FAS considering foreign-born trio for FTS
FAS considering three foreign-born players for Foreign Sports Talent scheme
From Brazil to China, Croatia, and from parts of Africa, there have been several foreign-born footballers who have donned the red jersey of the Singapore national team.
Mustafic Fahrudin and Daniel Bennett were two players who most recently turned out for V Sundramoorthy's Lions, helping the team to a vital 0-0 draw with Bahrain in Group E of the Asian Cup qualifiers.
And the Republic could well welcome more into the fray through the Foreign Sports Talent (FST) scheme.
Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Lim Kia Tong told The New Paper in an interview on Monday that the FST is on the table, with three players already earmarked.
Warriors FC winger Jordan Webb, 29, Home United defender Sirina Camara, 26, and his South Korean teammate Song Ui Yong, 23, have all met Fifa's five-year residency requirement to represent Singapore, and Sundram is currently putting together an argument to allow the trio to pull on the Singapore shirt.
"I had a long conversation with Sundram, and I told him he must do something to bring up the national team, " said Lim.
"We spoke about the need for the FAS to perhaps consider bringing in well-established foreign players here, and we spoke about Song, Webb and Camara," said Lim.
"I shared with him that our focus will be to develop young players, but I've asked him to put up a strong paper and perhaps work with stakeholders on this," added Lim, who asked for a study on whether the trio can help strengthen the Lions.
When contacted, Sundram told TNP: "These boys will definitely help us.
"They've been in the league long enough, they will add strength and ability to the team and help us compete at the international level."
Former national captain and coach Seak Poh Leong believes the proposed move could be a shot in the arm for a Lions side now ranked 159th in the world, a massive drop from the 75th spot the team occupied in 1993.
"It's a draw back to Project 2010, and it was a move that gave us several Asean titles. I think it will be a morale booster that can bring us more crowds and even more sponsors," said Seak, who also had a stint as FAS director of coaching.
Project 2010 was the Republic's ambitious plan to qualify for the Finals of the 2010 World Cup, and it saw various policies implemented to that end, including the FST.
While the project failed, Seak saw the FST as a positive by- product.
Singapore won three Asean titles, in 2004, 2007 and 2012, with several foreign born players in their sides, including a few like Aleksandar Duric who obtained Singapore citizenship on his own, outside of the FST.
The last foreign-born footballer to receive citizenship under the FST scheme was China-born striker Qiu Li, who made his debut in a 1-0 home defeat by Bahrain in May 2008.
"Now foreign talent is no big issue, even in other sports," said Seak, pointing to Chinese table tennis players donning the colours of various countries around the globe at the Olympics.
"I think it's good to look at (the FST), but it is important to see how much better (the selected players) are than their local counterparts. If they are extraordinary, why not?"
Like Seak, former Singapore international R Sasikumar feels that foreign-born footballers of high quality should be considered for the FST, but he prefers a focus on youth development.
"Whoever we naturalise needs to be clearly a class above the local footballers, and there are only a handful of those in the local game," said Sasi.
"No disrespect to these players (Webb, Camara and Song), but they are not outstanding. To me, it's an absolute waste of time - we need to put more energy into nurturing young players."
Seak believes the naturalisation of foreign-born players is not a long-term solution, but a policy that must be accompanied by a sturdy youth development programme.
"Firstly, we need to make sure that the foreign players are three levels better than local players available. While we are doing this, we cannot continue to depend on (the FST) - it needs to go hand in hand with youth development," he said.
Sasi pointed to the Philippines' example of recruiting foreign players with Philippine heritage, and TNP understands that it is also an option that Sundram is looking into.
Ranked 127th in the Fifa world order, the Philippines are Asean's top nation and boast players such as Martin Steuble, who was born and raised in Switzerland and played for Zurich FC, as well as Patrick Reichelt who played in Germany's Bundesliga.
"The level of the S.League players is not there and, to up the game (of the Lions), we need to bring in much better players, maybe like what the Philippines is doing," said Sasi.
"If we don't take things up a notch, we really shouldn't be wasting our time."