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Paul Masefield: Singapore should be expansive against Turkmenistan

Now a highly respected pundit and commentator on TV and Director of Little League Pte Ltd, Paul Masefield tells us how he ended up in Singapore, what made him stay and his views about local football.

I ended up playing in Singapore as I moved here from Hong Kong to get married. My (now) wife moved back here as she is Singaporean. She wanted to be by her parents and raise a family here. I knew about the S-League as just before its 1st edition, I came through Singapore with my Hong Kong team. We had just finished a pre-season trip in Penang and stopped off to play against Sembawang Rangers.

All I can remember about that night was that the stadium was packed and we had a very good game. Billy Bone (the former Geylang United footballer) played for Sembawang at this time and I knew him from Hong Kong and he told me all about what’s happening in Singapore.

At Jurong FC, V. Sundramoorthy was player-coach and he was always looking to improve himself and would always try and pass that on to the players. He lacked a little bit of experience at that time as this was his first assignment as a coach and he shared that role with playing as well. As you can see since then, he’s grown as a coach and is still always trying to learn. That is what impresses me most about him.

I was also team-mates with Bojan Hodak (ex-Kelantan and JDT manager). Bojan is still one of my closest friends in football. In fact, when he left Singapore I asked if he would like to come back out to Asia and work for my company in Malaysia. He did, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I’m pleased for him, but at the same time I’m upset for him as the clubs he joins in Malaysia win titles. People then try to get involved and stab him in the back and he finds himself without a job. He needs to be involved in football again.

I retired aged 30 as I had decaying and rotten cartilage in my left knee. It got to the stage that I couldn’t walk the day after a game so with the rest of my life ahead of me, I decided enough was enough. Ten operations later (eight on my left knee and two on my right), I know I made the right decision to walk away from playing professionally. I missed it terribly when I first retired, and I still miss it, but you can’t go through life with regrets.

Singapore football has changed hugely from the time I arrived till now. With the recent FAS elections, change seems to be in the air. I believe that these could be exciting times for Singapore football.

As for changes to the S-League, that’s for the new FAS regime to sort out. I would like to see more fans coming back to the stadiums and supporting local Football. I don’t think the public realizes how much it means to the players, teams and to football in general. The support from fans is, in my opinion, critical, if the S-League is going to move onwards and upwards.

Some people ask me if the LionsXII damaged the S-League. I believe it did and it didn’t. That may sound contradictory but it took a big number of players out of the S-League when not all of them could play at one time for the LionsXII. It didn’t when you see the success they had.

It put Singapore firmly back on the Southeast Asia football map. Now we are also seeing the benefits as there are players that played in the Malaysia Super League and the Malaysia Cup playing in the S-League. This in itself makes it a stronger and better league as these players with much more experience are back here playing domestically.

As regards the ASEAN Super League (ASL), do you think Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia would put strong teams into this league when domestically you can get 100,000 at a cup final? When certain teams get 40-50,000 fans at a domestic league game? Who would have been picked to play in this tournament?

There would have to be massive financial benefits for any team to enter this tournament. Instead, why not have a Southeast Asian Champions League or a Southeast Asian Regional Cup. This would make more sense but with the AFC competitions getting better and stronger, this would be hard to achieve as all clubs aspire to play in the AFC Champions League.

In my opinion, Bernd Stange was not the right man for the national team. He was far too negative. I remember commentating on a game and Singapore were hanging on and it was 0 – 0. They conceded in the 2nd half and as Singapore needed a result, they went after the game.

They were allowed to play and it was only bad finishing that cost them getting anything from the game. The shackles were taken off the players and they looked a different team. Expansive, exciting and dangerous.

Under Stange, the players always looked nervous and far too cautious. It showed in the results. At the end of the day, it’s a results-based industry and you have to get results, but the fans want to be entertained as well. Under Stange, they weren’t entertained and the results didn’t happen. There was only going to be one outcome then.

I was surprised when Singapore recently lost to Taiwan. I was doing commentary and was a little taken back by the last hour of the game. One thing that did come out of it for me was that the Taiwanese had quite a few players based overseas. This experience shone through for them and I believe there is a lesson there for all to learn. You need to have some of your players playing in different leagues across Asia. This gives invaluable experience to players. This, for me, is a must.

So it is now back to square one, and a massive and hugely important game on  September 5th  against Turkmenistan. Win that game and Singapore are back in with a shout of progressing. What have they got to lose now? Nothing, so I would really love to see Singapore go for it and be expansive. I don’t think Turkmenistan would expect that.

Singapore can follow the Filipino example of naturalizing players but it won’t be easy as it takes a lot of hard work and behind the scenes logistical help, sourcing, and scouting for players with the correct heritage.

I know that is going on in Malaysia at the moment as they are searching high and low for this talent. The strength of the Filipino league and their national team shows that if you’re willing to put the hard logistical work in, you can achieve results. For lesser developing footballing nations, this is a quick fix. If you grow and develop talent the right way at grassroots level in Singapore, that is the best way forward.