Pay-cut shock for Tampines players
Tampines Rovers players told to accept pay cuts if they want to stay with club next season
Boasting a squad littered with national players, Tampines Rovers became the first S.League club in eight years to reach the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup.
There, they fell to Indian side Bengaluru, but the Stags still have silverware to play for in the RHB Singapore Cup final on Oct 29, even if their hopes of a sixth S.League title will end should rivals Albirex Niigata beat Hougang United tonight.
So it came as a shock to some of the Tampines players when they were informed before a training session yesterday that the club's wage budget would be significantly reduced for next season.
Players, who spoke to The New Paper on condition of anonymity, revealed that they were informed by team manager Desmund Khusnin that the club planned to keep only players who were willing to accept a monthly salary of up to $2,500.
National players in the S.League earn between $4,000 and $10,000, and there are 14 players in the Tampines squad who have been capped by Singapore.
Seven were in national coach V Sundramoorthy's recent squad that played Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Most of the Tampines squad are on a one-year contract that expires at the end of the year, while goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, defender Shakir Hamzah and midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman are understood to be on two-year deals.
As for head coach Akbar Nawas, TNP understands club management have been in discussions about the make-up of next year's squad, but the coaching staff have also been told they will have to accept a pay cut if they want to stay.
The club's new direction means their biggest signing - former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant, who reportedly earns $20,000 a month - will likely leave at the end of his contract.
When contacted, Tampines chairman Krishna Ramachandra told TNP the club needed to let their players know "where we stand".
"Nothing definite has been formalised, but the players need to plan ahead for next year," he said.
"And given that we have no clear picture for next year's budget, we needed to indicate to the players where we stand presently. Simple as that.
"We want to offer all the players a renewal, but how much they will get is the question."
Tampines chairman Krishna Ramachandra. TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG
Krishna took over the reins of Tampines from long-time chairman Teo Hock Seng, who had led the club for 15 years, in November last year.
The 45-year-old lawyer added that, from next season, he wants Tampines to be run in a "sustainable" way in the long term.
He said: "To be clear, the coaches and players have contributed greatly to a successful season of football and we have showed what a good Singapore club team can do on the AFC stage.
"Unfortunately, everything is driven by an available budget and our club philosophy and principles.
"We will not rely on jackpot operations.
"We will build on ground-up wholesome, genuine CSR (corporate social responsibility) projects. This will take time.
"We need to be conservative and build the club on sound principles that will be sustainable longer term.
"If everyone needs to take a pay cut, then so be it. But we should not compromise on our club and community philosophy."
The club's players, however, were still shell-shocked at receiving the news.
"For this to happen at a big club like Tampines Rovers, I'm very disappointed," said one player, who declined to be named.
"We should hear something like this from the chairman himself.
"He should speak to us and tell us the reasons for all the things the club are planning to do."
Another added: "It's not like we had a bad season. But, instead of building on what we've done this season, we are going the other way. It's really sad."
UPS AND DOWNS
Since Krishna was appointed the Stags' chairman, the club have gone through ups and downs in a topsy-turvy season.
Krishna was lauded for signing former England Under-21 man Pennant and injecting renewed interest in the flagging S.League, and appointing former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier as an international ambassador.
In April, he launched a football awards ceremony called the Pentagon Awards, which helped raise $100,000 for Beyond Social Services, an organisation that works with disadvantaged youth.
But reports of "cash-flow" problems started emerging later that month, partly down to the club's decision to stop running jackpot machines at their clubhouse, before a cash injection of $850,000 from newly secured sponsors helped solve financial woes.
On the pitch, the club reached the AFC Cup quarter-finals for the first time since SAFFC (now renamed Warriors FC) and Home United reached the stage in 2008.
– Additional reporting by SHAMIR OSMAN