The school holidays may be just around the corner. But for some of Singapore’s most promising boys and girls footballers, the months of November and December will see them compete and train in Europe and South-east Asia as part of initiatives under the Unleash The Roar! (UTR!) national football project.
The NDC U-14 boys team at Changi Airport on November 4 before their departure to Spain. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng
The National Development Centre’s Under-14 boys will be headed to Spain for a two-week stint in Madrid, where they will take on academy sides from Atletico Madrid, Leganes, Rayo Vallecano and Getafe. The trip is thanks to a collaboration with UTR! and Spanish top-tier league LaLiga. Both parties recently extended its partnership with to develop Singapore football.
The boys will be based at ESC LaLiga & NBA Centre - a state-of-the-art training facility used by both LaLiga and the National Basketball Association (NBA) to groom future football and basketball talents. ESC is one of two overseas partners which hosts UTR!’s overseas scholars - the other being the IMG Academy in the United States.
The NDC U-14 boys get a tour of the ESC gym and other facilities. ESC will be their home for the next two weeks. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng
Said Javier Gainza Rojas, head coach of the NDC U-14 boys team: “This trip will give our boys the chance to experience different cultures and broaden their horizons while playing against many international football clubs while training in world-class facilities.”
Apart from player development, the Spain trip will also offer opportunities for Singapore coaches to gain knowledge and insights from their Spanish counterparts in joint-training exercises and classroom sessions.
He added: “Our coaches will also have the opportunity to learn from the Spanish clubs which invest heavily in youth development. These clubs have some of the best academies in the world and I am sure we can come away with some new perspectives to improve our players.”
Miguel Alexandro Garcia (above) and Muhammad Aqil Zulkarnain Mohamed Supandy (below) bid their families farewell before flying off to Spain. Photos by Ng Chrong Meng
Over in Thailand, the NDC U-13 and U-15 teams will be based in Bang Bo for a training camp before competing in the 2023 Siam Cup, a league-format competition featuring renowned Thai Premier League sides like Buriram United and Chonburi FC.
There will also be training matches against the likes of Thai academy teams like STB Football Academy, Prime FC, and Bangkok Sports School.
Said U-15 head coach Angel Toledano of the 12-day trip: “Such trips are invaluable for our development. They offer a unique opportunity for exposure to international opponents, including clashes with three academy teams and participation in the Siam Cup against Thai League sides.
"The experience of playing against such international opponents can only benefit our boys' growth. The challenges and intensity they face during these competitions provide the perfect environment for them to learn, improve, and develop their skills further.”
With Singapore set to compete in both Asean Football Federation and Asian Football Confederation U-16 competitions in 2024, the trip will serve as part of the U-15 team’s build-up to a busy year ahead.
Said Toledano, who led the national U-15 team to a runners-up finish at the 2023 Lion City Cup: “This trip is a testing ground for the application of the game model we've been diligently working on for several months. It encompasses various aspects, such as organising play, advancing with the ball, understanding attacking phases, and refining defensive organisation.
“It will give us an opportunity to observe how the team responds during both attacking and defensive transitions and how we adapt to the challenges posed by our opponents. The lessons learned from facing teams like JDT (Johor Darul Ta’zim), BG (BG Pathum), and soon Buriram will be invaluable as we prepare for the upcoming AFF and AFC competitions in 2024.”
Similarly in Malaysia, three sets of teams will also be gaining invaluable overseas match and training exposure over a week.
The NDC girls’ U-14 and U-16 teams and a combined boys School Football Academy (SFA) squad will be in Kuala Lumpur for matches against sides from the Selangor and Klang areas.
Story by Mashidayat Maszeni