Tag Archives: John Wilkinson

Lions crash out of Suzuki Cup, but frankly, it could be the best thing to happen to Singapore football

The Lions crashed out of the group stage of the AFF Suzuki Cup after losing 0-1 to Vietnam tonight, the first time they have done so since 2002.

Frankly, this outcome was probably the best thing to happen.

I don’t think I could have gone on watching the Lions in this tournament without feeling more and more unhappy and dissatisfied with the state of the national team.

Let’s not beat around the bush: Singapore football has returned to the dark ages. From two consecutive Cup wins to a semi-final exit in 2008, and now this, a group stage exit. If this is not the most apt symbol for going backwards, then I don’t know what is.

We’ve returned to the late 90s and early years of the new millennium when the likes of Nasri Nasir, Rafi Ali and Zulkarnaen Zainal ruled the roost but couldn’t take the Lions forward anymore.

But what really hurt this time was watching some of our national players in action. Noh Alam Shah, Ridhuan Muhammad, Baihakki Khaizan and Precious Emuejeraye ere the worst culprits.

While Precious has always been a poor defender, one cannot help wondering what has happened to the first three in recent times.

They’ve played so poorly this time that one just cannot help wondering whether they were intentionally doing so in order to save themselves from injury and return to their Indonesian Super League clubs fully fit.

Or have they become so big-headed as a result of their being treated like stars in the ISL that they’ve come to think of themselves as the Untouchables, players who will always be picked to play regardless of form?

When the Lions suffer in defence because of injury to Daniel Bennett, lack bite in midfield because of the absence of Shi Jiayi and John Wilkinson, and have to rely on Aleksandar Duric and Agu Cashmir to deliver the goals, the state of local football can only be truly classified as really bad.

Really, let’s be frank here: how well would we have really done in the last two years without these naturalised citizens taking to the field as our Lions?

In other words, these naturalised citizens have been the strips of  duct tape that have been holding up the torn and tattered shell that is the national team all this while.

Which brings me to my next point – it is also probably time for national coach Raddy Avramovic to go.

I think he deserves a medal for what he has done for Singapore football, but I think he has also come to the end of the road as the man tasked with taking Singapore football to the next level.

We will need a new man at the helm, someone who comes in with a clean slate, with no biases, no attachments to players that were groomed during his tenure, and who can call a spade a spade.

We need someone with the guts to cull the laggards. Most importantly, we need to give this new man time to cast a fresh eye on the talent of the land and give him our blessings to take risks with new emerging talents and groom his new generation of Lions.

Does he have to be a foreigner? Maybe not.

I see some promising local coaches in the national set-up who can do the job if they are allowed to do their job, and pick their own players without interference from their bosses.

Bottom line: it hurts to see the Lions going out. But this could also be a blessing in disguise.

Let’s just hope the Football Association of Singapore has the f***king guts to do what is necessary.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

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Two rays of hope for the young aspiring Singapore Chinese footballer?

The report:

The Sunday Times (25 Jan 2009) carried a pretty good interview with national coach Raddy Avramovic, in which he revealed his plans to wield the axe on a number of Lions and replace them with up to six new faces.

It has to be done, he explained , simply because he feels that time has caught up with ‘this generation of players.’

According to the report, insiders say that the new faces include Young Lions centre-back Afiq Yunos, midfielder Gabriel Quak and strikers Eugene Luo and Khairul Nizam.

Some may wonder at the timing of the move to bring in new faces espeically since Singapore is now in the midst of its Asian Cup qualifying campaign. Apart from hosting the tournament once in the 80s, the Lions have never qualified for the competition on their own merit before.

But Avramovic felt that it is the right time to do so. “Even if we beat Jordan, it is still the right time to bring in the young faces and give them a feel of international football… to let them learn from the experienced players and understand the pressure international football brings,” he said. 

You can click here for the full article.

My thoughts:

Two things struck me instantly when I read the above-mentioned article.

Firstly, the report named only four of the ‘five or six young players’ that Avramovic plans to introduce into the national squad.

This, to me, is a strong hint that the remaining two players are likely to be naturalised citizens.

