Tag Archives: Home United

One Last Hurrah!: Young Lions Shouldn’t Be Scrapped (Just Yet)

Where do I begin with the Young Lions? The club was formed in 2003 to provide some of the most talented Under-23 footballers with regular professional footballing experience. Besides having the chance to play together on a regular basis and maintaining team cohesion, the Young Lions project provided these players the opportunity to play against senior footballers and national team stalwarts. It was created with the primary goal of helping the national Under-23 team perform well in regional international tournaments like the SEA Games. However, the project has largely been a failure.

Jose Raymond recently wrote an article titled OPINION: Time to scrap the Young Lions, and truth be told, he makes excellent points. The Young Lions have not performed well in the SEA Games. That is in fact an understatement – their showings have been significantly poor. The national under-23 team “has not made the finals of the SEA Games final at all, and have been knocked out at the group stages in 2003, 2005, 2011, 2015, 2017 and 2019.”

I agree mostly with Mr. Raymond, but his article also got me thinking about ways we can salvage the current Young Lions side. Let’s be honest, it seems like that the Young Lions project would most likely continue. The FAS has invested too much in the project to let it go to waste. Instead of scrapping it, how then do we save this sinking ship? How do we materialize the FAS’s vision of the Young Lions becoming a platform for developing elite footballers for Singapore?

We first need to find out what issues exist, and there are two glaring problems that have plagued the club for a long time now – finding the perfect head coach for the club and improving the overall quality of youth players in Singapore. I think improving the quality of youth players in Singapore merits a separate article altogether. The Young Lions have not really had a brilliant coach that specializes in youth development and who also is really familiar with Singaporean football. For some reason, I couldn’t find a complete list of coaches who helmed the project. So I did a bit of archival research work. These are some of the Young Lions coaches:

List of Some Young Lions Coaches
No.Coach Years
1P N Sivaji2003
2Kim Poulsen2004
3Fandi Ahmad2005-2006
4V. Sundramoorthy2007-2010
5Robin Chitrakar2011-2012
6Aide Iskandar 2013-15
7Jürgen Raab2015
8Richard Tardy2016 (caretaker)
9Patrick Hesse2016-2017
10V. Selvaraj2017
11Richard Tardy2017 (caretaker)
12Vincent Subramaniam2017
13Fandi Ahmad2018-2019
14Nazir Nasir2020 – present
If there is any inaccurate information – do let me know

That being said, out of the lot, Fandi Ahmad and Kim Poulsen are arguably the most successful. Under Poulsen and then Fandi, the club finished 3rd in the 2004 and 2006 seasons respectively. These 3rd-place finishes are their highest ever finish to date. Other managers have been less successful, and, more often than not, the Young Lions find themselves at the bottom of the league. So, who would be the right candidate?

Gavin Lee could be a good fit for the Young Lions given his ability to bring the best out of youth players at Tampines Rovers. His youth-centric policy has turned Tampines Rovers into the Singaporean Ajax of sorts. However, just like Ajax, Gavin’s Tampines side has done relatively well because he can successfully blood in exciting prospects around more senior heads. Yet, Gavin has to be given due credit because he believes in developing young players into first-team regulars.

Amirul Adli, Joel Chew, Shah Syahiran, Ryaan Sanizal, and Syahrul Sazali have become significantly better players under his charge. It would be interesting to see the impact he would have on Iman Hakim and Marc Ryan Tan, who are both real wonderkids, this upcoming season. Boris Kopitović and Taufik Suparno are the only senior strikers at Tampines, and Marc would indeed find opportunities aplenty. He featured nine times for Young Lions in the brief 2020 campaign but never played a full 90 minutes before. His two starts (where he was hauled off midway through the second half) and seven substitute appearances add up to 252 minutes of professional play. Likewise, Iman Hakim has been stellar for Albirex, and under Gavin’s tutelage, he is sure to become even better. In any case, while a move to Young Lions might prove to be an exciting project worth undertaking, it would be a step down for Gavin. The man is destined for bigger projects outside of Singapore, and it is only a matter of time before we see him manage in bigger leagues overseas.

