by Bobby Ng KH
With a population of four million people, Croatia has defied conventional football odds, and is now in the World Cup final.
On 15 July, Croatia will face France in the final after it saw off England in the semi-final.
Croatia’s rise in the football standings, despite its size, war and lack of funds should serve as a lesson for Singapore’s football bigwigs.
The key point is that size does not matter.
Iceland, with a population of 300,000-odd people is yet another example of how size is immaterial when it comes to the pursuit of excellence.
Singapore, with a current population of 5 million once had lofty World Cup dreams.
In 1998, former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong set Singapore on a path to qualify for the World Cup.
He referred to the many ethnicities within the 1998 French World Cup winning team and declared that he would like to see Singapore in the World Cup.
It was one of the Government’s first moves to open the floodgates for foreign talents in Singapore, while using football as the vehicle to show how foreign talents could aid our lofty goals.
Unfortunately, Goal 2010 was abandoned in the mid-2000s by Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, who declared it an albatross around Singapore’s neck.
While Singapore had some level of regional success by winning the ASEAN football title in 1998, 2004, 2007 and in 2012, it had not been able to go better at the continental level. In fact, it also hasn’t won a single Southeast Asian Games gold medal in football.
Today, football is in a shambolic state.
Despite a major rebranding exercise, the attendances and interest at most games have been minimal and players play to almost empty stands mostly, except for some matches involving Albirex Niigata at Jurong East Stadium.
Our youth teams are on the receiving end of a bloodbath and are being battered. Left, right and centre.
The recent ASEAN Football Federation U19 championship in Indonesia where Singapore even lost even Laos prove how poor we are.
The national team is currently ranked 169th in the world, a joke in a country which aims to be number in almost everything. It was at 172 last month, its lowest ever.
That the Singapore National Olympic Council has rejected the Football Association of Singapore (FAS)’s appeal to send the football team to the Asian Games in Jakarta is further testimony to the abject failure of Singapore football.
Football’s failure is a reflection of how maladministration, self-serving officials, internal politics and a lack of support can run a sport to the ground.
If Singapore needs an example of how a small sized country can be on the cusp of being world champions, then it should perhaps start understanding how countries like Iceland and Croatia get the job done.