Recent improvements to Singapore’s youth football system will increase hope that A Singaporean can again play in Europe’s top leagues
There’s never been a better time to be a budding footballer in Singapore.
If your child harbours hopes of following in the footsteps of Singapore football icon Fandi Ahmad - who played for Dutch club FC Groningen and scored in the Uefa Cup competition - then recent announcements must have brought much cheer.
It is hard not to be optimistic, following the news that Spain’s top football division LaLiga and renowned German club Borussia Dortmund will work with the Unleash The Roar! (UTR!) national football project on both player and coach development.
Parents these days are not short of options when it comes to choosing the right football academy for their children. In total, there are over 20 football academies in Singapore, made up of those that are privately run and those run by the state.
The academies offer a range of football methodologies, local and overseas training opportunities at different prices.
But how do the UTR! programmes – the ActiveSG Football Academies (AFAs), AFA Development Centre (AFA DC) and the School Football Academies (SFAs) - fit into the whole football ecosystem?
The UTR! programmes serve to complement existing programmes in the hopes of raising the overall level of football in Singapore. One key highlight of the UTR! programmes is that young footballers will learn the football fundamentals under the National Football Curriculum (NFC). The NFC has been developed by the Football Association of Singapore to influence the way the game is played at the national youth team level, right up to the senior teams. The NFC hopes to form a national football philosophy that is based on a high-tempo, pro-active, possession-based style of play.
ActiveSG Football Academy: A good first base
With football programmes for as young as three-year olds, the AFA is a good place to start a child on his or her footballing journey. An initiative of national sports agency Sport Singapore, AFA has close to 2,000 boys and girls, playing football at least once a week at 13 centres islandwide – making it the largest academy in Singapore.
The youth are split into three age groups - Preschool (3-6 years old), Cubs (7-12 years old) and Youth (13-16 years old) - and train up to three sessions a week. Some of Singapore’s most successful footballers are now coaches at the AFA, including Steven Tan, Daniel Bennett, Shahril Ishak and AFA Principal Aleksandar Duric. AFA programmes are affordably priced to ensure that the scheme is open to as many children as possible. You can learn more about AFA here.
The AFA also serves as a good base to spot talented kids early. Children with potential to further their footballing education will be recommended to join the AFA DC.
The AFA DC caters to talented youth from the ages of 9 to 17 and are helmed by head coaches of the 13 AFA centres. Apart from specialised coaching, the AFA DC teams will also work closely with Spanish coaches from LaLiga to build a strong foundation of football fundamentals based on the NFC. Youths selected to join the AFA DC need not pay extra for the extra training at AFA DC.
School Football Academies: The next step up
Officially launched in 2022, SFAs will be offer a more holistic approach to football development. Designed for secondary school children (between the ages of 13-17), the SFA pilot will see 10 Ministry of Education schools across the island offer a good balance between academics and football.
The current group of SFA schools as of June 2023 are:
- Montfort Secondary School
- Seng Kang Secondary School
- Singapore Sports School
- Yishun Secondary School
- Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road)
- Serangoon Garden Secondary School
- Bendemeer Secondary School
- St Patrick’s School
- Assumption English School
- Jurongville Secondary School
- Woodlands Secondary School
- Methodist Girls School
- Boon Lay Secondary School
- Westwood Secondary School
Each SFA will feature a team of full-time SFA coaches, comprising both LaLiga and local coaches. They will work closely under the leadership of the FAS Technical Director and the AFA Principal to ensure the successful implementation of the programme.
The team of coaches will be helmed by a Head Coach who will minimally possess an ‘A’ licence and relevant youth development experience. There will also be specialist coaches in the areas of goalkeeping, strength and conditioning, and performance analysts who will be engaged to provide each student-athlete the best possible training.
Beginning with the Secondary 1s in 2022, the programme will progressively expand to include all four years in each SFA by 2025. It is expected that about 1,400 boys and girls will be a part of the programme eventually. This is close to triple the 500 boys and girls who are presently receiving elite training at the Under-15 and U17 level.
A key component of the SFA will see the students train four times a week, up from the average of two in most football programmes at secondary schools. The youths will also play competitively throughout the year, with a tournament planned among SFAs, AFA Development Centres, and possibly private football academies from 2023 onwards.
An exciting future of footballing prospects
With the SFAs complementing the AFA, AFA DC and private football academies, the future for young footballing talent in Singapore looks to be an exciting one.