AN IMPOSSIBLE MISSION
We have to ask ourselves: What do we really expect from players who have had limited preparation and exposure to top-level competition the past year? Is playing together in the domestic league considered adequate preparation, especially when one considers that the final SEA Games squad included a few players from other clubs who will have had limited time training alongside their teammates.
The team’s only proper get-together for the SEA Games was over three days in late March’s Merlion Cup. The Young Lions played two games in the friendly quadrangular at Jalan Besar Stadium and lost both – to Hong Kong (0-1) and Cambodia (1-2). In contrast, Cambodia went on three overseas training camps since February. And Myanmar reportedly held training camps in Thailand in March.
Can we really expect the Young Lions to suddenly pull up trees at regional level, and perform giant-killing acts in unfamiliar cavernous arenas, when they were ill-prepared for battle?
Athletes can only do what they’ve been conditioned to do. High-performing athletes not only prepare themselves physically, but also mentally. Many crave victories like a drug. The euphoria is addictive, adds to confidence, and the desire of having that “winning feeling” propels elite athletes to greater heights, so that they can taste it again.
Losing sometimes can build character and foster a siege mentality within a team, which can be valuable when the chips are down. However, prolonged exposure to defeats can have a debilitating effect.
Chelsea’s struggles in the English Premier League after a long winless streak, despite assembling a star-studded squad, is testament to that. It drains confidence and self-belief, and perpetuates self-doubt. Is there any wonder that a season-and-a-half of constant losses in the SPL would have a negative effect on the psyche of the Young Lions, as the only thing they’ve learnt so far is how to lose?
And when they do lose, who do they seek guidance from? The Young Lions are made up of players under the age of 24. There are no senior players among them who have the experience, leadership and know-how to guide them out of a vortex of perpetual failures. So they keep losing, drowning in this unending whirlpool of defeats, with no lifebuoy in sight. When and where do they actually learn how to win?
Speaking of learning, how are the Young Lions developed during this crucial formative stage of their playing careers? Over the past 20 years, this country had experimented with football philosophies that traversed continents – first Danish, then Belgian, Australian and now English. Which playing style and tactics are the players schooled in? Which is most suited to them, playing to their strengths? Do they actually know?