Stags face psychological battle ahead of Cup final
Tampines' players struggling to stay upbeat ahead of Cup final
GARENA YOUNG LIONS 1
(Ryan Syaffiq 57)
TAMPINES ROVERS 3
(Billy Mehmet 54, Yasir Hanapi 61, Jordan Webb 76)
For a while, it looked like Tampines Rovers were in danger of collapse in their Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League clash with the Garena Young Lions last night.
And it would come as no surprise, after The New Paper broke the news that a massive budget cut would force the players to settle for much smaller salaries next season, or they could leave the club.
Twenty-four hours after seeing their title hopes disappear as Albirex Niigata clinched the title, the Stags looked placid, especially in the first 45 minutes at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
After they finally found the net through Billy Mehmet in the 54th minute, they slipped up at the back to allow Ryan Syaffiq to level proceedings three minutes later.
But, with Mehmet leading the line with distinction, they scored two goals in 15 minutes to kill off the game and put some semblance of a smile on Tampines faces.
"It is a psychological battle till the RHB Singapore Cup final (against Albirex Niigata on Oct 29)," said Stags' coach Akbar Nawas, who walked into the post-match press conference with a smile.
"I had to psyche myself up to give the pep talk to boost the players (before the game). To be playing in conditions like these is not easy, we're going to be thinking about what's going to happen in the future, and I'm definitely pleased with this result and performance," he added, without directly addressing the issue of pay cuts and a possible clear-out of the playing roster.
"Tonight's result is small solace, at least we're going home with a smile on our faces, but I'm sure we'll be thinking about (the future) when we go to sleep."
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one player took heart that he has at least time to react to the situation.
"At least the management told us early about the situation for next year, so we don't have to scramble to look for clubs at the end of the season," he said.
But reality - and gloom - has already set in the camp.
Some players revealed that calls have already been made to prospective employers.
Consequently, the mood in the dressing room is hardly upbeat.
"I feel sorry for the national players, it's like a sale now, and this (situation) is giving other clubs the opportunity to force lower salaries on them," said another player.
"How are we going to prepare for a cup final like this?
"Players are calling clubs and offering themselves.
"We got to the AFC Cup quarter-finals, maybe second in the league and will play in the cup final, we've done our jobs, but the management have failed us."
Stags' skipper Mustafic Fahrudin was gutted over recent developments, but he was proud at how his teammates rallied to win last night.
"I can't hide it, I'm really upset. But, considering the situation, the boys have done really well, we've shown that we are professionals who can go out there and do a job no matter what is happening outside the pitch," said the Singapore international.
Last night was Patrick Hesse's final league fixture with the Young Lions, and they left Jalan Besar with the ignominy of being the first team to be fined $50,000 for finishing the season last and failing to secure at least 20 per cent of the total points on offer this year.
Their tally of nine points fell six short of the 15 required, but the Frenchman insisted that it has been an important learning experience for future national players.
"I've never heard of such a rule in other countries, but okay, we will pay the $50,000," he scoffed.
"We may have finished last, but the important part is that these young players (majority are aged between 17 and 21) get experience in the S.League…
"And, in a few years, people will forget this (tally of) nine points and $50,000, but there will be five, six, seven players from here in the national team. And you will be proud of them."
- TNP Man of the Match: Billy Mehmet (Tampines Rovers)