Football fraternity wants LionsXII disbanded, more emphasis on S.League

Local football fraternity calls for LionsXII to be disbanded and more emphasis put on domestic league

END OF THE ROAD? LionsXII posing in Kuantan, ahead of their Malaysia Cup quarter-final, first-leg clash with Pahang, which they lost 4-1. 

Divided in opinion, united in analysis.

The local football fraternity has mixed reactions to the Football Association of Malaysia's (FAM) decision not to extend the partnership that saw Singapore's LionsXII and Malaysia's Harimau Muda play in each other's domestic league over the last four years. 

But they are united in their views on how Singapore football must move forward - jettison all thoughts about Malaysian football and the LionsXII - and devote all the attention on the S.League. 

"Let's be realistic, with all that's happened over the last few years, it doesn't take a genius to see that local football has been going down," said former Singapore international Rafi Ali. 

"We need to do something drastic with the S.League, pay players more, demand more professionalism from them, bring in better foreign players and do a lot more for youth development," added the former midfielder, who was in the Singapore team that left Malaysian football in 1994 after winning the League and Malaysia Cup Double.

Sources reveal that there is a move to place the LionsXII in the S.League next year, before moving on to play in the proposed Asean Super League (ASL) in 2017, but Rafi is completely against the idea. 

"Based on my experience, it's not a good idea. We went from playing in front of packed crowds to playing in an empty National Stadium," said Rafi of the Premier League, the predecessor of the S.League launched in 1996.

"There was no mood, and we just went through the motions, and essentially playing training games in preparation for the South-east Asia Games (in Thailand)." 

The team of national players cruised to the top of the table, staying undefeated the entire season. 

Former Football Association of Singapore (FAS) technical director, P N Sivaj agrees. 

"LionsXII players should be spread out in the six local clubs, like it was in the first year of the S.League," he told The New Paper yesterday.

"They are household names and, if I may take it a step further, they should play for clubs near where they live, to garner support from the community." 

Sivaji strongly asserts that the league should proceed with nine teams - after the exclusion of Harimau Muda - instead of trying to hastily assemble clubs like Tanjong Pagar United or Gombak United, who are currently sitting out. 

Gombak chairman John Yap revealed that his club have cleared all their debts and will explore the possibility of returning next year, should the S.League ask them, but he was adamant that the local league must be the FAS' main priority  from now on. 


"We don't know enough about the ASL to comment about it at this point, but the emphasis must be on the S.League, and its Centres of Excellence," he said. 

"We are not in debt and will explore returning to the league, but it is clear, local football must head in the right direction." 

Sivaji asserts that Singapore now have nothing more to lose, after what has been a misadventure in Malaysian football despite being crowned MSL champions in 2013, and winning the Malaysian FA Cup this year. 

"This (the end of the partnership) is a blessing in disguise that will force us to focus on our own league, which was the main idea of starting the S.League in the first place," said the former national coach, who remained confident of the Republic's ability to bounce back. 

"I'm sure we can recover. There is a lot of love for local football, be it in the national team, or clubs. And we have already proven in the past that we can."

Was money the reason for FAM's decision?

The issue of the costs of travelling south of the Causeway has been put forward as one of the key reasons behind the Football Association of Malaysia's (FAM) decision to end the partnership with its Singapore counterpart. 

Malaysian clubs are reportedly united in not extending the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that has seen the LionsXII competing in Malaysian competitions since 2012. 

While cost is a factor, sources reveal that there are other factors at play. 

"The costs of playing in Singapore are going up, the exchange rate is about RM3 to S$1 now, and it is getting expensive for clubs to play there," said former Malaysia national coach B Sathianathan, who asserts that Malaysia has benefited little from the MOU. 

FAM deputy president Affandi Hamzah told The New Paper on Tuesday that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) "did not commit to" FAM's request to have it foot the bill for Malaysian sides playing there in a quid pro quo system for the LionsXII's travel costs up north. 

But sources revealed that the FAS was willing to pay what would be about an $80,000 addition to their annual maximum projected travel costs of $180,000. 

Similar conflicting accounts on other matters have also come to light. 

Affandi told TNP that the FAM felt the MOU has been beneficial, with sources revealing expression of similar sentiments in FAM's official correspondence with FAS yesterday.

But the FAM's stance is not shared by several in Malaysia, including Sathianathan. 

He said: "I don't think it's (the MOU) served its purpose of development.

"After four years in the S.League, look at the performance of Harimau Muda at the South-east Asia Games." 

