Only 10 teams in S.League next year
Next year will mark the 20th edition of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, and it will be ushered in with yet another slew of changes, the most obvious of which will be reflected in the number of teams.
Tanjong Pagar United, one of the eight founding clubs of the S.League in 1996 - under the banner of Tiong Bahru United - will not be in the mix next season, along with another pioneer outfit, Woodlands Wellington.
From 12 teams this year, the 2015 S.League will see a reduced roster of 10 sides.
Woodlands will merge with Hougang United to form a club whose shape and form have yet to be decided, while financial struggles will see Queenstown-based Tanjong Pagar sit out the league for the second time, after they pulled out after the 2004 season - also due to monetary difficulties.
The Jaguars returned in 2011, but beside a sixth-placed finish in 2013 that also saw them ending the year as runners-up in the RHB Singapore Cup, they have struggled.
They finished ninth among the 12 teams this year, while Woodlands ended the season in 11th spot.
"Presently the S.League is too big for the local environment... the demography of Singapore cannot support it fully, that is one of the key reasons for this initiative," said S.League chief executive Lim Chin.
"Naturally (the reduction in teams will mean) there will be more resources (subsidies) for the remaining clubs and in turn make the S.League even stronger and more competitive, and through that we will help to raise the overall standard of Singapore football."
Admitting that the club have been "a bit stretched" financially, Tanjong Pagar chairman Edward Liu told The New Paper that their inability to secure a main sponsor for 2014 has hurt them.
"After talking to our committee members, I am of the view that we can better contribute to the league by sitting out, and conducting a strategic review of our own resources and conserve to build a better resource base going forward," he said.
Woodlands' officials were uncontactable yesterday, while Hougang chairman Bill Ng declined to comment.
TNP understands that coaching staff and players of Tanjong Pagar, Woodlands and Hougang were only informed yesterday - three days after the end of the 2014 season - of the changes.
"My situation? Limbo," said Woodlands coach Salim Moin, the former Singapore midfield star.
"It's worse for my players but what can I do? We're still waiting for the management to sit down and discuss."
Clubs are required to submit a list of players they wish to retain on their roster for the next year to S.League administrators, usually within 10 days of the last matchday of the current season (Nov 14 this year).
It suggests a number of players from the three affected clubs may struggle to find employment in football.
While the norm is for clubs to only sign single-year contracts with most of their players, Tanjong Pagar have a group who are on two-year deals, including coach Patrick Vallee.
"We will honour all our contractual obligations with players and coaches," said Liu, with Lim asserting that both Woodlands and Hougang will do the same.
"The timing of announcement for any major change will be made only at the end of every season and this is similar to past seasons," said Lim, insisting that affected players will have enough time to find new clubs.
Tampines Rovers chairman Teo Hock Seng believes that some key elements of the league will stay the same, despite the changes to be implemented.
"Balestier Central and Clementi Khalsa merged in the past, and I thought that was a good marriage, and they came out stronger. I don't think there's anything wrong with a merger," he said, of the impending Woodlands-Hougang pairing.
That merger came at the end of the 2002 season.
"I don't think there'll be a drastic difference, it will be a shorter league, but four or five top teams will still compete for the title - we're going to compete," said Teo.
"The spirit of competition is still all there, and our local teams will beat the foreign teams."
"The rationale (for sitting out) is: the league needs to be consolidated, utilising the resources that they have to make it a more competitive and exciting league."
- Tanjong Pagar chairman Edward Liu
Age restrictions on clubs for 2015
Aleksandar Duric had a video made in his honour, and commemorative jerseys printed, as he marked the end of his time as a player in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League last week, in Tampines Rovers' 2-1 win over DPMM FC on Friday.
The 44-year-old all-time top goal-scorer of the league left with some pomp, and tears in his eyes.
Other elder statesmen may not have any sort of grand send-off, indeed, they may have already played their last S.League match without even knowing it.
Next year, S.League clubs will only be able to sign five players over the age of 30 in their 22-man squad, while three players will have to be aged 25 or under.
If clubs only register 20 players, only four are allowed to be over 30, with two under-25s a mandatory condition as part of changes that will be implemented in the league.
It is a bid to inject more youth into the Singapore professional football habitat, with S.League chief executive Lim Chin revealing that the rule only applies to local players.
A rough count showed that around 50 players will be affected by the over-30 age rule, and with only six local clubs competing in next year's 10-team Great Eastern Yeo's S.League (besides the Courts Young Lions, Malaysia's Harimau Muda, DPMM and Japan's Albirex Niigata), at least 20 will be booted out of local professional football (this number does not take into account players who turn 30 next year).
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Stags' chairman Teo Hock Seng said: "Tampines have been accused of having the oldest team in the league. 'Dad's Army', they called us.
"We now have to re-look the composition of our team, but it's a difficult point to address."
Tampines, who finished third behind league champions Warriors FC and DPMM after winning three straight league titles, have seven local players over the age of 30, including former national captains, Mustafic Fahrudin and Noh Alam Shah, and Ismadi Mukhtar, called up to the national team recently.
With Duric retiring, Teo will now have to choose just five of his remaining six seniors. It may force out players who can still excite fans, and bring life to local football.
"Aleks was way above 30 when we signed him, 39 in fact, but he still got the job done - that's what I'm talking about," said Teo, who is hoping that clubs could be allowed more than the one Under-21 foreign player they are allowed for their Prime League (Under-21) teams.
Clubs are allowed to sign five foreign players, with one among them encouraged to be aged 21 and under.
"We are so short on young talent, what's wrong with having more young foreign players in the Prime League? Maybe two or three," said Teo.
With most of Singapore's talent playing in the Malaysian Super League's LionsXII and the Courts Young Lions, there are concerns about the ability of less established players to draw in the crowds.
But others are optimistic about the new rules.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior club official said: "Players are in a constant merry-go-round in the league, moving from one club to another. This could be the catalyst we need to inject some life into our league."
The new rules - including reducing the league roster to 10 teams - could see local players make up just 57 per cent of players next year.
"There are now only three clubs running youth squads," said national defender and LionsXII star Baihakki Khaizan, of the Centres of Excellence run by Balestier Khalsa, Warriors FC and Home United.
"They (the authorities) are professional enough to know what they are doing, but the question is simple: Is the league producing enough young players?"