. Regardless, being in charge for such a terrible run of results in a tournament is not going to look good on any CV and it is understandable that fans in Singapore are questioning his passion for the job. None of this can be described as beneficial for coach or team.

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Going to the World Cup is a dream but Servais had a specific job to do and that is coach the Singapore U-19 team. Even if there was not a tournament coming in the next few days, it would be a strange thing to happen for a full-time national team coach to go and work for another national federation. If you have a full-time job as a coach then that has to be your focus.

But when there is a tournament about to start then it truly is a head-scratcher. According to reports, Servais returned to the team a day before they flew off to Indonesia (one wonders what would have happened had Australia progressed to the knockout stage) after leaving preparations in the hands of his assistant Takuya Inoue.

Questions have to be asked and answered. If this is all true then, the FAS should never have sanctioned this. The initial request should have been laughed out of town and Australia should have been firmly told that they would have to find a scout who was not on full-time employment.

It leaves questions as to what is going on. It should be unimaginable that a coach leaves his job and travels to a different continent for some part-time work at a separate tournament and then returns –and the journey back is a long one with a time difference of five hours — a day before the team leaves for the start of a tournament.

Perhaps the FAS felt that the coach was not needed for the preparation period but if that is the case then he should not be in the job at all.

Make no mistake this is an embarrassment. If there can be one positive then it should be so humiliating that there is a genuine desire to change. The results ensured that no cracks have been papered over.

There are many long-standing and complex issues in Singapore football that are hard to address and solve. But what has happened over the last weeks is not one of those. This is basic stuff. FAS and Servais have some serious questions to answer.