Football

Strong national team first, say S.League clubs

Strong national team top of clubs' agenda, but youth development will soften 'brain drain'

The proposed new focus of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League as a feeder competition for players may see a "brain drain" of its best talents to greener pastures.

Fans and sponsors may not see the league to be as attractive as the Asean Super League (ASL) and turn away.

While local club officials The New Paper spoke to have varying levels of enthusiasm towards the feeder system, many backed the "national agenda" of building a stronger national team.

Tampines Rovers chairman Krishna Ramachandra said: "I am extremely positive (about this idea). I believe that the S.League should be a platform for players to get on to the next level.

"They should not see the S.League as the ultimate goal. When they feel that there's nothing beyond the S.League, there may be a tendency not to push themselves out of their comfort zones.

"Having that aspiration (of moving to other leagues) will motivate them."

PLANS

The S.League, into its 21st season next year, is undergoing a review, with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) yet to announce its plans for the league.

However, following Tuesday's AGM, FAS president Zainudin Nordin - along with vice-president Edwin Tong and S.League CEO Lim Chin - suggested it may serve as a feeder for higher-level competitions, such as the proposed ASL in 2017, as well as Australia and Japan, where players such as Safuwan Baharudin and Izwan Mahbud made inroads this year.

Marine Parade GRC MP Tong pointed out that many of the players in the Belgium national team, ranked fourth in the world, ply their trade outside of the country's top flight.

While the S.League will be boosted by players from the disbanded LionsXII, who have been snapped up by the local clubs, those players may be signed in 2017 for Singapore's ASL team.

Yet, Hougang United chairman Bill Ng said: "The feeder system is the right direction. We need to put the nation first, so people would be interested in football.

"If any of the players is called out for 'national service', it means we can build another one. There's always new blood coming in."

Balestier Khalsa chairman 
S Thavaneson, however, was more sceptical of the feeder league idea, in relation to ASL.

He said: "(The important thing is) what the countries are going to do for the ASL. Are they putting out their best clubs?

"If the other countries are going to put up players only of club level or Under-21 teams, then one has to question the wisdom of taking the best players out of the (S.League) for the ASL."

Home United chief executive Azrulnizam Shah Sohaimi added that an Asean Champions League, as part of the regional calendar, may be a better alternative to the ASL.

He said: "If the S.League is to be a feeder league, it is not a foreign concept anyway...

"However, centralising the best talent in a single team, in a league that is competing for the same resources - sponsors, fans, media, venues, manpower - is not ideal for the domestic league to flourish.

"We respect the decision and will just knuckle down and work harder, focusing on the things we can control."

IDEAL SITUATION

To soften the blow of the anticipated "brain drain", several club chairmen said youth development among the clubs will have to be enhanced.

"The ideal situation would be that there's enough local talent playing in and outside the S.League, and that happens when we continue to have a good supply of young players coming through," said Warriors chairman Lam Shiu Tong.

Only three clubs - Home United, Warriors FC and Balestier Khalsa - run Centre of Excellence programmes for all four age groups, although Tampines Rovers recently boosted their youth-development programme by inking a memorandum of understanding with Brazilian star Ronaldinho to set up an academy here.

While Geylang International chairman Ben Teng says his immediate focus is to get his club up and running for the 2016 season, having taken over from Leong Kok Fann just last month, he already has one eye on restarting the club's famed youth-development programme.

Teng said: "For us, youth has been the focus. We have some interesting ideas for our academy, which my team and I will explore once we have settled down."

What the fans say

Somehow I don't feel it's a good idea... Other than the change in the league's name, it seem like the same formula of having a LionsXII team which, as we can see, did not result in a better-performing national team.

I suggest (we) focus on the S.League; the S.League champions will participate in the Asean Super League (ASL), with players to be given contracts directly by the FAS. This could encourage (S.League) teams to strive to be champions and players to be motivated to play in the ASL, with better contracts.

More players will have the chance to experience playing in the more challenging ASL. When more players have increased their experience and improved their skills, there will be more talent in the national team.

- Mohamad Syahid Arif

The 2016 S.League season seems like it will be very competitive, but fans and sponsors will give more priority to the ASL in 2017 because the team assembled seems like a national team. Thus, just like when the LionsXII played in the Malaysian Super League, the S.League will suffer.

Let's treat ASL as an equivalent to Asian Champions League, where the top one or two local teams compete. Let's expand our league to 10 to 12 teams for more players to play professionally, and for the champions to play in the ASL.

- Mohamed Zakir

The FAS should focus on the S.League: make it the top priority before moving into the Asean Super League. Learn to walk before you want to fly, otherwise you'll fall flat on your face.

- Donald Tan

If the other nations decide to pull out (of the ASL) after a few years, what will happen then? It's like building your castle on the sand.

- Wu Guo Hao

ASLs.league