Garena sponsors Young Lions a record $4 million
S.League side are now the Garena Young Lions, after a record deal to develop team
With a number of rookies in the squad, many have tipped them to struggle in this season's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
But the Young Lions, the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) developmental team playing in the local professional football league, were given a shot in the arm with the announcement of a $4 million sponsorship deal with local company Garena yesterday.
As part of the deal, Garena will provide $2m in cash and a "programme budget" of up to $2m for the promotion and development of the team over the next two years.
The team will be known as the Garena Young Lions for the duration of the sponsorship, and will also have "Shopee" - an online consumer-to-consumer shopping platform owned by Garena - emblazoned across their playing kits this season.
FAS president Zainudin Nordin believes the record-setting sponsorship deal showed there is support for their youth-development plans, which was laid out in their Annual General Meeting in December.
As part of the focus on youth, he said, a number of high-quality opponents from around the region have been lined up for the Young Lions - comprising most of the country's top Under-21 players - for sparring matches.
The New Paper understands the first of these high-profile opponents will be Iran.
The national team will play Afghanistan in neutral-venue Teheran in a World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier on March 29, and the FAS is believed to be trying to arrange an Under-21 international friendly with the Iranians.
BAPTISM OF FIRE
Iran are currently ranked 43rd in the world, making them Asia's top team, and the match would represent a baptism of fire for incoming Young Lions coach Patrick Hesse, who TNP exclusively reported would take the team's reins upon approval of a work permit.
Hesse watched the Young Lions' 4-2 loss to Hougang United in a friendly last night from the stands.
Said Zainudin: "In between the league season, we will... (bring) them abroad for training, to play in competitions outside of the S.League.
"I may be jumping the gun here, but the first match they are going to have is a very strong team from Asia. One of the top-ranking teams, Under-21.
"So you can see we are serious. From now on, you will see them playing really quality teams.
"And when we announce that team, you will be surprised at the match we managed to arrange.
"So these are the things we are trying to do and hopefully, at the end of the season, all the players will become better."
He also defended the decision to tweak the Young Lions blueprint from an Under-23 side to one comprising mostly Under-21 players, describing it as a move that will pay dividends in the long run.
With the change, the outfit are now under the scope of technical director Michel Sablon.
Said Zainudin: "We (were) in a position where we must make a decision.
"We must believe. It is always a fine balance.
"But, from the advice of our technical team, we are confident the team will be able to give a good fight.
"Why not try to give them the exposure and opportunity? I think it will be a plus in terms of player development and we must be able to take that challenge.
"Our way of looking at talent development is that, if in this team, I have 30 players, if they started at Point A, at the end of the season I want them to be at Point B.
"That's my way of measuring. Not about the score or results."
We must believe. It is always a fine balance. But, from the advice of our technical team, we are confident the team will be able to give a good fight.
— FAS president Zainudin Nordin, on tweaking the Young Lions blueprint from an Under-23 side to one comprising mostly Under-21 players
For youth, and the love of the game
TNP PHOTO: EDWIN FONG
He believes in getting the best out of youngsters by giving them opportunities.
He's also crazy about football.
That's why sponsoring the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) Under-21 side made sense to Forrest Li (above), the founder chairman and chief executive officer of local tech start-up Garena.
Li's company signed a two-year sponsorship worth up to $4 million with the S.League side yesterday, a deal that will see Garena provide $2m in cash and a "programme budget" of up to $2m for the promotion and development of the team.
The team will be called the Garena Young Lions and will also have "Shopee" - Garena's online consumer-to-consumer shopping platform - emblazoned across their playing kits.
"We love to support young talent," said Li.
"It's in line with our belief as a young company. Here at Garena, the average age of our employees is about 26 or 27."
Headquartered in Singapore, Garena was founded in 2009 by Li and his friends as they aspired to transform their passion for entrepreneurship into a company.
He named the company Garena - a play on the words "global arena" - and it has since grown to become a leading platform provider for online PC and mobile entertainment, social and commerce, and financial services across Asia.
The company's sponsorship of the Young Lions is believed to be the biggest for any team in the 21-year history of the S.League.
In 1997, Shakey's Pizza signed a 10-year sponsorship of Gombak United worth $500,000 per annum, but the relationship turned sour within two years and ended after a legal dispute, which was eventually settled out of court.
Two years ago, Linco Investments signed a three-year deal worth $2m with Home United.
The average annual budget for an S.League club is estimated to be $1.4m.
Li, a China-born Singaporean, added that he was impressed by the FAS's ambition and plans for youth development, and said he is keen to see the two parties extend their partnership even longer.
"We haven't set any KPIs like they have to be S.League champions or something," he said.
"We care more about the development.
"After two years, if we see all those players grow up as professionals and persons, and we see progress, then we feel the dollar we have put in is (well spent).
"Anyway, we view this as very long-term, and the two-year sponsorship is just a starting point." - SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ
Tough night for Young Lions
CONSOLATION: Young Lions forward Fareez Farhan (in blue, with M Anumanthan) manages to score a brace in their 4-2 defeat by Hougang.
In their second warm-up match against S. League opposition, the newly named Garena Young Lions slumped to a 4-2 loss against Hougang United at Hougang Stadium last night.
With new coach Patrick Hesse (below) watching from the stands, it was the Young Lions who struck first when forward Fareez Farhan scored via a deflected free-kick on the stroke of half-time.
TNP PHOTO: PHYLLICIA WANG
Not long after the restart, however, Hougang's new signing Fumiya Kogure curled in a free-kick to level the score. The Cheetahs then went ahead through centre back Delwinder Singh's close-range shot, only for Fareez to pull the Young Lions level again.
Four minutes later, Delwinder headed in his second goal of the game, before midfielder Nurhilmi Jasni secured the victory with a simple tap-in late on.
Hougang will take on Japanese side Albirex Niigata on Friday in their next pre-season fixture. - AQIL HAZIQ MAHMUD