Asian Football

How Do We Raise The Stock Of Singaporean Football Players?

While the eternal optimist in me sees positives from our World Cup Qualifiers, many reckoned that Singapore’s showings were abysmal. Likewise, I think Tampines Rovers displayed a lot of grit and showed determination in their AFC Champions League run, but to the uninformed and ignorant external observer, they would look at the scoreline of the fixtures and determine that Singapore’s top-ranked local side has no place in Asia’s premier continental competition.

As much as I despise and disagree with how society values first impressions, the reality is that we live in a world where first impressions count. Many Asian clubs, and by extension clubs around the world, are unaware of lesser-known leagues. This could be due to a multitude of factors like the lack of readily available information, language barriers, or non-existent live streams or highlight reels of matches.

Most importantly, higher tier clubs would want to procure players from similarly ranked Asian leagues and/or players from Europe’s top-ranked divisions. Therefore, clubs in other parts of Asia and Europe have little incentive to thoroughly scout the Singapore Premier League, to begin with, let alone procure players. However, that means that the Singapore national team and clubs in continental competitions play a significant part in the Singapore football ecosystem.

I’ve mentioned this before, but players who represent Singapore or clubs that partake in continental competitions are ambassadors for the Singapore football fraternity. Whether other players will be looked at by overseas clubs depends on their performers in these regional and international fixtures.

Hence, it’s safe to say that Singapore’s football stock value is currently pretty low. Sitting 160th in the FIFA rankings (which has less meaningfulness but hey, people look at that) and following Tampines Rover’s inability to secure a single point in their maiden Champions League voyage, many in the region may be averse to signing Singaporean players. Even though Irfan Fandi is still signed with reigning Thai League One champions Bangkok Glass, Safuwan Baharudin with Malaysia topflight side Selangor, and Zulfahmi recently signing with Thai League 2 outfit Sukhothai, there have been no new names that have ventured overseas. It will be difficult for Singapore players to make that move regardless of how good they are because of the stereotype generated from poor performances in the aforementioned competitions.

So how do we raise stock without Continentnal & Regional Competitions?

The value of players in this modern football age comes in two forms: what you bring off the pitch in terms of marketing and what you bring onto the pitch in terms of your footballing skill.

Raising the marketing ability of players is not an easy feat, but it is doable if players are linked with the right entities. Boosting your social media presence is critical in this day and age. The old guard will rarely if ever, advise footballers on this, but each player should market themselves as a brand.

Managing your image in social media doesn’t mean you compromise on your identity. Rather, players should embrace it. Fleshing out your personality helps make you a relatable figure. For example, as a Manchester United fan, David de Gea is one of my favourite players partly because he is a big metalhead like me.

A sizable crop of the younger footballers coming through have already established themselves a pretty good foundation in terms of social media following. However, more Singaporean footballers need to do the same. It is never late to do so. If players are passionate about something, they need to be proactive and reach out to relevant organizations and see how they can collaborate. Again, starting small is the best way forward. I’ve mentioned our partner organization Rookbook Sports before in a previous example and I think the work they do is something players could take a page from.

Besides partnering with multinational corporations like Myprotein, they’ve also secured ambassadorial partnerships with local SMEs like Gentleman Barbershop for their players. In particular, Gentleman Barbershop has been decking fresh cuts for Tajeli Salamat and Delwinder Singh, whom they’ve made ambassadors. It goes to show how SMEs like Gentleman Barbershop see the value and potential in Singapore football and trust that the local football system will continue to expand.

Of course, I’m no expert in this domain but our marketing consultant and guest writer, Kim Ng, is. He had this to say:

As the Singapore football scene develops, it becomes imperative that our local players look towards establishing their unique player brand image and social media voice to take advantage of this oft-overlooked opportunity for players. Higher social media engagement figures become a valuable tool when negotiating with companies, which is why it proves crucial to provide value to your followers in this give-and-take equation. One easy way would be to simply show your daily life – not everyone is in a privileged position to be a footballer, and the reason why many follow their favourite sports figures is to have an inside look into their unique lives. Give them that, and it will be easier for them to justify hitting that ‘follow’ button.

Kim Ng

He also hinted at an initiative that Rookbook Sports are currently working on to continue their outreach to help every player improve in all aspects of their game.

Raising the football skill of players likewise is equally as important. Clubs do not want prima donnas who don’t add any quality to their teams. Instead, they want players who commandeer a large social following and can likewise deliver on the pitch when it matters as well. In this regard, Ryhan and Harhys Stewart have done remarkably well. Both players have a large social media following and have really blossomed this season.

It has certainly helped that they’ve been working with Rory Winters from Edge of the Box. You can see a distinct shift in their game from last season, and while Philippe Aw has certainly raised their game from a tactical standpoint, both players are also physically more dominant than most of their peers. So it can’t be a sheer coincidence that they improved in their physical attributes in the same season they worked under Rory.

One other player to have immensely benefitted from Edge of the Box’s regimes is Delwinder Singh. The unsung hero is enjoying one of his best-ever seasons with Tanjong Pagar and is looking the fittest he’s ever been. Besides improving on his already acute defensive acumen, Delwinder raised his game to the next level by working on his physical presence, which was already at an immense level. If you know Delwinder, you know that he always gives his 110%, and it’s little surprise that he makes the most out of Edge’s weekly training sessions.

Singaporean footballers may not be paid well and this is something that needs to change. However, if more companies can provide affordable training services like Edge of the Box, players should try their best to invest in themselves. It might not be easy given the financial circumstances that many players find themselves in. However, for those who can, they should. Lasting a full 90 minutes is an issue Singaporean players struggle with, but players like Ryhan and Delwinder rarely seemed to be overly fatigued this season, especially when compared with other local players.

Obviously, the easiest way for Singapore football to raise its stock value is by performing well in the AFF Suzuki Cup. Regardless, external efforts should still be launched. Instead of waiting for something to happen, perhaps it’s time to initiate tangible actions.

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