One name pops to mind – Lee Lim Saeng. The former Home United head coach is a revered figure in the local footballing landscape. He won the Singapore Cup with the Protectors and guided them to two runner-up positions during his 4-year spell with the club. The Korean has gone on to achieve spectacular feats since leaving Singapore’s shores. After leaving Home United in 2014, Lee went on to the Chinese Super League where he held head or assistant coaching positions at Shenzhen FC, Yanbian Funde, and Tianjin Teda between 2013 and 2018. Between 2018 and 2019, Lee was appointed as the Korean FA (KFA) technical director for the national Under-20 team. Suwon Samsung Bluewings swooped in for Lee in 2019, and he won the Korean FA Cup with them. He departed Suwon in 2020 and is currently engaging in an ad-hoc consultant role with the Korean FA.

The obvious question would then be why would someone like Lee be interested in the Young Lions project. That is an excellent question to ask. Given his current role as KFA consultant, it would appear that Lee is interested in the prospect of national team management. The Young Lions job would traditionally entail managing the national under-23 side for international fixtures and competitions. It would be interesting if Lee took up the Young Lions job and the national under-23 team position. Many local players that have had a chance to work under Lee know the impact he has on a team and how he can transform a player.

Some fans might be doubtful as to whether a new coach might help or not. Instead, they might argue that scrapping the Young Lions is the way forward in ensuring that each club is incentivised to train its youth players. Here’s the thing though, do each club truly have the facilities for youth development? I don’t believe so. Furthermore, there isn’t any club that is ready to join or return to the Singapore Premier League. While there are rumours that Warriors FC might rejoin this campaign, nothing has materialised thus far. There have been even talks that Albirex Niigata might have to sit out because of their inability to fill up their squad with players. If no team rejoins and Albirex pulls out, there will be only eight teams remaining in the league (7 if Brunei chooses to pull out). In such a scenario, perhaps it is impractical to scrap the Young Lions.

Nevertheless, the FAS should bring Lee into their set up – preferably as the Young Lions and National U-23 Head coach. The FAS needs to consistently update and improve their plans to develop Singapore football. With Lee’s current role in the KFA, his experience coaching in top-flight football across East Asia, and his familiarity with Singapore, he would become an important asset. I say give someone like Lee 3 years at Young Lions. Time is a crucial factor because it allows Lee to implement the changes he wishes to make. At the end of the three years, if nothing significant changes, then I guess the Young Lions should be permanently ended. Let’s give the project one last opportunity to yield some results.

Featured Photo Credits: Ko Po Hui (@bolasepako)

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The ‘Lion’ that got away: An exclusive with Sirina Camara Part 2

If you haven’t already done so, check out Part 1 of the article!

The Unrealized Dream of Representing Singapore

Camara wanted to give back to Singaporean football because the S.League and Home United not only gave him the chance to pursue a professional career, which was something he probably wouldn’t have in France, but also so many other opportunities. One such opportunity came in 2014, when Camara was selected to represent a Singapore XI against big name teams like Atlético Madrid and Arsenal. To rub shoulders with these players was a dream come true for the defender. Camara explains that even though his family weren’t too keen on him acquiring Singaporean citizenship, he was ready to grasp it if it was presented to him.

“How can I say no to Singapore? If it wasn’t for the FAS and Singapore, I would have never had the chance to play against Juventus and Arsenal [as part of the Singapore XI]. I was so thankful for that opportunity.

Singapore became his new home, and he felt eternally grateful for the opportunities presented to him by FAS, Home United, Young Lions, and the fans. Till this day, I do not know why he wasn’t given Singaporean citizenship but I am unsurprised. The Foreign Talent Scheme hasn’t been in force for a while now, and it is hard for foreign players to gain Singaporean citizenship through personal attempts. Just ask Singapore icon Aleksandar Đurić, who only gained citizenship after his third time applying. Camara understands that it was probably difficult for the relevant authorities to grant him citizenship but the thought of being unable to represent Singapore pains him.