Harimau Muda are effectively the Malaysian youth development team.

In the 2013 edition of the SEA Games, Malaysia finished fourth but were booted out at the group stages earlier this year in Singapore. 

The Singapore national team made up primarily of LionsXII players, in comparison, won the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup and are now third in their World Cup qualification group. 


Meanwhile, Football Malaysia LLP, the company that runs the MSL, is looking to take broadcast rights away from the LionsXII, a move that complicates matters. 

That would cost the Singapore side what is understood to be some $2 million that it earns from selling its rights to StarHub. 

Official meetings between FAS and FAM, before FAM's decision on Tuesday, gave the indication that Malaysia was keen on a four-year extension of the MOU, with the LionsXII allowed to employ up to four foreign players in what has been a team fully populated by Singaporeans.

But TNP understands that the FAS had instead indicated its desire for only a one-year deal, before the team move on to the proposed Asean Super League in 2017. 

Coach Fandi wants to carry on developing youngsters

Moving forward, LionsXII coach wants to continue to develop young footballers

AIM: LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad wants to go all the way to the Malaysia Cup final on Dec 12 to make it a perfect finish in the final season.

Incredibly, he had been in this predicament before as a Singapore player in 1994.

Now, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad is feeling a sense of deja vu after learning that his team will be booted out of Malaysian football competitions next season.

The 53-year-old still has a year left on his contract and should remain with the Football Association of Singapore's coaching set-up, but his mind was with his players.

He told The New Paper: "Over the years, I have seen them develop and mature.

"Sure, they are not perfect, but I'm still proud of what they have accomplished against teams that have two, three, and then four foreigners.

"I just hope that their future will be sorted out soon, so they can continue playing and contributing to Singapore football."

After winning the M-League 
and Malaysia Cup in 1994, Singapore withdrawn from Malaysian competition after 
a dispute over gate receipts.

At that time, the players were also caught unawares as they were in a training camp in New Zealand in February 1995.

Fandi and Co. were kept together as the team won the semi-pro FAS Premier League at an undefeated canter that year, before being disbanded as the S.League was formed in 1996.

With Fandi at the helm, the LionsXII won this year's Malaysian FA Cup and have a 43.9 per cent win ratio and a strike rate of 1.55 goals per game, compared to 50.7 per cent and 1.48 goals per game under his predecessor V Sundramoorthy.


Whether or not the LionsXII disband, Fandi said: "I wish to continue to help develop young Singaporean footballers, whether 
it is with the LionsXII or the Under-23s or Under-21s.

"I believe we have good young footballers in Singapore who can be groomed to be stars of the future."

For now, Fandi is determined to finish the season on a high as he attempts to mastermind a sensational reversal of the 4-1 Malaysia Cup quarter-final, first-leg defeat by Pahang on Tuesday in Saturday's second leg at Jalan Besar.

He said: "We want to win for the fans and those who have supported us over the years.

"It is not over yet. We certainly hope this will not be the last game.

"The perfect finish for us is if the LionsXII can survive this quarter-final and go all the way to the final on Dec 12."


“Following a series of discussions over the past one year — with the most recent meeting held in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month — the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) informed us earlier this evening that they would not renew the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was signed in 2011. “One of the key components of the MOU is the participation of a team in each other’s leagues. “Following the expiry of the MOU, the LionsXII and Harimau Muda will no longer participate in the Malaysian Super League and S.League respectively from 2016 onwards. “Our immediate priority is to assist the LionsXII players and backroom staff and we will be meeting them over the next few days.”

LionsXII uncertain about their future

Players fretting over 
their future after being 
stunned by FAM's decision

WE GO NOW? LionsXII players looking disconsolate while waiting for their flight back to Singapore at the Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Airport in Kuantan yesterday.

How bro, ada kosong tak (got 
a job vacancy in Malay)?

The LionsXII players may have put on a brave front with some gallows humour as they were about to depart from the Kuantan airport yesterday afternoon.

But it was clear the sting from the 4-1 Malaysia Cup quarter-final, first-leg defeat by Pahang couldn't match the shock of being booted out of Malaysian competitions by the Football Association of Malaysia late on Tuesday night, when it was announced the partnership with Singapore will not be renewed.

Still under reconstruction, the Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Airport looked dilapidated with just two rundown check-in counters, electrical cables dangling from disconnected monitors, and visitors sweating in the 
33 deg C heat without air conditioning.

A few locals approached the LionsXII players for a wefie, and were obliged with polite but contrived smiles.

