This letter appeared in today’s edition of The Straits Times:
Frankly, national teams bred on Malaysia Cup were the real deal
I DISAGREE with Mr Liew Eng Leng (‘Frankly, S-League football bred better players for international glory’; last Saturday). Although Singapore did not win any reputable international titles before the S-League kicked off in 1996, the national teams bred on Malaysia Cup football lifted the country to
Asia’s elite rankings on four major occasions, with sterling performances in the 1966 Asian Games (top four), 1977 World Cup qualifiers (Asian top eight and first in South-east Asia), 1980 Olympic Games qualifiers (Asian top six) and 1984 Asian Cup finals (top seven).
The national teams of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s clearly possessed a lethal bite despite facing bigger and more ferocious foes, whereas those bred on S-League football are often left biting the dust when the going gets tough.
Although the modern-era Lions were among the top 15 performers in Asia’s 20-team World Cup third-round qualifiers in 2008, they fell to second-last in the 2011-12 edition, losing all six matches. Tajikistan and Lebanon lost to Singapore in 2008, but the 18th-placed Tajiks and ninth-placed Lebanese have improved while the Lions regressed.
Evidently, the S-League (under its current format) is not very beneficial to Singapore’s quest for international football excellence and glory.
It is true that Singapore won consecutive Asean championships in 2004 and 2007, but with the Lions supported by naturalised players, those were expected victories.
Contrary to Mr Liew’s claims, Singapore did come close to winning top regional titles before 1996, having qualified thrice for the South-east Asian Games final in the 1980s. During the S-League era, Singapore has never progressed beyond the semi-finals.
Arguably, Singapore’s 1977 and 1980 Malaysia Cup victories were akin to modern-day South Korean or Japanese league title triumphs.
South Korea and Japan are current Asian giants, while Malaysia was similarly dominant between 1970 and 1980. The Malaysians qualified for the 1972 and 1980 Olympics, confirming Malaysia as one of Asia’s top three at that time, and the standard of Malaysian domestic football was conceivably among Asia’s most robust.
Perhaps the 1977 and 1980 Lions should be bestowed a special national honour for their invaluable contributions to creating a sporting nation.
The Lions of old were roaring champions, but the S-League-bred Lions have yet to roar.
I have always enjoyed reading Michael Ang’s letters on the local sporting scene which regularly appear in the newspapers.
Ang, in case you’re wondering, is a former sports journalist with Mediacorp before he uprooted and moved to Canada several years back. In that sense, I feel that he knows his stuff, and that is why some of his observations are usually quite spot on.
The fact that he is bothering to write about local sport despite having migrated to another country shows how passionate he is about the local sporting scene. And it’s great to have such a voice because honestly, you don’t get to read many comment pieces on local sport in the papers these days.
Ang’s latest letter appeared in The Straits Times today (31 March 2012), and once again, he makes a compelling argument, refuting another letter-writer’s theory that the S-League produces much better international players for the Lions .
Certainly, there is merit in his argument that the S-League in its present format, has not been producing quality players for the national team.
Since 2008, Singapore’s standing on the international stage has been falling. After winning our third Tiger/Suzuki Cup/Asean Football Championship in 2007, we’ve gone backwards.
To be fair, 2008 was an exciting year for the Lions. I remember being quite excited by their progress into the third round of the Asian World Cup qualifiers, and even though they did not make it to the final qualifying stage in the end, that campaign was marked by some promising displays and performances. But since then, it’s been going downhill.
We were knocked out of the semi-finals of the Suzuki Cup in 2008, and then, horror of horrors, failed to even qualify from the group stages at the 2010 edition, finishing third behind Vietnam and the Philippines in Group B. Taking a leaf from their seniors, our U-23 team – who had won bronze medals at the 2007 and 2009 SEA Games – did not qualify from the group stage of last year’s SEA Games football competition.
Then came the Lions’ very poor and embarrassing campaign in the third round of the World Cup qualifiers, one marked by thrashings, abject and dispirited performances, and games in which we were completely outplayed, which made every one realise how much the Lions have declined since their 2005 and 2007 heydays.
The S-League may have widened the pool for potential talent for the national team but clearly, the recent talents that are being produced are not good enough to compete at Asean level, much less Asian level. But, to be fair to the clubs, I feel that has much to do with the kind of budgets that they are forced to operate on. When you think about it, the recent glory days of Singapore football coincided with the golden period of the S-League, from 1999 to 2003/4, when clubs had more resources to hunt down and sign good foreign players.
In the past two years, I get the sense that things have started looking a little (BIG STRESS ON ‘a little’) promising again in the S-League, although you wouldn’t have known it, given the scarce coverage given to the league by the local media. But hopefully, this will gradually build up into another golden period for the S-League, and then by extension, for the Lions.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan