Moulding Singapore's future football stars

Singapore's only age-appropriate football competition is now welcoming registrations for their third season, as they look to give budding football stars the best environment to hone their skills in.

FourFourTwo ESPZEN J League

Michel Sablon's appointment as the Football Association of Singapore's new Technical Director was rightly hailed as a step in the right direction for Singapore football. It's not often that the Republic welcomes someone of his calibre to our shores, and the man who nurtured talents like Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku now has the opportunity to weave his magic on a football-mad country that has been struggling on the pitch for some time.

There was cautious optimism as he was unveiled to the media last week, but one of the things he mentioned was a need to implement small-sided games for budding youth players, with a delayed introduction to full sized pitches.

It's something that the FourFourTwo ESPZEN Junior League has been striving to do since its inception in 2014 – featuring 30 teams from 14 different academies playing 5v5 and 7v7 games in it's second season. In fact, the FFT ESPZEN J-League are still the only age-appropriate junior league competition in Singapore, with games for this season being still played on Sundays in April and May.

READ ALSO Introducing... The FourFourTwo ESPZEN Junior League

Players can expect to cover more ground, touch the ball more often and make more decisions during the 35 minute matches played at Centaurs Pitch in Turf City each weekend.

Football learning that's on par with Europe's best

Famous football academies at Manchester United, Barcelona and Ajax have employed similar age-appropriate training methods since the 1990s, recognising their value at enhancing the technical and tactical characteristics of their youth players early on.

It's something that many teams have been noticing this season, with various participating coaches endorsing the format.

“The 5-a-side allows the Under-9 boys to have lots of touches on the ball,” explains Triple T Soccer Academy coach Michael Adam. “The pitch for the competition has adequate space, enough to play tactically with passing and movement.

With the heavy emphasis on developing individual skills in addition to teamwork in the FourFourTwo ESPZEN Junior League, youngsters are constantly encouraged to use their initiative, moulding their character and responsibility.

“The kids enjoy every match and are always looking forward to competitive match days,” says Faizal Sa’audi of Chelsea Soccer School Singapore, advocating the healthy competition.

Growing through experience

Indeed, children are encouraged to take risks and make mistakes, all in the name of football growth.

“The EJL is well organised and age appropriate soccer,” says Fidelis Mike of the YG2K team. “[It] provides fun and safe platforms for young players to compete and further develop their soccer skills and the team always looks forward to game days.”

It is a sentiment shared by Michael Adam of Triple T Soccer Academy: “The competition is good as Titans send a team in a division that is of the same abilities with no one team dominating and ‘conquering’ the rest. This created an atmosphere of competition without affecting the team's confidence.”

With Season 2 reaching its climax, teams are welcome to register their interest in joining Season 3, whether in the Under-8, Under-10 or Under-12 age groups. Entrants will be assigned to competitive and development leagues that will run from August to December 2015, and accommodate various ability levels in order to ensure each team is challenged appropriately.

FourFourTwo ESPZEN Junior League

The J League website contains match reports of each game, player statistics, player and team profiles and match previews never normally associated with youth football, supplemented by thousands of photos taken on match day on the Facebook page, as well as video highlights on YouTube.