Tampines' Asian ambitions hindered by S.League's new rules
Teams can field up to four imports in AFC competitions, but S.League clubs can sign only two
S.League giants Tampines Rovers can't help but feel handicapped ahead of their AFC Champions League first preliminary round match against Indonesia's Bali United on Tuesday.
The S.League's new youth-centric policies, while well-intended, could end up inhibiting their Asian ambitions.
As part of the new rules, the six senior local S.League clubs are required to have at least six Under-23 players in their S.League squad.
Of these six - or more, depending on the size of the squad - three must be in the starting line-up.
The number of foreigners has also been capped at two, which puts Tampines at a clear disadvantage as clubs competing in AFC competitions can field up to four imports - three non-Asians and one Asian.
Tampines' bemedalled skipper Fahrudin Mustafic feels that the new rules will hinder them in their mission to do Singapore proud on the continent.
The 36-year-old told The New Paper yesterday: "We have one fewer foreign player in the team now.
"When the rest of the countries in Asia have the rule of four foreigners, we have only two.
"That's already a disadvantage to us at such a high level of football, where it is much more difficult than the S.League."
They should play because they have the quality, and not because they are young. That's not right. Tampines Rovers coach Juergen Raab, on the S.League’s rule changes that stipulate clubs must start with three Under-23 players in every match
The ruling that clubs must have three U-23 players in their S.League starting line-ups - and each of them can be replaced only by another U-23 player - was meant to rejuvenate the ailing S.League.
But Stags' veteran defender Daniel Bennett feels that having to inject youngsters may compromise the squad's quality.
The 40-year-old told The New Paper: "There's quite a lot of expectation at this club and these young players have got to step up and then they'll get their chance.
"Obviously, the quality of the team has been reduced but that's what it is, and these young players have to know that when they are good enough, they'll play.
"But I think from the friendly matches, everyone is capable of playing."
While Tampines coach Juergen Raab supports the idea of youth development, he feels that players should earn their place in the team on merit, and not because of their age.
Raab said: "I'm not too happy that they made a regulation that young players must play. They should play because they have the quality, and not because they are young. That's not right.
"So since the start, I've been telling my young players that they have to prove to me that they want a place in the team."
However, Raab is not ruling out the possibility that his young guns may get a start with the team.
He believes that some of his U-23 players have proven themselves in training and their two friendly matches - last Saturday's 2-1 victory over Johor Darul Ta'zim II and yesterday's 2-0 win over Geylang International.
He said: "I usually give them playing time, especially in friendly matches, and they must show me that they fought for a place in the line-up.
"I must say that I'm very happy with how these young players have fared in the last three weeks... so I think they're on the right track."
He added: "For the AFC (competition), I will use the players whom I think are best and ready for this first match and I cannot say that it's only for experienced players.
"Players like Amirul (Adli) and Zulfadhmi (Suzliman) have convinced me in matches, so I think I will play them. It's a question of whether they want to show their quality or not."
Fahrudin also believes that the Young Lions should be disbanded so that the best youngsters can be distributed among the clubs.
He said: "I know they (FAS) are trying to change local football but maybe we should disband the Young Lions, and then (clubs can) choose them because they are probably the best young ones in Singapore.
"But since they decided to stick with the Young Lions, then the young players need to train hard and prove themselves." - ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KIMBERLY KWEK