Singapore Football

S.League a crucial piece of the jigsaw, says Sivaji

TNP PHOTO: CHOO CHWEE HUA

From schedule changes to accommodate national team interests, to seconding some of their best players to bolster the challenge of the LionsXII in Malaysia’s club competitions as well as the Courts Young Lions, S.League clubs have not had an easy time over the last few years.

Most recently, goalkeeper Hassan Sunny’s call-up to the Asian Games squad meant fixture changes in the S.League so that his club Warriors FC would have him in their ranks when their chase for the title resumes in the final half round of matches.

Former Singapore and Home United coach P N Sivaji (above) warned that neglect of the domestic league will only hurt Singapore football and, while solutions may not be immediately apparent, suggested the formation of a committee to balance interests.

He also urged a focus on youth development among the local S.League clubs and coach education programmes to help the league.

“The national team need exposure, to keep their competitive edge and to maintain their Fifa ranking, but there must be balance,” said.

“Let’s not forget where national players come from, and a league without its national players will definitely lose its lustre.”

While the standard of football has increased, the S.League still struggles to capture the imagination of a football-mad nation.

The National Teams’ Committee (NTC) was dissolved after Singapore’s Asean championship win in 2005.

It was an independent body with full authority to appoint the national coach, national team manager and other key national team personnel, including deciding on training tours and friendlies.

Said Sivaji: “In modern football there might not be a place for the NTC as we knew it, but a committee should be set up, with at least three experienced people who know how the game is currently being played and run.

“And they can plan a calendar that fits into the FAS’ plans and balance the needs of the national team and the S.League.”

GAME TIME

Formed in 2003, the Young Lions provided a platform for talented youngsters to get game time in the S.League, something they would not have achieved if they stayed with their clubs.

Sivaji, who was also the FAS technical director, suggested an evaluation of the FAS Junior Centres of Excellence (JCOE, for children aged between eight and 12.

“We may not see results the JCOE immediately, but we should check if we are taking the right direction, because in the future these kids will come into the S.League,” said the 62-year-old, who is a coaching instructor with Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation.

“Also, Singapore has the highest ratio of coaches with Pro Licences (20) to players — are they all being employed? We should include them in coach-education, to make sure our coaches get better.”

While increasing the quota of foreign players in the S.League (from four to five last year), may be a stopgap measure to ensure quality, Sivaji does not see it as a long-term solution.

Taking the poor performances of the England team as an example, Sivaji insisted the picture is a clear one.

“If you have too many foreigners playing in your top league, your national team suffers; and if you neglect your domestic league it suffers,
too.”