The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced on Saturday the launch of the revamped Centres of Excellence (COE), which will be a key platform for youth development in Singapore football.
The new COE structure will see three S.League clubs, namely Balestier Khalsa, Home United and Warriors FC, field six age-group teams of 25 players each from Under-13 level right up to the Under-18s.
There will be a total of three COE Leagues at the U14, U16 and U18 levels, which the National Football Academy (NFA) teams will also participate in.
The U14 competition will comprise the COE U13 and U14 teams as well as the NFA U12 and U13 teams, while the U16 competition will feature the COE U15 and U16 sides and the NFA U14s. The NFA U15 and U16 teams will join the COE U17 and U18 teams in the U18 league.
Other changes made include an improved, all-round footballing education for these youngsters. Specialists such as goalkeeping coaches, fitness coaches and sports trainers will educate the players in terms of fitness and health, nutrition, injury prevention and sports psychology.
In summary, the key benefits of the restructured COE can be seen in the points below, according to the FAS.
• More age-group teams: from three previously at U14, U16 and U18 level to six at U13 to U18
• Increased quality of teams per age group
• Increased resources in terms of facilities, specialist coaches/staff and expanded pool of technical experts, including specialist coaches and assessors
• Enhanced capabilities of coaches with mentorship programmes aimed at imparting key knowledge, including coaching and playing philosophy to facilitate development of the coaches
• Enhanced sports science and medicine support
• More intense competitions due to the increased quality of players and level of training
• Enhanced tactical, technical, mental and physical capabilities of players
• Overall increase in quality of teams and players coming through the ranks.
FAS President Zainudin Nordin stressed the importance of the new revamped structure on the youth development in Singapore.
“Youth development is a key pillar of the FAS Strategic Plan,” he said.
“The new COE format, which will enhance the technical, tactical, mental and physical development of our young players, will add on to our other existing youth development platforms such as the LionsXII and Courts Young Lions.
“We have a clear vision for the progression of these players: promising young players will be given opportunities to represent Singapore at youth international level when they get selected to be part of the National Football Academy; and the players will also get to be scouted by the S.League teams and commence their careers as professional footballers.
“The COE will be the platform for these young players to both showcase and refine their talents, a step which brings them closer towards their goal of a being a professional footballer.”
The three club chairmen - Balestier's S. Thavaneson, Warriors' BG Lam Shiu Tong and Home's Anselm Lopez - also agreed the revamp will allow them to focus primarily on player development, instead of worrying about other details.
"Clubs require much more financial resources, including facilities, in order to maximize their potential in terms of developing players for the future," Thava adde. "Therefore, we hope that more corporations will come forward to partner us in the implementation of our initiatives.”
Several international leading figures also praised the improvement in the youth development structure.
For one, Fifa technical director Jean Michel Benezet noted that the youth development set-up and technical programmes here were among the most comprehensive in the region after assessing them.
In addition, Fifa Senior Manager for Development Programmes (Asia), David Borja, has previously said that it was a wise visionary move by the FAS to prioritise youth development programmes in view of the challenges it faces in securing funding, while French Football Federation vice-president Bernard Desumer described FAS as “one of Asia’s best football administrators” lauded its "comprehensive youth development structure".
The COE system was first established in 2000 and has since served as an important platform to develop talents for both the S.League and the national team.
Current Singapore internationals such as Zulfahmi Arifin, Raihan Rahman, Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi were graduates of their respective clubs' COE programmes before progressing through the NFA teams and subsequently earning caps for the Lions.