LionsXII: A brotherhood broken
LionsXII to split, players to join S.League clubs next year
Izwan Mahbud may be miles away battling the Japanese winter but, even as he embarks on an adventure to convince coaches at Matsumoto Yamaga to make him the first Singaporean to ply his trade in Japan, he is saddened by news that the LionsXII will cease to exist.
The 25-year-old goalkeeper found out yesterday that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has decided to disperse LionsXII players to S.League clubs ahead of the 2016 season.
"It's impossible not to feel sad about the news when we have been a band of brothers for four years. But football is full of gatherings and partings and we must move on," said the LionsXII captain. "I hope that wherever the LionsXII players end up, we will all go on to have successful careers and remember the good times we had together."
The FAS announced the decision in a statement last night, coming 10 days after the Football Association of Malaysia's unilateral announcement on Nov 24, that it will not renew the Memorandum of Understanding that saw the Singaporean side enter Malaysian domestic football in 2012.
The LionsXII were conceived as a development team then, but with Fifa regulations stating that one organisation cannot run two teams in the same competition - the FAS also run the Courts Young Lions in the S.League - the FAS could not keep Fandi Ahmad's team together.
But the FAS will still have one development team in the league, made up of players under the age of 21, with the addition of between three and five senior players from the LionsXII.
The New Paper understands that the aim is to reunite the LionsXII squad for the Asean Super League (ASL) when the projected regional league takes shape in 2017.
The FAS had earlier promised that it would keep LionsXII players on their current salaries - understood to be higher than the S.League average of $3,000 - and TNP understands that the promise will be fulfilled through a hybrid of an open market system, and a draft system.
S.League clubs will be allowed to speak with players and strike a deal, with players who are not able to agree to favourable terms then put into a draft system, with the FAS possibly subsidising clubs to match player salaries.
In a statement sent last night, the FAS said it will discuss with clubs "on the best approach to the release of these players and a decision on the arrangement is expected to be finalised next week".
"I'm going to miss everyone in the team, but I guess someday we were just going to have to move on," said utility man Hafiz Abu Sujad.
The news hit midfielder Christopher van Huizen hard.
"I've woken up some mornings feeling that the team are really gone, and all that's left are pictures and YouTube videos. But the reality now is that the team are really gone, my dream is gone," he told TNP.
"The guys are like my brothers, who've motivated me, pushed me to a point where I got out of my shell to their level, a point where things are going really fine for me," he added.
The 23-year-old clarified that his disappointment does not come from returning to the S.League where he started to develop his game, but the break-up of a tight-knit brotherhood that has been critical in helping him boost his career.
While some players are understood to be courted by Malaysian clubs, others like van Huizen who are just starting to make a name for themselves will return to the S.League. And they are waiting for more details to come from the FAS.
"I have about one month left of my contract to run, and I have to respect that," said defender Madhu Mohana who, like van Huizen, was saddened by the news.
"I would've preferred it if the team could stay together to play in the S.League, but I just have to wait to find out exactly what the outcome is."
Balestier Khalsa chairman S Thavaneson told TNP that S.League clubs are unanimously pleased with the outcome.
"The wait (for the decision) has been trying for everybody, from players to coaches and clubs, but this was an exceptional situation," he said.
"But I think that at the end of the day we - the clubs, the FAS and the S.League - have shown the Singapore spirit, in finding a solution."
"We have extensively discussed the options available to us, and while it is not an easy decision, we have decided the best way forward would be to integrate our Lions XII players into the various S.league clubs, while retaining a few senior players to lead and guide our young team in the S.league next season."
— FAS general secretary Winston Lee
"Many of us were together in the young Lions even before we joined the LionsXII, and we’re like family. i’ve got some good memories, but i just hope that fans don’t give up on us or the S.league."
— LionsXII forward Khairul Nizam