If that turns out to be true, then it means that the Lions will now have 10 naturalised citizens in their ranks.

The current batch of naturalised citizens includes defenders Precious Emuejeraye and Daniel Bennett, midfielders Mustafic Fahrudin, John Wilkinson and Shi Jiayi, and strikers Agu Cashmir, Aleksandar Duric and  Qiu Li.

Assuming that the Lions squad is 22-strong, this means that half of the Singapore team will be made of foreign talents. But I have a feeling this number will drop to eight eventually. 

I am working on the assumption that Precious will probably be axed from the team eventually while the ageing Duric – he is 39 this year – will likely have to call time on his international career if he wants to prolong his club playing career.

The other thing that struck me: the fact that two of the new faces are Singaporean Chinese players.

You cannot imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to see the names “Eugene Luo’ and ‘Gabriel Quak” in the article.

After all, there has not been a Singaporean Chinese player in the Lions first 11 since midfielder Goh Tat Chuan was axed from the national squad by Avramovic in 2006.

There are two Chinese players – Shi Jiayi and Qiu Li – but they are China -born naturalised citizens.

Considering the fact that 76% of the Singapore population is Chinese, this current dearth of local Chinese players in the national squad makes for a pretty ridiculous and embarrassing situation for the Singapore football fan and the Football Association of Singapore.

Hopefully, the arrival of Luo and Quak is a sign that things are about to change. The fact that they’ve been called up to the national squad will hopefully inspire more Chinese boys to follow their footballing dreams.

By the way, the reason why I am so cheered by Luo and Quak’s call-ups is not because I am Chinese myself.

It is because the dearth of local Chinese footballers means that the FAS has, in the past, only been able to tap on 24% of the Singapore population in its search for local footballing talent.

This itself has had severe repercussions for the progress of Singapore football.

After all, if your pool of talent is already so small, logically, it just means that you’re going to hit a wall sooner or later. The fact that the FAS has been recruting foreign talents to play for the Lions means that it hit that wall a long time ago.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the fact that Luo is a striker. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a  local Chinese forward in the national team.

In fact, the Singapore Chinese striker has been such a rarity in the past 30 years that you can practically count them with  one hand.

That’s not all – the legendary Quah Kim Song aside, the rest were mainly bit players in the national set-up.

They included

– Wong Kok Choy (my favourite player from Singapore’s 1980 Pre-Olympic qualifying campaign adventure who strangely disappeared from the scene after that )

– Michael Tan (who played just a couple of Malaysia Cup matches in the early 80s before disappearing from the scene),

– Tay Peng Kee (who was usually used as a substitute during his stint with the Lions in the late 80s. Nevertheless, he still managed to score a handful of goals)

–  Toh Choon Ming (a prolific striker in the S-League for Gombak United and Jurong in the late 90s, but who would either disappoint in the few national team matches he played in or drop out of the squad, citing work commitments each time).

What about Steven Tan? Well, the fact that the ex-Tanjong Pagar United and Tampines Rovers winger was often called Super-Sub during the Malaysia Cup days shows that even he had difficulties commanding a place in the first eleven.

So I’m really looking forward to seeing Quak and Luo in action for the Lions one day. Here’s hoping that they will grab with both hands the precious opportunity that has been given to them and make full use of it.

I’m also hoping that Luo will turn out to be a decent and fairly regular goal-scorer. That is a sure-fire way of not only capturing the public’s imagination but of inspiring other young aspiring Chinese footballers.

As I wrote in one of my first few posts nine months ago, Quah was such an inspiration that kids were proudly wearing Quah Kim Song t-shirts which were bought from the market.

Back then, even my Teochew-speaking nanny, who had no formal education, knew who Kim Song was. And she would proudly say each time on the eve of a Malaysia Cup game: “As long as Kim Song is playing, Singapore will win.”

I’m not sure if we can ever say the same of Luo. After all, he would have already been noticed and featured in the papers a long time ago if he is such a prodiguous talent.

