Young Lions to continue in S.League
Team to stay intact for at least two more years, club chairmen to be informed of decision today
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is likely to announce changes to the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League for the 2018 season this month, but one change that will not be made is the disbandment of the Garena Young Lions.
The Straits Times understands that the S.League club chairmen will be informed today that the Young Lions will be kept intact for at least two more years.
The team, essentially the country's developmental squad of footballers under the age of 23, will stay to allow FAS head coach of youth Fandi Ahmad to prepare the team for the 2019 SEA Games.
Since the team's inception in 2003, the concept has polarised opinion.
While corralling the country's best young players into a single team was seen as helpful to the national cause, the team's poor results suggest that the project is not working that well.
Tampines Rovers chairman Desmond Ong said: "National priorities come first. I am happy for the players to play for the Young Lions and the uniformed teams while they undergo national service, but they should return to the clubs when their service is over."
Hougang United coach Philippe Aw agreed, adding: "They will learn more by training and playing alongside senior players. The experienced heads can guide them while the match is going on."
Another official, who declined to be named, was more scathing, saying: "It is the clubs' responsibility to groom young players. All across the world, it is the clubs who train the youngsters for the benefit of the national team.
"It is not healthy for a young team to win just one game, score just 10 goals and concede 62 times (the Young Lions' S-League record this season)."
The Young Lions are still yet to win a SEA Games gold medal since the team's inception in 2003.
A common accusation is that the project has not yielded results. A SEA Games gold medal has remained elusive, with first-round exits in the last two editions (2015 and 2017).
Coached by Vincent Subramaniam for the latter part of this campaign after V. Selvaraj left earlier, the team finished last in the nine-team table for the second straight year. They also finished bottom in 2003 and 2013.
But the Young Lions have shown they are capable of good results, too.
In 2004 and 2006, they finished third under Fandi. Then, the team had a bumper crop of talents which included Shahril Ishak, Baihakki Khaizan, Hassan Sunny, Juma'at Jantan and Ridhuan Muhammad - players who went on to represent Singapore.
Former Singapore coach Raddy Avramovic gained from the healthy production line then, as he rebuilt an ageing national side with fresh faces from the Young Lions and subsequently won three Asean Football Federation Cups (2004, 2007 and 2012).
He said in a recent interview with ST: "The Young Lions must be kept together in the near future, they just need good coaches to supervise them closely. But we also need the clubs to do their part (developing young players)."