Understandably so, because the Singaporeans were feeling the heat of the situation and were still unable to reconcile what had happened the previous 12 hours.


Some of the players and officials were reminiscing as they watched past years' highlights on their mobile phones, knowing their team will not play in Malaysia next year.

There was none of their customary pranks and laughs as they quietly sank back into their seats and looked like they were contemplating what lies ahead.

They were also advised not to speak to the media, but the uncertainty of their future was hard to take, as one player, who declined to be named, told The New Paper: "I'm feeling shocked, confused, frustrated, angry and helpless.

"To find out on social media that we were kicked out, and not knowing what lies ahead for us next season, is a horrible feeling.

"Some players have just started a family, some are planning to get married, so it's really tough.

"FAS officials have spoken to us and tried to reassure us and we really hope there will be a positive conclusion to this controversy."

This is no ordinary club going out of business.

In their 27-man squad, aged between 18 and 28, 21 have international caps, and around half of the team can be considered national-team regulars, while six won the Suzuki Cup in 2012, the year the LionsXII were established.


In just four years, and with an all-local side, they won the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title in 2013 and the Malaysian FA Cup this year, picking up more titles than powerhouses Selangor, an equal number of silverware as Johor Darul Ta'zim, and fewer than only Kelantan (four) and Pahang (three).

And all of them - even for Safuwan Baharudin, who has a year remaining on his LionsXII contract as compared to his out-of-contract colleagues - are now in limbo.

Whatever the detractors may say, and whether national coach Bernd Stange feels that playing in the Malaysian Super League (and the S.League) does not help the national team's cause, the LionsXII project did deliver some positives.

Alumni such as Shahril Ishak, Baihakki Khaizan, Hariss Harun were heroes of the victorious 2013 season and earned big-money moves to Johor.

The current crop of Izwan Mahbud, Madhu Mohana, Faris Ramli, Gabriel Quak and Khairul Nizam have also become household names, while Safuwan broke new ground with his successful A-League stint at Melbourne City.

"For the players, we have never experienced what it was like to play club football in packed stadiums week in, week out, and what home-ground advantage and away games really meant until we joined the LionsXII," said a player.

"It may not be the most technical league, but it is very physical and we learnt how to use teamwork and tactics to overcome better teams with strong imports."

However, overnight, their world has come crashing down.

Another player said: "A few weeks ago, we were starting to negotiate our LionsXII contracts, but now, we have to look for a new club.

"It is scary because it is almost December now and we don't know if the S.League clubs have filled their rosters.


"We have almost 30 players and there are only six senior local teams.

"It is definitely worrying and unsettling to know that we may not have bargaining power in negotiating a contract."

With the Football Association of Singapore still coming to grips with the situation, speculation will inevitably abound.

One possibility is that the LionsXII may not be disbanded, but will play in the S.League next year before taking part in the inaugural Asean Super League if it kicks off in 2017.

But, if that doesn't happen, it could spell the end of the careers of some of the better footballers in the country.

One said: "This has happened so suddenly, I have no back-up plans if the LionsXII are no more.

"I have thought about whether this could be it for me and it's time to hang up my boots.

"I will have no choice if I can't find a club, and it will be a bitter way to retire from football after going all the way to win the FA Cup in front of 80,000 people just six months ago."

Possible scenarios for local football


The LionsXII stay together as a team, and compete in the S.League until the formation of the Asean Super League, projected to kick off in 2017.

If this happens, it will follow in the footsteps of the Fandi Ahmad-led Singapore side after their departure from Malaysian football in 1994. The team played in the Premier League, the predecessor of the S.League, in 1995, and won it, going through the season undefeated.

The LionsXII will then jettison the S.League for the ASL in 2017.

This move will see the S.League proceed with 10 teams.


The LionsXII disband, and players join one of the currently active local S.League clubs.

Players will likely have to take a pay cut, with S.League clubs likely unable to match salaries - ranging from $6,000 for a national player in the LionsXII to more than $15,000 for first names on the teamsheet. 

They will then reassemble when the ASL is formed.

This move will see the S.League play with nine teams. 

LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad still has a year to run on his contract, and this scenario will see him reassigned, likely to the Courts Young Lions, effectively the national Under-23 side, currently coached by German Juergen Raab.  

However, the FAS is also understood to be considering the disbanding of the Young Lions, a move that will see their players join six of the other local clubs.

This move will see eight teams compete in the S.League, but there will be a problem with Fandi's reassignment.