Fan Favourite with Home United and Leaving on a Sour Note (but still Loving Singapore)

Photo credits: KO PO HUI. Follow him on Insta!

At the end of the 2012 season, Home United head coach approached Camara to secure his services for The Protectors. Camara was blown away when he realized that Lee represented South Korea during the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France and he felt that he could benefit a lot under Lee’s guidance. If truth be told, Lee is arguably Camara’s biggest influence of his footballing career because he helped the Frenchman’s best position at centre-back.

“I was a Left back in France. When i first came to Singapore, I played as a left winger. [Lee] told me that based on my vision and speed, I would become his centre back and then you can cover everybody [in defence].

“At first, when he told me that he wanted me to play as a centre-back, I was questioning if I made the right choice. I initially wanted to further my progress as a player under his guidance. For me, the first month [adapting as a centre-back] was very hard but it was really the local players who helped through that transition. A lot of the senior players like Noh Rahman, Jordan Webb, Hafiz Osman, and Sharil Jantan treated me like their younger brother.”

It would be a fair assessment to say that Camara excelled in his new position with his new club. In his first season with The Protectors, the club were runners-up in the league and won the RHB Singapore Cup. Camara didn’t too badly that year on a personal level as well. His outstanding performances at center-back merited him the 2013 S.League Young Player of the Year accolade. The defender is extremely thankful for Lee and considers 2013 his best year in Singapore. From a statistical stand point, he isn’t wrong either. Besides the team achievements, he scored the most number of goals that season – 6 goals while playing as a center-back no less.

Home United featured regularly in the AFC Cup after the 2013 season, and it was real honour for Camara to not only represent Home United but also Singaporean football in the continental competition. He fondly remembers how after a match against Persija Jakarta in the ASEAN zonal semi-final round, other fans of other S.League clubs were congratulating Home United.

Wiining the RHB Singapore Cup, picture provided by Sirina Camara

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, Camara’s departure took me by complete surprise, partly because I only realized he had completely left the club the following season. Sirina concedes that he is unsurprised that many people didn’t know about his departure because he refused to give an interview to many media outlets detailing the exit of his club – that is, until now.

The end of his time in Singapore was a bitter experience, and it still pains him till his day. He even shared that sometimes he dreams that he’s still in the Southeast Asian state, only to wake up to reality and realize he’s back in Paris.

In October 2018, after months out with an injury and amidst his rehabilitation, Camara was asked to leave his apartment and move back to France. To understand why it had come to this, we need to take a look at the start of the 2018 campaign.

At the end of 2017, things looked good for the Frenchman. Then-head coach Aidil Sharin offered Camara the opportunity to become club captain, but the defender declined. He believed that he already was a leader in the dressing room and felt strongly that a local player should be handed the arm band. While one might think that was a sign of promising things in store for the player, that was far from the case.

Instead of featuring in the starting eleven, Camara found himself regularly on the substitutes bench. This setback didn’t deter him from giving it his all and he consistently either scored or assisted from the bench. However, Camara noted how there was tension between him and Sharin.

“I knew Sharin since 2013 when I first signed for Home United. I just wanted him to talk to me. I don’t know why I was treated the way I was. I was in the first team and everything was going well. Then suddenly, I don’t know, the coach who you know for 5 years already doesn’t talk to you and just puts you on the bench. But you’re expected to show him results when you come in as a sub. Even when you show him, you don’t understand why you don’t start. Till today, that’s something I don’t understand.

“I was very very lucky that my local teammates were there for me. I can’t just thank them enough. I felt like in my last year the coach and Home United were my enemy.”

Then tragedy struck when Camara suffered a long-term injury that sidelined him until 2019. Home United signed former Australia U-23 player Isaka Cernak as cover for the Frenchman, but as a fan I believed that Camara would be back in the squad the following campaign. Yet, that injury essentially marked the end of his time with Home United.

