French goalie Bertrand signs for Young Lions
23-year-old Bertrand understood to be highest-paid player in squad
They stunned local football last week with a 1-0 win over Balestier Khalsa in the opening round of Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
Garena Young Lions, a team of mostly local players under the age of 21, some of whom had never played a minute of pro football, were widely tipped to struggle in the S.League this season.
Now, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) have pulled off another surprise: signing a French goalkeeper for the developmental side.
Responding to The New Paper's queries, FAS head of national youth teams Richard Tardy yesterday confirmed they have drafted in Benjamin Bertrand, a 23-year-old shot-stopper.
Zharfan Rohaizad, who turns 19 on Sunday, kept goal for the Young Lions against Balestier, and the other two goalkeepers in the squad are 21-year-old Shahul Rayyan, who played six S.League games for Warriors FC last season, and 17-year-old Kenji Rusydi.
Said Tardy: "Since before pre-season started, our technical department has been trying to find a quality goalkeeper, midfielder and a striker to help guide the Garena Young Lions, who are the youngest local side in S.League history.
"While we are pleased to secure (30-year-old national striker) Khairul Amri and (28-year-old national midfielder) Firdaus Kasman, we were still on the lookout for a goalkeeper and another striker to help lead the team on and off the field.
"We have full confidence in our existing young goalkeepers, but as their only previous competitive experience was in the (reserve) Prime League and the (youth) leagues, it would be more ideal for their development to learn from, and compete with, someone more experienced for a starting spot.
"While our attacking players and midfielders are guided by Amri and Firdaus, we do not have the same luxury for the goalkeeping position, which is a position where mistakes are more glaring than other positions.
"Therefore, we are bringing in former FC Tours goalkeeper Benjamin Bertrand, who (turns) 24 this year and has played for the senior team in the French Ligue 2, to offer experience and stability in defence.
"He can also help guide our young goalkeepers during training."
TNP understands Bertrand's contract is only for six months, and according to sources, he is the highest paid player in the Young Lions squad, earning a five-figure monthly salary.
But the move to sign the 1.83m-tall Bertrand does raise questions as it will likely mean Zharfan, Shahul and Kenji will have less game time.
But Tardy said: "One of the main objectives of this team is to prepare our young players for the 2017 SEA Games.
"Therefore, we will also continue to look at ways to give our goalkeepers playing opportunities, including international friendly matches, which we will announce in due course."
Former Tampines Rovers and national youth team coach Salim Moin is not convinced.
"What is the purpose of paying big bucks for this French goalkeeper, and just for six months," asked the 54-year-old former national midfielder.
"The way I look at it, you are just preparing this guy to be ready to sign for a club (in Europe) when his contract here is up.
"With him in the team, the local goalkeepers will not get exposure."
Another coach, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "Young goalkeepers only get better by playing games and gaining more match experience.
"Our local boys won't get that with (Bertrand) in the team.
"Even if the FAS says he is on the Foreign Talent Scheme, he will be almost 29 by the time he is eligible to play for the national team.
"So I don't see the point in signing him."