Tag Archives: Suwon Bluewings

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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What the K-league opener has taught other leagues

I missed football, and many elements of the K-league opener has reminded me why: Artificial fan sounds, a somewhat sluggish affair, and a wild moment when a 41-year old legend scores. The K-League opener has reminded football fans what we’ve been missing out on – the beautiful game. I don’t even watch the K-League but the chance of catching any new football was too good to miss out on. Thankfully, the opener was streamed for free on YouTube and certain things stood out for me, which I feel the rest of the footballing world could learn and benefit from.

The artificial fan noises broadcasted around the stadium do help create the atmosphere for the viewer that there are fans around the stadium. I couldn’t catch the match from the start, so when I did drop into the stream, I was under the impression that a designated section was allocated for a group of fans. It was only much later did I realize that the noises were artificial. It did significantly alter the game experience for me as a casual fan and this is something that European teams should look to incorporate if or when their seasons resume. I remember viewing highlights of the clash between Manchester United and LASK and the lack of ambient noise made it come off as a training session instead of an actual football match.

Seeing 41-year-old Lee Dong-gook grab the winner for Jeonbuk in the 84th minute was something special to see. I remember watching Lee play for Middlesbrough in the Premier League more than a decade ago. The veteran striker failed to score a single PL goal during his time at Boro but managed to pull off a near-post header from Son Jun-ho’s corner. It was a heart-warming moment to see an absolute legend who could still muster a fine performance despite his age. By contrast, Bluewings forward Adam Taggart was quiet that night. His display paled comparison to his exploits in the 2019 campaign. The former Fulham and Perth Glory forward was sensational upfront for the Bluewings last season, banging in 20 goals in 33 league appearances.

At the same time, the match between Jeonbuk Motors and Suwon Bluewings also demonstrated how match fitness would be an issue for some time to come. Two months is a long time out of the game and even though players can maintain their overall fitness, they need playing time to build up their match fitness. The opener was a sluggish affair which is a far cry from the high standards that these teams have consistently put in over the years. Perhaps Taggart was experiencing a lack of match fitness and in due course, we could see more goals from the Australian international.

While the global pandemic has forced the K-league to postpone the start of the season, many other leagues, that were in the midst of their seasons, had to undergo an indefinite suspension. The momentum that players, like Man United left-back Luke Shaw, had been riding on has been disrupted. Therefore, it is a tough ask for players to immediately continue the fine form they exhibited before the leagues’ suspension. Fans need to understand this and not overly pressure their club’s players. Instead, we should cherish the fact that football is back.

With the Bundesliga’s official resumption around the corner (May 16, 2020), the K-league’s commencement of their season has brought hope for me that football may soon return to many parts of the globe. Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating for football matches to take in countries where the coronavirus is rampant. Safety should be everybody’s concern and people should co-operate with their respective governments so that the disease gets controlled and hence, stringent measures can be lifted. Korea has done a remarkable job in controlling the disease after it rampantly spread across the country. The return of football to Korea represents the light at the end of a long tunnel. Containment and quarantine policies around the world have robbed us of sporting events and many other activities. Even with the resumption of football, it might not be entirely the same with the absence of fans and the inclusion of more substitutions each match.