The biggest issue for Camara was the manner in which he was let go. While still in the middle of his rehabilitation, he was informed that he was released by the club via text messages. It infuriated Camara that the club didn’t inform him about his release face to face. He felt like he was treated as an outsider, “like a foreigner.” Home United were rushing him to go back to France and Camara didn’t want to kick up a fuss, so he packed his bags and flew back to Paris.

Picture provided by Sirina Camara

“I had a lot of opportunities presented to me but the way they ended things with me, I was very very angry. So I said, okay if you want to do these kind of things with me, see you, bye bye, au revoir.”

Talking to Camara, I can sense how his final season in Singapore was a bitter experience. It stings even more because time after time he rejected better offers that came to him, he was loyal to The Protectors and stayed with the club. When he first arrived at the club, management told him that compared to every other club in Singapore, Home United is a family. Up until that season, the defender truly believed that notion, and it was this family spirit that convinced him to reject advances by other clubs. He was even close with Sharin, so I guess it is rather baffling to hear how things panned out towards the end.

This is of course a one-sided narrative of the events that transpired, and I do agree that it is important to find out from Sharin and the then-Home United management what happened from their perspective. However, Camara’s story sheds light on how Singaporean Football is, at end of the day, a business.

2018 also marked the last year of Camara’s footballing career. He never fully recovered from his injury. Even today, he still says that he hasn’t completely rehabilitated so he isn’t 100%. The injury was supposed to sideline him for 3 months, and Camara thought he could rehabilitate in France after his release from Home United. However, in France, he hasn’t been able to receive proper rehabilitation because he lost some of his identity papers. It has been more than a year, and the defender still complains that the injury causes issues for him. During trials with clubs in France, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, his injury acted up and it prevented him from continuing his professional career in France.

Life after Football and Hero Status in his Community

After concluding that the curtain had come down on his professional career, he took up a job as an animateur socio culturel or social-pedagogical worker in Mairie Pierrefitte-sur-Seine. Recently, he has also taken up a second job as a Under-6 and Under-7 coach at Red Star FC 93, the club where his footballing journey first started. Besides working in Paris, he also engages in a ton of community outreach programmes.

Camara has also become a hero in his own community, with many people wearing his Home United jersey. Often asked by his family to bring back jerseys for their neighbors and friends in the area, Camara claims he has brought back at least 100 of his jerseys yearly back to France. He still sees people around his area wearing his jersey, and that is a testament of how far he’s made it as a professional football player – from giving up on football entirely to forging a successful career that spanned 8 years in Singapore.

He looks forward to coming back to Singapore and seeing all his friends and eating his favourite Maggi Goreng again. Among his friends, he can’t wait to see Anumanthan Kumar, who know plays for Hougang United, and Song Ui-young, who remained with Home United (which has now become privatized and turned into Lion City Sailors FC). I look forward to the day Camara returns back home to Singapore and I am sure his former teammates and fans would like to catch up with him as well.

Besides his best friends, Anu and Song, he says he is grateful to a lot of people during his time in Singapore. He said he never got the time to thank all the fans, FAS, Home United FC, Young Lions before he left Singapore. He also wanted to thank his compatriots Khalid Bouhrim, Antony Aymard, Kamel Chaaouane, Selim Kaabi, Jean-Charles Blanpîn, Hadama Bathily, Franklin Anzinte, and Frédéric Mendy for making his time in Singapore all the more special. He also feels grateful to have his mother, his sister, Moussoukaye Goroye, and his brothers, Bilali and Youba, for supporting him throughout his entire footballing journey.

