Rafi: More balance needed in National Team

Tampines head coach Rafi Ali feels that there is a need to balance the number of young and senior players in the Singapore National Team Squad, following Lions head coach Bernd Stange’s scathing assessment that S.League teams are too old.

Before leaving for Austria with the National Team for a three-week training tour, the 66-year-old German told FourFourTwo that blooding young players for the future was his main focus now and that S.League teams should lower their squad’s average age to provide more players for the selection pool.

Two clubs, Home United and Rafi’s Tampines Rovers, were specifically mentioned as having an over reliance on veteran players.

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“Bringing down the age is good, but we don’t have the pools of players,” Rafi told FFT.

“There are some positives and negatives. It depends on how you look at it.

“But I really don’t know, and cannot comprehend it. Maybe he saw Germany playing and all their players are at a young age, but Germany started this development program 10-15 years ago. That’s what we really need to do.

“I think the current team has got potential, but they lack the experience. Look at Young Lions; they are not up there in the league table. They may play with passion and enthusiasm, but they lack experience and in international games, you definitely need it.

"When I was younger, in my own age group we were good but when we played against older opponents we struggled. That’s because there is nobody there that can guide us, but when I just started breaking into the National Team, there were senior players who guided me along.

“International football and the local league itself is a total different thing. We need to strike a balance somewhere. It’s good to work with young players and if you see statistic wise the young players are not up there yet.

“What can we achieve by just saying we need to bring down the average age? If we were to work on that, we need to start from the grassroots on youth development.”

Rafi clearly felt that Singapore’s youth development, which currently consists of the Football Association of Singapore’s National Football Academy and the S.League’s Centre of Excellence, still has a long way to go before being deemed successful.

“Youth development is the most important. You see some young players are still learning – but at 17, 18, they should be knocking on the door," he said.

"Look at Germany, they have all the foundation and they have such a young team who are still not at their peak but playing so well.

“There’s no two ways or short cut to success. Singapore needs to work more on the youth development. We have to know the style of football we want to play and work towards it. 

“Some players are struggling now, because before that it was mostly about direct football, but now the same players are struggling this year with this expressive football. It is good to play expressive football, but clearly some of them are struggling a lot.”

The former Singapore playmaker also felt that players plying their trade in Singapore’s only professional league should not rest on their laurels, but instead put in the hours and prove that they are deserving of a spot in the National Team.

“At the end of the day, I have to say as players, they have to push themselves," Rafi said.

"It doesn’t matter who, where, or what, but they have to push on to knock on his door and tell him (Stange) to take a look at them.

“Some of the players are definitely worth a look.”