Singapore Football

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?"