After my interview with Camara, I can’t help but feel a bit sad that he isn’t in Singapore anymore. France may have been the country where he was born, but it is clear as day that he wanted to call Singapore his new home. He is nothing but thankful for the opportunities presented to him, and his only regrets were that he couldn’t stay here longer and that he couldn’t represent Singapore and give back to the country. There are reasons as to why Camara did not got naturalized as well as why Home axed him the way they did. They may be good reasons and I am mindful of that. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what if. What if Camara was naturalized and he had gone on to play for the country? What if another club signed Camara instead? It is undeniable that he was a passionate footballer who clearly added quality to local sides. After all, Home United kept him for 6 seasons. The injury undoubtedly played a significant part in ending his stint in Singapore and it’s unfortunate that it did. I daresay that it wasn’t just Home United which lost an exceptional talent, but Singaporean football as a whole.

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The ‘Lion’ that got away: An exclusive with Sirina Camara Part 1

Sirina Camara is a familiar name to those that have been following Singaporean football closely in recent years. He arrived on our shores in 2011 with Étoile FC, a foreign team comprised entirely of players of French origin. Following the dissolution of the club in 2012, Camara and some other French players remained in Singapore. Slowly though, these players left the country and ventured elsewhere, but Camara remained. He played in the S.League for a total of 8 years, where he spent a season at Young Lions FC, followed by a total of 6 seasons at Home United. During that time, the FAS seriously considered naturalizing the defender, along with other promising foreign stalwarts in the league like Jordan Webb, Paul Cunningham, and Song Ui-young. Yet, nothing materialized. Camara continued to occupy the foreign player slot and put in consistent performances for The Protectors. Then, in 2018, Camara abruptly left Home United in October and was never heard from again.

Photo Credits: Junpiter Futbol. Follow them on Insta!

Camara’s departure has always been a mystery to me. As an idealistic fan or perhaps a naive youth, I was confident that the Frenchman would be a mainstay at Home, if not the S.League, and eventually gain Singaporean citizenship. I knew he suffered an injury mid-way through the season which ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign, but something was off. Why did he not feature for Home the next season?

I reached out to Camara and he agreed to share his experience with me. And boy, was it an experience.

Early Days with Étoile and Missing Home

In 2011, Sirina Camara was not a professional footballer and instead had been playing for the LB Châteauroux Academy. After 4 years, it didn’t seem like he was going to make the cut to the Châteauroux team and he was weighing his options. At 18 years old, he had completed school and was forced to make a difficult decision – should he continue to play in the academy and hang on to his footballing dreams, or does he quit football entirely and look for a job. Camara chose the latter, and he took up a janitorial job cleaning offices. He was a janitor for 2 months, but it was barely enough to scrape by. His mother had fallen ill, and the responsibility to provide for his family fell on him. Then, out of nowhere, a call from an agent comes along. The agent informed him that there was an offer to trial for a French club in Singapore, and he’d have to fly down to Singapore in short notice. Given the dire financial situation he found himself in, he decided to take up the offer without a second thought.

“I won’t lie. I didn’t know where Singapore was in the world. I have never been to Asia before. But it was an exciting time for me. I was only 19 years old and one of the youngest in the Étoile FC squad. For me, when I got that offer, I told myself okay, let’s just go with it and see where this will take me.”

Camara was supposed to complete the two week trial with the club, head back to France to spend sometime with his family, and then return to Singapore to start the season. Things didn’t pan out that way though, and his initial stay in Singapore turned out to last a few months instead.

“When I arrived, it was already the Charity Shield tie against Tampines. After the Charity shield the league started [soon after]. So, I didn’t get the chance to return to France to tell my family that I signed with a club in Singapore and spend some time with them. Instead, I stayed here after signing the contract.”

It wasn’t until months later in August when Camara was able to head up to France. It was his sister’s wedding and he couldn’t control his emotions when he reunited with his family.

“I had 10 days and when I was back, I cried and hugged my family like as if I was not going to see them anymore. When you’re young, you’re innocent. You don’t really know [the value] of your family. You just want to go outside and play. Even when I was at the [Châteauroux] academy, I was only 2 hours away. It wasn’t long. But when you take a 13-hour flight and when you’re that far away from you family, it is very different. I realized the importance of family.

