The Singapore national team will finally feature in the New National Stadium after a two-year absence due to the global pandemic in less than a few hours. This fixture marks the first AFF tournament for several Singaporean players, but many fans will have their eyes fixed on one particular name – Song Ui-young.
Song has been dreaming about representing the country he has called home for nine years and his naturalisation was undoubtedly timely. After all, there is no better international platform to showcase his skills than the Suzuki Cup. Sure, he may have already made his debut a few weeks ago in a friendly match against Kyrgyzstan, but featuring in this tournament is an altogether different experience. Legends have been born from previous editions, and Song would be looking to make his mark in his maiden AFF Championship voyage. Yet, this is not just an essential step for Song but also for Singapore football.
The Trump Card: Translating Domestic football successes onto the International Arena
You can challenge me all you like, but I will maintain that Song is the Singapore national team’s trump card for this tournament. And that boils down to two reasons.
Firstly, it’s the fact that Song provides national team head coach Tatsuma Yoshida much-needed utility. Song has repeatedly demonstrated that he can play multiple positions along the team’s spine. From central defensive midfield to the striker position, Song can slot in easily if needed. It isn’t just the fact that he can play in these positions but that he is perfectly competent in doing so. With Song, Tatsuma has the ability to configure his team in multiple permutations. No other forward player can offer this quality to the team.
Scoring goals has been an enduring challenge for Singapore in recent years, and Song potentially solves this issue. If deployed as a striker or attacking midfielder, you can be sure he will score goals or play a vital contribution in setting them up for his teammates. Critics may point out that International Football is not the same as at the club level. While that may be true, one has to remember that Song is an experienced AFC Cup player, and has gone toe to toe with Southeast Asia’s best during his time with Home United. Who can forget the 2018 season when Song racked in 9 goals in 11 games in a season where the Protectors emerged as ASEAN Zonal Champions. Hence, I believe that calling up a proven goalscorer like Song certainly eases the pressure on Ikhsan Fandi, who has often been over-relied on for goals.
Yet, it isn’t just his knack for scoring goals that makes him a key figure for the Lions. His incredible work ethic and seemingly unlimited stamina is a massive benefit for Singapore. Time and time again, the Lions have been criticised for losing steam. Fitness issues have plagued the team, and limited physical and mental stamina levels have certainly cost us in the past.
Just take a look at the recent 2022 World Cup Qualifier in June. Singapore was holding Saudi Arabia to a 0-0 draw until the 83rd minute when a combination of a lapse in judgement and tired legs saw the Lions implode. In the final few minutes, the Saudis scored three goals to win 3-0. If deployed as a number 6 (which he has in the past), Song has the energy to do the dirty work required and help conserve his teammates’ energy.
Of course, what is Song’s best position?
That is a question that yields different responses from different managers.
Yoshida fielded Song as a central midfielder against Kyrgyzstan and that is where he would presumably play. Aurelio Vidmar fielded Song usually either as a number 8 or 10. On the other hand, Kim Do Hoon initially played Song as a number 6 (during the last 30 minutes against Tampines this August) before starting Song as a striker in Stipe Plazibat’s absence. We will only know where he plays when Yoshida announces his team sheet against Myanmar. Until then, it remains a mystery.
What is certain is that Song is able to produce wherever and whenever he is deployed.
I daresay that, on his day, Song is one of the best Southeast Asian players.
A Game Changer Off The Field: Setting A New precedence.
Of course, it isn’t just what Song can do on the pitch that matters, but his performances have significant consequences for the matters off it. For the longest time, many foreign players who have tried to gain Singapore citizenship have seen their multiple efforts get rejected. Separate from the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme initiative, gaining citizenship in Singapore is by no means an easy task. Players like Jordan Webb and Sirina Camara have been previously linked with gaining naturalisation. Yet, these players could not secure naturalisation.
Song, however, who was also earmarked at the same time as the aforementioned Jordan and Sirina, was finally able to. Is this a sign of the Singapore government finally being more open to the idea of other foreign players currently plying their trade in Singapore gaining naturalisation?
It would only be beneficial for Singapore if other stalwarts (who are close to fulfilling five-year residency) like Kyoga Nakamura, Kaishu Yamazaki, Kristijan Krajček, Šime Žužul, and Zehrudin Mehmedović can take up citizenship. Obviously, it would be wishful thinking to assume that all these players will be eligible for naturalisation or want to take up citizenship in the first place. One thing is sure though – Song has set a precedent and leads the way for foreign players who wish to root themselves in our tiny red dot.
So, if all goes to plan and Song has a successful AFF, you may never know – maybe other foreign players might follow his lead.
For Song, his career is on an upward trajectory. The 2020 AFF Championship will provide him a new platform to grow but it is only the start of an interesting 2022. Champions League football awaits him and under Kim Do Hoon’s tutelage, he will raise his game to the next level.
Majulah Singapura, do us proud, Song.
Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League
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