I would be more than happy if he emerges as a reliable forward. That would be good enough for this long-suffering Lions fan, thank you very much.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

Related links:

27 May 2008 – Go for it Jasper (but alas, you are no Kim Song)

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Question: Was Precious fit enough to play in the Suzuki Cup?

The report:

This report appeared in yesterday’s edition of The Straits Times:

Gombak left me in a bind: Emuejeraye (The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2009)

 

By Wang Meng Meng

 

NATIONAL defender Precious Emuejeraye has accused his former club, Gombak United, of leaving him in the lurch.

The new S-League season kicks off on Feb 16, but the 25-year-old is still without a team.

He said yesterday: ‘When the season ended in November, I had the impression that I would stay on with Gombak.

‘But, four days before the new year, I was told that I would be released. That came as a big shock.’

The centre-back missed virtually the entire 2008 campaign after undergoing surgery on his left knee and right ankle.

He recovered in time to play and score in the Bulls’ last league fixture, a 3-3 draw with eventual champions Singapore Armed Forces FC.

Gombak finished fifth in the 12-team league.

Emuejeraye, who lives with his wife and two-year-old daughter in a five-room flat in Jurong, said: ‘All the S-League clubs have assembled their squads. There is very little chance that a club will squeeze me in.

‘Gombak’s reason for letting me go after three seasons is not convincing. They said I was injured for long periods and the team did very well in my absence.

‘If that’s the case, they should have told me earlier. That would have given me a chance to sort out my future early.’

Gombak chairman John Yap declined to comment on his former player’s claims.

Capped 45 times by Singapore, Emuejeraye is part of the Lions backline that conceded just twice in the recent Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup – the tournament’s best defensive record.

And it is his international experience that has given him hope of securing a contract overseas.

Former Singapore captain Fandi Ahmad, now a coach in Indonesia, has alerted Indonesian Super League clubs to the Nigeria-born player’s availability….

My thoughts:

Okay, here is something I don’t quite understand.

If Precious was, as according to the ST report, out of action for virtually the whole of the last S-League season because of surgery on his left knee and right ankle, and came back only in Gombak’s last game of the season, then surely it begs this question:

Was he fit enough to represent the Lions in the Suzuki Cup (also known as the Asean Football Championships)?

In fact, Precious was singled out as one of the Lions’ poorest performers in the tournament, even though Singapore, again according to the ST report, conceded only two goals throughout the competition.

He was even rated a 1/10 by radio DJ Glenn Ong after Singapore lost 0-1 to Vietnam in the second-leg of the Suzuki Cup semi-final at the National Stadium, a result which sent us out of the tournament.

So I am wondering here: if Precious was lacking in match fitness yet still consistently chosen as one of Raddy Avramovic’s first-team players, then really, what does this say about

a) the depth of talent in the Lions and

b) the level and quality of our local footballers that they cannot even nudge a recently-recovered Precious off the first eleven?

Is it any wonder then that the number of naturalised citizens playing for the Lions has been steadily increasing over the years from two back in 2002 (Brazilian Egmar Goncalves and Croatian Mirko Grabovac) to its current seven?

And is it any wonder then that we can now have the likes of Indra Sahdan  proclaiming that quality is more important than workrate and effort and John Wilkinson that he doesn’t know if there are any other players out there who can come into the squad and do better than the current first 11?

It’s food for thought, but it also makes for very unpleasant thinking.

P/S It will be interesting to see if Precious continues to retain his place in the Lions’ first eleven now that he is club-less.

Think of it this way: if he is considered not good enough to play for Gombak United – an S-LEAGUE club, mind you, – then what does it say about the Lions if he continues to command a first-team spot?

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

Related links:

20 Jan 2009 – Our Lions start to show their true colours and growing arrogance

23 Dec 2008 – Precious gets a 1/10 from radio deejay Glenn Ong – but the joke could be on us in the end

21 Dec 2008 – One-dimensional Singapore crash to Vietnam at Kallang, bow out of Suzuki Cup semis

18 Dec 2008 – AFF Suzuki Cup: Singapore escapes with 0-0 semi-final draw despite embarrassingly poor show

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