“When i came back [to France], I didn’t want to go back to Singapore. It was my first year. I was scared and I was young, only 19 years old. Luckily, my family talked to me and then just took me, put me in the plane and sent me back over there to play soccer.”

Embracing Local Culture and “becoming” Singaporean

Photo credits: KO PO HUI. Follow him on Insta!

Étoile finished 5th that season and after 2 seasons in the S.League, the club withdrew from the competition and instead focused on grassroots football development. Together with Étoile teammate Jonathan Toto, Camara was snapped up by Young Lions FC, the national under-23 developmental side. It marked the start of Camara’s career in a local club, and it was also the first time he was properly exposed to Singaporean culture. In fact, his time at Young Lions was one of his happiest years in Singapore. However, he initially faced issues due to the language barrier.

“When I was in Étoile, I did not need to speak in English because everyone spoke French. At Young Lions, Toto was with me and he always helped me translate because his English was very good. However, after some time, Toto told me we needed to stop speaking French and to just speak English [instead]. It was only through [practice] that my English would get better.”

To make matters worse, Camara was a shy person, and some of his teammates mistook him for being arrogant because he always kept to himself or stayed with Toto. Looking back, Camara understands why people might have seen him as arrogant. However, it was a case of him not knowing enough English to strike a conversation with local players.

Thankfully, his Young Lions teammates soon warmed up to the defender, and he claims that it was the local players that opened his eyes to Singaporean culture. That marked a paradigm shift for the Frenchman as he started to see Singapore and Asia in a different light. As a Muslim, he found it fascinating how he could find Halal food almost anywhere in Singapore and was awestruck by the religious and racial co-existence in the city.

“When I went back to France during my first year with Étoile, I only had little things to share about Singapore with my family because I always stayed home. It was home, training, home, training. My second year when I returned to France, I had a lot of stories to tell my family. My teammates always brought me outside and I tried so many cuisines [that I hadn’t tried before in my life]. Now my favourite Chinese food is Chicken Rice. My favourite Indian food is Butter Chicken and my favourite Malay food is Maggi Goreng.”

Chicken Rice, Image by Jason Goh from Pixabay

Besides the cuisine, Camara also experienced the festivities of other faiths for the first time, something that he fondly remembers while at Home United FC.

“I remember [Ang] Zhiwei [invited] me over to his house and spend Chinese New year with his family. My other friend, Arvin, brought me over to his house for Deepavali and he gave me all sorts of spicy food. It hurt me the morning after but the food was so good. I also celebrated Hari Raya with my fellow Muslim players and that made my mother happy. She calls me every Hari Raya because she’s concerned about my well-being and always tells me that she misses the fact I’m not there [in France]. I tell her not to worry because the people I am with, they are like my family.

“I am so thankful to all the players for taking me in and treating me like one of their own brothers. It is not easy for a foreigner to come to a new country that has a different culture but all the players I play with and even the managers, I am so thankful to them for making my stay enjoyable.”

Camara wasn’t just content with sharing details about Singapore to his loved ones back home in France. He believed they needed to fully understand his experience and thus made it a point to show his family and friends life in Singapore. He showed his family and friends around whenever they came down for a holiday and soon they too loved the city-state. Camara even declares that like him, his family and friends who have visited Singapore agree that the country is the best place they have ever visited. Still today, Camara acts like a spokesperson for the country, urging those around him to visit Singapore.

From the start till the end of his Young Lions tenure, he thoroughly enjoyed his playing time. With all his team mates being in the same age group, it felt as if he was back playing in the academy once again. However, he would only stay at the club for a single season before moving onto greener pastures.

Photo credits: KO PO HUI. Follow him on Insta!

In Part 2 of this interview, I’ll dive into the details of his unrealized dream of representing Singapore, Camara’s experience at Home United and how that stint with Home started brilliantly but then ended on a sour note. Stay tuned for that article which will be published on Thursday! Until then, we will be publishing articles on the Premier League and other footballing articles so take a look!

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