S.League foreign player quota could be reduced to three in 2018
S.League clubs might have to sign young imports with potential to be naturalised
The foreign player quota for Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League clubs could be reduced from four to three from the 2018 season.
The New Paper understands that this is one of the proposed changes for the revamp of the local professional football league.
Sources said that two of the three foreign players must be under the age of 21.
Currently, seven of the nine S.League clubs are allowed to sign three foreign players to be registered in the S.League.
Only Albirex Niigata, an all-Japanese team, and the Garena Young Lions, an all-local Under-22 developmental side, do not have imports.
The six local clubs are allowed to sign an additional import - aged under 21 - for their Under-21 Prime League (reserve) squads.
Two factors are thought to be behind the mooted change.
One is the hope that the two U-21 foreign players will play in Singapore long enough to fulfil world football governing body Fifa's five-year residency rule, and become eligible to play for the Singapore national team if they are good enough and offered citizenship.
The second is to manage the possibility that the Tote Board will disburse only about half the $16 million it pumps into the S.League anually.
If the change is put in place, a majority of the foreign players in the S.League will no longer be around next season.
There are 21 foreign players currently registered as S.League players, hailing from 12 countries - Myanmar, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, France, Japan, South Korea, Croatia, Spain, Canada and Romania.
Their ages range from 22 to 32.
Five other foreigners - two from the United States, and one each from Italy, Croatia and Myanmar - are registered for the Prime League.
Out of the 21 S.League imports, only three arrived in Singapore aged 21 or under.
Warriors FC's Canadian winger Jordan Webb came to Singapore in 2010 when he was 21, while Home United defender Sirina Camara was 19 when he signed for now-defunct French team Etoile in 2011.
Another Home player, South Korean midfielder Song Ui Yong, was 21 when he signed for the Protectors in 2012.
All three have been touted as possible candidates for the Football Association of Singapore's Foreign Talent Scheme.
Some of the local coaches whom TNP spoke to were not convinced by the proposed move to groom foreign players into naturalised citizens.
In the last few years, the standard of our foreigners have not been up to the mark... so to me, I would rather give a local boy a chance.Geylang International coach Md Noor Ali
Said Geylang International coach Md Noor Ali: "What's the point of trying to naturalise these players and get them citizenship five years down the road, when you can turn local boys into national team players in just two or three years?
"Anyway, in the last few years, the standard of our foreigners have not been up to the mark.
"Look at Webb. He is a good player, but I can compare him to Shawal Anuar or (Warriors winger) Hafiz Nor. Camara is comparable to Shakir (Hamzah, Tampines defender).
"There is not too much difference in quality, so to me, I would rather give a local boy a chance."
Noor, a former national team winger, has blooded several Prime League players into the S.League and some have caught the eye, such as 18-year-old midfielder Noor Ariff and 20-year-old striker Ifwat Ismail.
Added the 42-year-old coach: "To me, there's no point in signing the two U-21 foreigners.
"Look at the Prime League foreigners now. Who is good enough to play in the S.League?
"I would rather use the entire budget for three players for one very good foreigner who can really make a difference for the team, and give the two other spots in the team to U-21 local players."
Home United coach Aidil Sharin shared similar concerns.
With Camara, Song and goals from chief striker Stipe Plazibat from Croatia, the 40-year-old coach guided the Protectors to the Asean zone final of the AFC Cup competition (the Asian equivalent of the Europa League) this season.
But he believes such achievements in continental competition will be made more difficult for S.League sides, if the mooted change goes ahead.
"If you look at all the teams in the AFC Cup, there are no foreign imports under the age of 21," said Aidil.
"Why? Because if they are young and have enough quality, they would be playing in Europe.
"To get young foreigners is easy. But to get quality is another question.
"The plan (for 2018) may seem good for the long-term future of Singapore football.
"But how can the FAS guarantee they will stay? If they perform in the S.League, they will be offered bigger contracts (by overseas clubs) and will leave."