Geylang International coach Jorg Steinebrunner has become the latest to question to selection policy of the Singapore national team after the latest squad was announced.
The Lions, who will play Hong Kong and Macau in friendlies on October 10 and 14 respectively, announced their 21-man squad on Friday and – as has been the case in recent times – the roster was dominated by players from LIONSXII and Courts Young Lions, sides that play under the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
In total, only seven players that were called up are not playing for either of the two sides and with stalwarts Shahril Ishak and Hariss Harun playing for Johor Darul Ta’zim II and Johor Darul Ta’zim respectively, that means only five players currently plying their trade for an S.League club side have been given the nod by Singapore coach Bernd Stange.
The players are Warriors FC goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, Home United forward Fazrul Nawaz and Tampines Rovers trio Shahdan Sulaiman, Shaiful Esah and Ismadi Mukhtar, who is in line to win his first cap at the age of 30 after being a consistent member of the Stags outfit that have won the league title in the last three seasons.
Although Geylang have not had the easiest of seasons in 2014 and are currently eighth on the table with three games remaining, a number of their local players are currently enjoying standout campaigns including captain Ridhuan Muhammad, central midfielder Fabian Kwok and wingers Hafiz Nor and Mustaqim Manzur.
Yet, the fact that they continue to be ignored at international level was something Steinebrunner struggled to comprehend.
“To be completely honest, I’ve completely given up on the situation,” he said, following his side’s 2-1 win over Woodlands Wellington on Friday evening.
“Sometimes I ask myself what’s wrong when you see how players like Ridhuan, Fabian and Hafiz continue to miss out.
“Take for example someone like Fabian; he puts in a terrific amount of work, now he’s starting to get into the box more often and he also showed tonight [Friday] he can score goals.
“Or someone like Hafiz – is he not a good player with the potential to excite?
“I’m not saying the fact they aren’t called up is wrong, but it should at least be questioned. People like the media and the fans should be able to ask why.”
To complicate things further, the German cannot see why a plethora of LIONSXII and Young Lions players continue to enjoy a place in the national team when they have not exactly had the best of years.
The LIONSXII, champions of the Malaysia Super League in 2013, finished eighth this season and were eliminated in the group stage of the Malaysia Cup, while Young Lions are currently second from bottom in the S.League.
“I would have thought national teams are built based on players’ form,” he added. “It shouldn’t matter whether you play for LIONSXII, Young Lions or any other club.
“If certain players aren’t performing, then others should get a chance.
“Where is the challenge if these players know they will automatically be selected even when they aren’t performing?
“When I played at youth level for Germany, it was never guaranteed that you would be called up to the team – you always wanted to perform in fear of being dropped.
“Even when you’re back at your club, you made sure you played at your best because if you don’t, there’s someone from some other team waiting to take your place.
“In the past ten years that I’ve been in Singapore, it’s been the same players every single time. Where is the level of competition for places?
“If the best players really come from Young Lions, then why are they second from bottom in the league?”
Steinebrunner is not the first S.League coach to question the continued lack of recognition for his players.
Earlier in the year, Home boss Lee Lim-saeng raised more than a few eyebrows when he hit out at Stange’s comments that certain players were too old to be considered for selection.
Although the South Korean did not mention names, it is believed that the players he referred to were Yasir Hanapi and Juma’at Jantan, two former LIONSXII men who have been impressive for the Protectors all season long.
And Steinebrunner believes it is vital that players like Ridhuan, Kwok and Hafiz do not get disheartened despite being snubbed by the Lions.
“You have to constantly remind them that it isn’t their fault, especially given how consistent they have been performing,” he explained.
“You have to make sure you take the positives and that’s why they have to focus on – playing well for the club and playing for their future.
“This isn’t about being negative and trying to find fault with how the national team is selected.
“It’s all about the positives and surely it’s a positive thing for the development of football if people are at least allowed to ask questions.”
Singapore squad for friendlies against Hong Kong and Macau
Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny (Warriors FC), Izwan Mahbud (LIONSXII)
Defenders: Ismadi Mukhtar, Shaiful Esah (both Tampines Rovers), Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Amirul Adli (both Courts Young Lions), Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin, Afiq Yunos, Hafiz Abu Sujad (all LIONSXII)
Midfielders: Gabriel Quak, Zulfahmi Arifin, Faris Ramli, Shahfiq Ghani (all LIONSXII), Hariss Harun (Johor Darul Ta’zim), Shahdan Sulaiman (Tampines Rovers)
Forwards: Fazrul Nawaz (Home United), Shahril Ishak (Johor Darul Ta’zim II), Khairul Amri, Khairul Nizam (both LIONSXII), Sahil Suhaimi (Courts Young Lions)