'Huge possiblity' Chelsea will be in Singapore next year
Football fans here could well be singing the Blues, as there is a "huge possibility" that four-time English champions Chelsea will visit Singapore for the first time next year.
Speaking to The New Paper on the sidelines of the Sports Matters conference at Marina Bay Sands yesterday, Chelsea Football Club's Asia Pacific managing director Adrian New said: "It's a huge possibility. We already had some initial conversations.
"We've never been to Singapore because there's never been a stadium that was suitable for us to play in. The old National Stadium could have been, but it wasn't the greatest. But now, yeah, the new stadium, once the grass grows, it'll be fantastic."
With Jose Mourinho pulling the strings of a star-studded cast, Chelsea have won all four of their Premier League games this season and look like favourites for the title, even if it is early days.
And New added: "In 2013, we played in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. The stadium here wasn't ready. We don't really want to go back to the same three cities again.
"Our biggest fanbase is in South-east Asia, so yeah, if we play in Singapore, I'm sure a lot of our fans from Bangkok, KL and Jakarta will come over, just like how our supporters from Singapore went to KL last year."
Half of Chelsea's 500 million fans - up from just 25 million 10 years ago - come from Asia, and the Blues are keen to court the continent by bringing their best players here during "odd" years.
Said New: "When a major tournament comes along, we lose our first team, literally. In the last international break, Jose had three players for training, everyone else was playing.
"If we try to tour Asia in an even year (either with the World Cup or European Championship), we would come here without any players, and that's disrespectful to the fans.
"When you go on tour, you want your first team to be around. So we tour Asia in the odd years. We came to Asia in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and we are currently looking at 2015 and we would love to come here next year."
However, New was also forthright when asked if top foreign clubs should help to develop the standard of football in the countries they visit.
He said: "It's not our job to develop Asian football. Ultimately, it's not my job to make the S.League exciting. It is my job because I work in football, it is Chelsea's job because we are one of the top teams in the world, to ensure that everyone can love football.
"The responsibility of clubs is to help grow the love for football, help people play it to the best of their abilities, enjoy playing it and therefore enjoy watching it."
New said one of their strategies is to help youngsters enjoy football and Chelsea have set up 10 soccer schools in Asia, including one here at Turf City.
"What we are trying to do is to help Singaporean kids play football to the best of their abilities," he said.
"That doesn't mean they are going to play for Home United or Chelsea. It just means they can love the game, learn how to trap the ball properly, learn how to dribble properly, learn how to play the different positions... learn how to work together with teammates to succeed, about nutrition and exercise.
"It isn't our responsibility to make sure that Asian football is good because that comes down to the structure of the local leagues and support system."
New, who has been in Asia for 13 years, does have his own take on how to improve the S.League, which is still striving to attract fans to stadiums as it enters into its 20th season next year.
He said: "When Mr (Roman) Abramovich bought the club in 2003, we invested a lot of money in players and we made the club successful on the pitch and that translated to success off the pitch. The better the product on the pitch, the more able you are to attract money off it.
"The S.League still needs a lot of work to develop their product on the pitch because here in Singapore you are competing against the likes of the Premier League.
"One of the great things about the Singapore Government, as we have seen with the new stadium, is they have a vision.
"There is the Vision 2030, a sports vision, a commitment to make sport more central to the Singaporean culture.
"Maybe the new stadium is where that starts and it could filter to a better league structure."
'War' on match-fixing works
CONFIDENT: The English Football Association’s director of football governance and regulation Darren Bailey at the Sports Matters conference at Marina Bay Sands.
Over the years, the spectre of match-fixing has grown even more menacing in the global football landscape, but the English Football Association (FA) is confident it can deal with the scourge.
Darren Bailey, the FA's director of football governance and regulation, says the regulatory body is relying on legislation, national and international monitoring, and an aggressive educational campaign to minimise the temptation of players and officials - at all levels of the game in England - to influence matches illegally.
"It's about communicating very clearly why the bottom line (in English football) is so good, and it is because people believe in the game," he told The New Paper, on the sidelines of the two-day Sports Matters conference at the Marina Bay Sands yesterday.
"If you start to play fast and loose with the game's integrity, then the financial dimension will go out the window.
"You have a collective responsibility to your fellow colleagues not to do anything that brings it into disrepute. We feel it is working."
He pointed to former Italian player Simone Farina as a shining example of the campaign.
Farina, now an Aston Villa academy coach, played a key role in stopping a match-fixing attempt in 2011 while playing for Serie B club Gubbio - his evidence leading to the arrest of 17 people.
Bailey revealed that his 40-strong department is working on various topics - including inclusivity, crowd issues and safety - to preserve the Beautiful Game's integrity in England.
While clubs in other countries may delay paying players' salaries, the financial structure of the English game is "quite tight" and minimises the temptation and pressure for one to resort to crime for money.
Also, strong players' unions in the country provide the welfare systems for footballers to seek help when they are in trouble.
If these systems fail, the authorities can fall back on tough monitoring and legislation - the FA outlawed all football-related betting for all club players and officials at the start of the season.
Bailey added the FA has measures in place to detect suspicious betting patterns in England, as well as overseas - a warning sign that a match may have been compromised.
Echoing FA general secretary Alex Horne's comments earlier this year, Bailey dismissed suggestions that match-fixing is a growing problem in football, referring to the "robust" system that England already has, as well as the "collective responsibility" that his department is trying to drum into players, officials and spectators alike.
This, despite the fact there were several arrests and prosecutions for match-fixing in English semi-professional football last season.
Bailey said: "We are not complacent, but I think we are best-placed to prevent it (match-fixing). If it happens, we are in the best place to enforce it robustly."
- LIM SAY HENG