World record bubble artist pops into Singapore for weekend performance

World record bubble artist created ‘perfect solution’ despite having only a primary-school education

FASCINATING: Yang's special bubble solution allows him to create fantastical shapes in his show.

In 2008, internationally renowned bubble artist Fan Yang put a 3,992 kg, almost 2.7m-tall Asian elephant in a giant soap bubble.

It became one of the Canadian performer's 19 Guinness World Records - the record is for Encasing the Largest Land Mammal in a Bubble- and it is still his proudest achievement in his two-decade career.

Yang, 53, had spent two weeks at the Have Trunk Will Travel Elephant Conservatory in California to learn more about elephants because he was not sure how the gigantic animals would react to the stunt.

"They loved it. They were even blowing the bubbles with their trunks and playing with it. After two weeks of them getting used to it and training them not to touch the bubble surrounding them, I managed to break the record," Yang told The New Paper.

He is also known for creating the world's largest bubble wall in 2009 (50.9m long and inspired by the Great Wall of China) and for having the most number of people encapsulated in a bubble in 2008 (100, done on US talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show).

Yang is in town for his Bubble Legendary Show at Resorts World Sentosa this weekend.

He first performed here in 1997 at the Science Centre Singapore and has returned several more times, with the most recent being the Gazillion Bubble Show at Marina Bay Sands in 2012.

So how does Yang keep his magical bubbles from popping?

He said he never studied the science behind it, but discovered his method through trial and error. His bubble solution ensures elasticity and resistance and possesses colours to make it more visually appealing.

Yang, who also stages 20-minute or 40-minute private shows for at least US$10,000 (S$ 14,000), said: "I look at bubbles as a completely different world. Bubbles are encapsulated gas surrounded by liquid and it will stay long enough if the atmosphere is clean and there are no impurities in the air.

"Where there is dry air or a lot of dust particles, they cling onto the bubbles and make them pop."

Fan Yang's record-breaking elephant feat in 2008. PHOTOS: BIZ TRENDS MEDIA FACEBOOK/GAZILLION BUBBLE SHOW

Strong drafts and direct sunlight can cause bubbles to pop faster.

Humidity is another factor - the more humid it is, the slower bubble evaporation gets.

Yang's long-standing passion for bubbles started in his childhood.

"When I was a little boy, I was fascinated by bubbles on the surface of the river because of their beauty to absorb and reflect light," said Yang, who was born in Vietnam to a Chinese-Vietnamese mother and a Hungarian father.

He grew up poor in Yugoslavia, where his family moved to when he was two years old.

He added: "I never had any toys, but I enjoyed playing with nature. There was a waterfall that created a vortex and made small bubbles. I always watched it and thought, 'How can I make it bigger?'


"When I was about 18, I started to experiment and, unlike many children who touched bubbles to pop them, I found myself trying to keep them alive for as long as possible.

"After many years, I found out the right composition and was able to make a bubble of about 10 to 20cm in diameter."

He continued to expand on the sizes of his bubbles and even linked them and tried to shape them.

A few years later, Yang, who has only primary school education, was finally able to pull off a 20-minute bubble demonstration to fascinated friends.

He was "discovered" soon after.

His wife and children have also picked up the tricks of the trade and even have their own bubble shows.

His wife Ana, 50, is touted as "The World's Greatest Female Bubble Artist" and is also a Guinness World Record holder.

She is holding court at the couple's nine-year-running, off-Broadway Gazillion Bubble Show in New York City.

Yang started teaching her some skills after they met as he realised she could take his place at shows if he were to ever fall ill.

Their children, 24-year-old daughter Melody and 26-year-old son Deni, have followed in their father's footsteps, learning the ropes when they were as young as two. They are performing in Sanya, China.



Resorts World Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa


Saturday and Sunday at 10.30am, 1.30pm and 5pm


$28 to $88 from Sistic (6348-5555 or


Celebrity encounters are not unusual for Fan Yang, who has appeared on various talk shows including Late Night with David Letterman and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where US actor Ashton Kutcher mimicked some of his bubble tricks.

But the one gig that continues to be a sweet memory was when Yang was a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2008. He put 100 people inside a single huge soap bubble, breaking his own world record in the process.

He recalled: "(Oprah) was very kind and when she's talking and asking questions, it's like I'm talking to an old friend, not an interviewer."

After Yang's Gazillion Bubble Show opened in New York City, Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise and his daughter Suri visited him backstage after the show. Yang said Cruise even wrote him a note of appreciation, saying that he enjoyed the show very much.

US actor Matt Damon and his children were at that same show and posed for photos after they were put into giant bubbles.

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