Hurdles aplenty for Singapore Premier League's disrupted season
Most coaches, players believe 2 rounds, instead of 3, would be optimal to avoid fixture pile-up if league resumes
Shorten the Singapore Premier League (SPL) season to avoid a fixture pile-up when the competition is allowed to resume.
That's the common refrain from players and coaches that The New Paper spoke to, in view of the hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The SPL kicked off on Feb 29, but has not seen action since March 20 due to tightening control measures because of the outbreak.
The circuit breaker period, which started on April 7, has been extended till June 1, but safe distancing measures are still expected to be in place for some time.
After such a hiatus, teams would need at least two to three weeks' training to be ready for competition.
Should the league be allowed to resume, a massive backlog of fixtures awaits the nine SPL clubs.
But even that number is not certain. Until travel restrictions are lifted, holders Brunei DPMM will not be able to defend their SPL title.
Clubs typically play three rounds in the SPL from February to September. This equates to 24 matches per team and 108 in total this term.
They also participate in the Singapore Cup, a knockout tournament, while two teams - Tampines Rovers and Hougang United - are still involved in the continental AFC Cup.
Hougang coach Clement Teo is among those who feel that the fixtures should be reduced from three rounds to two.
"To play three rounds is going to be impossible," Teo said.
"Two rounds would be just nice, 1.5 rounds could also be another solution, though that would be a very quick end (to the campaign) and would also be unfair to some clubs."
Geylang International coach Mohd Noor Ali echoed Teo's sentiments.
With 95 SPL fixtures to be completed, the former Singapore international feels it will be too many for clubs to handle over a short period.
He also emphasised the need to keep players fit and fresh for the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, which is scheduled from November to December.
"When you play three rounds over a short period, fatigue can set in and teams can be less competitive," Noor Ali said.
"More matches played could increase the likelihood of players suffering injuries as well. Also, we need to keep players fit and fresh for the Suzuki Cup."
Both Teo and Noor Ali believe the Singapore Cup should still continue.
Said Noor Ali: "It also doesn't take a toll on players if we start the tournament from the quarter-finals. Besides, it is also a very good opportunity for young players to impress."
Teo added: "Perhaps, if it helps (with reducing fixture pile-up), maybe the two teams playing in the AFC Cup may have to be excluded from the Singapore Cup."
While Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic shared similar views with them on the Singapore Cup, he believes the full league season can be completed in a compressed period.
DOING THE MATHS
Kraljevic said: "We have played four games already, so we have 20 matches left. So, taking into account the international dates in September, if we played two games a week, we could play 16 matches in two months.
"The remaining four games can be completed in two weeks or so, with the Singapore Cup held in October, so there is no need to trim the fixture list."
Players such as Hougang striker Stipe Plazibat and Tampines defender Daniel Bennett, however, feel that playing twice a week continuously will take a toll on teams.
"Maybe it would be good if FAS decides to cut it to two rounds for a number of reasons. Though, at the end of the day, everything depends on which date competitions will resume," said Plazibat.
"Firstly, that way, there would still be enough time to play (in the) Singapore Cup.
"Secondly, playing two matches a week every week wouldn't be good, as players are not robots and we need time to recover.
"Also, SPL teams don't have big squads to rotate players constantly, especially in this kind of weather, which is important in preventing injuries.
"Lastly, too many games over a shorter duration will have an impact on the quality of the pitch."
Bennett added: "I don't think playing two games a week is possible. Not for a prolonged period. The best would likely be to play two rounds and still play the Singapore Cup.
"But, at the end, it doesn't really matter what we think. We have people in the FAS who know best."
In response to TNP's queries, FAS president Lim Kia Tong said: "The fluidity and constantly evolving Covid-19 pandemic situation makes it very challenging to make any concrete or even scenario-based plans for both the league and cup competitions...
"The FAS will strive, within our fullest ability, to ensure that the SPL has the continued participation of all nine teams, including Brunei DPMM, should the season be allowed to resume."