Tampines Rovers could take on majority of LionsXII players in next year's S.League
S.League giants Tampines keen on bulk of squad, with AFC Cup in mind
Just days after the LionsXII were booted out of Malaysian football, Tampines Rovers have swooped to approach many of the players to rejuvenate their ageing squad.
The New Paper understands that the five-time S.League champions could take on the best of the LionsXII players, many of whom play for the national team.
It is believed that those who have been approached include goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, defenders Madhu Mohana, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Afiq Yunos, midfielder Izzdin Shafiq, wingers Faris Ramli and Christopher van Huizen, who is an old boy.
Tampines, who finished runners-up to league champions Brunei DPMM, have qualified for the AFC Cup by being the highest-placed local team, and if the arrangement with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) comes off, it would allow the national players to regularly pit themselves against stronger continental opposition.
And when the Asean Super League eventually takes off, possibly in 2017, the Stags may then represent Singapore in the inaugural season.
At yesterday's S.League Awards Night, new Tampines chairman Murali Krishna Ramachandra confirmed his club's interest to "support the national football agenda".
The 44-year-old corporate finance lawyer confirmed the release of more than half of last season's squad, including all five imports, and said: "We will seriously consider this possibility (of taking on the bulk of LionsXII players) if it is in the interest of Singapore football.
"We acted fast in approaching the players to show our sincerity and genuine intent.
"At the same time, we want to send out a strong signal to the talented players that even if they are out of the Malaysian Super League, they still have a place in the S.League and we want to make them feel wanted.
"Our emphasis for the new season will be more on the local players, and if we are to take on any imports, it will most probably be less than the quota imposed and they will need to be players who will have a positive influence on the local footballers.
"One of the primary reasons for taking on the LionsXII players is that we want to do well in the AFC Cup, which is a tough tournament and we need all the quality we can get locally.
"On the other hand, the LionsXII players, most of whom play for the national team, also need to play regular football of a regional standard.
"If and when the Asean Super League takes off, we would love to be part of it."
Krishna then confirmed that his club had managed to fend off the advances of Malaysian clubs like Kelantan to retain the services of head coach V Sundramoorthy, who is going into the second year of a two-year contract.
He added: "I had an open chat with Sundram and told him frankly that we are not able to pay what some Malaysian clubs are able to.
"But he is an icon here and, if he is keen to do his part for Singapore football and work with players he has enjoyed success with recently, we would like him to stay with us.
"I'm pleased that he shares in our vision and will continue to be Tampines coach next season."