Singapore's Suzuki Cup rivals get foreign talent boost
Rivals borrow S'pore's FTS, even as an all-local Lions will play at the Suzuki Cup
For years, it was the stick regional rivals used to beat the Lions with.
Singapore's neighbours have often considered naturalised players as the asterisk to the Lions' successes, especially their last three Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup triumphs.
In 2011, then-Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal said naturalised players gave Singapore an "advantage", prompting Singapore's Raddy Avramovic to reply: "If Rajagobal thinks we are breaking the law, then he is talking rubbish."
But, for only the second time since 2002, the Lions will enter the Nov 8-Dec 15 Suzuki Cup without any foreign-born players.
The last time that happened, in 2014, Bernd Stange failed to take his all-local team past the group stage.
While the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said in September that it planned on resurrecting the Foreign Talent Scheme (FTS), it has not naturalised a foreign-born player since Qiu Li in 2010.
Since then, the tables have turned in the region. The Lions' main Suzuki Cup Group B rivals - Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines - have all included naturalised players recently.
Looking ahead to the Suzuki Cup, winger Gabriel Quak said recently: "This is a crucial year for us to step up and show what a team made up of all locals can do.
"What we lack in foreign players, we make up for in tactical discipline."
While naturalised players are now commonplace in South-east Asian teams, there seems to have been a shift in the type of players regional FAs have been wooing.
While Singapore's foreign talents had no connection to the Republic before playing here and eventually fulfilling the residency requirements for naturalisation, regional teams have largely focused on foreign-born players with local ancestry.
The Philippines are the best example. Their current training squad include players born in England (Phil and James Younghusband), Denmark (Michael Falkesgaard), Austria (Stephan Palla), Spain (Alvaro Silva), Germany (Manny Ott), Holland (Paul Mulders), Australia (Iain Ramsay) and Italy (Dennis Villanueva).
Thailand may not have called up their foreign-based quartet of Kawin Thamsatchanan (OH Leuven, Belgium), Chanathip Songkrasin (Consadole Sapporo, Japan), Teerasil Dangda (Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Japan) and Theerathon Bunmathan (Vissel Kobe), but they could have a distinct foreign flavour in their Suzuki Cup defence.
Milovan Rajevac's squad includes the German-born pair of Philip Roller and Manuel Bihr, ex-Wales U-17 player Mika Chunuonsee, Italian-born Marco Ballini and ex-Swedish youth international Kevin Deeromram.
Indonesia, meanwhile, have just two foreign-born players in former Dutch youth international midfielder Stefano Lilipaly and striker Beto Goncalves, who has no Indonesian heritage but played for local clubs in the past decade.