Sign the big-name players, Sasi urges S.League clubs
Sasikumar says they can afford it, and urges S.League clubs to sign big names
It started with a conversation about Izwan Mahbud, and eventually led to Jermaine Pennant penning a deal to join Singapore's star goalkeeper at Tampines Rovers.
That move has prompted others, including representatives of former Brazilian international Adriano, to enquire about the S.League.
R Sasikumar, managing director of sports marketing firm Red Card, played an integral role in bringing Pennant to the S.League.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, he revealed that the Pennant deal all started rather fortuitously as he looked to help find an overseas club for Izwan with a phone call to the former Liverpool winger's agent, Sky Andrew.
Even as local football struggles to move to the next level, Sasi believes other clubs can follow Tampines' example, and should.
"It's a chicken-and-egg question, isn't it? Will the sponsors come in first to help bring in star players, or will the star player have to come first so sponsors are keen?" Sasi wondered.
"Players are the main assets in football, they are why there are bums on seats, why fans spend money, and why sponsors come in.
"Which is why I don't understand why some clubs say that they won't spend money on players," said the former Singapore international defender.
The S.League in 2008 attracted an average of 226 paying fans, while the average sales figure for the first 10 games of the 2012 season was 201.
Average attendance was in excess of 1,000 last year, but no ticket sales figures were available.
Sasi believes that Pennant has already shown that he can breathe new life into the S.League, with fans flocking to a pre-season friendly to see the 33-year-old.
Working on the assumption that clubs pay up to $10,000 a month for their foreign players, Sasi asserts that instead of signing three such players, clubs can afford to bring in one big- name player.
"Would you sign three (unknown) players, or one, who can bring 2,000 people to a friendly game? Why not consolidate the resources," said Sasi who revealed that big names could sign for around $300,000 in annual wages.
"There's no reason other clubs cannot follow the Tampines example," insisted Sasi.
To compete against rival competitions in Thailand and Malaysia, who can afford bigger pay packages, Sasi says clubs here can sell the most marketable point about the S.League - Singapore.
"Singapore is already known as Monaco of the East, and the S.League is in a great position to capitalise on the lifestyle that the country can offer," he said.
"Most of these players don't need more zeroes in their bank balance.
"Here, they don't need to travel for away games and can spend more time with their families, and the lifestyle they can have is a big draw."
Sasi revealed that in addition to queries from former Inter forward Adriano's representatives, there is also the possibility of the likes of Jerome Thomas (32-year-old Crystal Palace winger) and Ricardo Fuller (36-year-old Oldham Athletic forward) starring in the S.League.
Of course, the players who do come must be able to shine.
"Pennant was Man-of-the-Match for Liverpool in the Champions League final in 2007.
"That may be a while ago, but he's not finished yet. It is of course important that he becomes a success both on and off the pitch, because that will open even more doors," Sasi said.
"Let's not forget that Jermaine is friends with some of the best players in the world, who are still following his career.
"We could probably attract more here, but is our system ready?"
"This was like pushing a snowball up a hill, it's hard, and people give up. But with Jermaine here, we've got it up the hill, and ready to roll it down the other side," he added.
"It will gather momentum for sure, hopefully that momentum is directed in a way that is good for Singapore football."
"His arrival will give the S.League a lift. Just look at the crowd. You don’t get this kind of crowd in pre-season. Hopefully, this (strong attendance) can last the whole season, and other clubs will follow Tampines’ example."
— Singapore national defender Baihakki Khaizan on Jermaine Pennant’s signing
Tampines' Pennant signing a one-off, say other agents
They have tried to lend stardust to the S.League by bringing in players with World Cup experience, but football agents have almost always failed to pull off a deal.
While the Jermaine Pennant move to Tampines Rovers, funded largely by sponsor dollars, has blazed a trail, agents The New Paper spoke to are not convinced that other clubs will bite.
"I still think that the majority of companies out there don't think they can get mileage for their brand in Singapore football," said the managing director of Offside Sports, Abdul Halim, who has in the past offered the likes of Brazilian Geovanni, and former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Pedro Mendes to S.League clubs.
"I doubt that other clubs will follow, with not many willing to finance such deals here.
"We're still behind countries like Malaysia and Thailand in terms of spending for the best players."
Bryan Lim, sporting director of Trebol Sports International, brokered a deal that saw former Hull City forward Craig Fagan join S.League side Brunei DPMM, before injury saw an early end to the player's stay with the club last year.
"Generally, these players are well-behaved, and when you show them the bigger picture and the role they can play in the S.League, they tend to be excited about the project," said Lim.
"But it's hard sometimes to balance the club's wishes and player demands."
Lim has two players who are willing to come to Singapore - former Deportivo La Coruna winger Cristian Hidalgo, 32, and Stiven Rivi, a 30-year-old midfielder formerly on the books of German side FC Kaiserslautern.
"We are more than happy to work with clubs and the Football Association of Singapore to explore such player options.
"The problem is that there is only one Tampines in the S.League who can afford their wage demands," said Lim.
He says a move for a player like Pennant may require S.League clubs to take a risk on one marquee player instead of three mid-range ones, as long as the player can grow the sponsorship pool and number of fans that attend matches.