Now that the 10-day stint in Niigata, Japan for the five students from the Singapore Sports School is over, what next for them?
After struggling at the start, the five in Adam Swandi, Amirul Adli, Andin Addie Djayady, Muhaimin Suhaimi and Zharfan Rohaizad have adapted to the faster, more intensive pace of their Japanese peers from Albirex Niigata’s under-18 youth teams and trainees at the Japan Soccer College.
Having observed them over several training sessions, in mild, sunny conditions to blistering sub-zero temperatures in snow storms, they didn’t look out of place, and adapted very quickly.
But for the likes of 16-year-olds Adam and Amirul, they will graduate from the Singapore Sports School after this year. Albirex’s under-18 head coach Nobuhiro Ueno believes they are technically a match for most Japanese teenagers, but after this, and once they leave the Sports School, what next for them to ensure they do not lose the momentum?
One suggestion is for S-League clubs to be owned by large corporations, like in South Korea and Japan, so that they will be run like a business and offer attractive salaries so that parents will be more confident to allow their children to pursue being a professional footballer or sportsman and sportswoman in general as a career. Emphasis on developing local young talent must be stepped up.
Another is to have them, or any other similarly talented youngsters, come back to Japan for a longer stint of between three to six months to really see where they stand and if they have the temperament to make it in an overseas environment.
At youth level, Singapore’s sporting talent is as good as many other countries. It’s just that once they leave school and reach their late teens, they tend to drop off and do something else for a myriad of reasons, one of which is that being a professional footballer in Singapore still isn’t attractive enough to convince more to take the plunge.
So many questions, yet not enough answers.
The sports authorities, together with Government investment, are already putting plans in place to get the wheel turning. But if more big corporations begin to see the value of what athletes and sports can do for them in terms of advertising mileage, plus the confidence and willingness of parents to allow their kids to try their hand at pursuing sports as a career, that might just turn the wheels of change signficantly faster.