Plan to align regional football calendars
Hariss Harun has turned out three times for his club Johor Darul Ta'zim in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) this year and already played in an FA Cup fixture.
His Singapore national team counterpart Shaiful Esah, meanwhile, only just kicked off his Great Eastern Yeo's S.League campaign last night as Tampines Rovers edged Albirex Niigata 1-0.
As leagues either side of the Causeway are only just getting into gear, further north, in Vietnam, the V-League 1 is already nearing the one-third mark of a 26-game season.
Come next year, staggered kick-off dates for leagues across South-east Asia could well be a thing of the past.
Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin, who is heading the committee working on the blueprint for the Asean Super League (ASL), revealed that a plan is being worked out to align schedules for all domestic leagues in the region.
This move is to create a calendar that will not only accommodate the proposed ASL, which is pencilled in for kick-off next year, but also to ensure that domestic leagues across the region can continue to flourish.
"It is an ideal scenario if league calendars across the region are aligned - we need to do this," Zainudin told The New Paper.
"We want to assure all Asean Member Associations (MAs) that we want to create a win-win situation with the least amount of conflicts.
"We're trying to find ways so that local leagues don't get affected."
The ASL was originally scheduled to kick off this year, but the Asean Football Federation (AFF) is still waiting on ratification from world governing body Fifa, which Zainudin believes will come by mid-year.
If Fifa gives the green light, then ASL will be part of a packed football schedule that will also see domestic leagues break for two Asian Football Confederation (AFC) tournaments - mirroring the Uefa Champions League and the Europa League - next year.
Even as Asean awaits the decision that could change the face of football in the region, B Sathianathan, coach of MSL side ATM FA, told TNP that the move to align league schedules is something he is looking forward to.
"Having a coordinated schedule for all countries in the region is a very much welcome," said the former Malaysia national coach, pointing to club sides being able to easily set up high-level training tours against regional opposition.
"And it's not just that. Foreign players who play in this region tend to jump across leagues because they know when transfer windows are and they try to get out of one club, say in Vietnam, to go play in Thailand or Malaysia.
"If our schedules are aligned, they would stay and commit to one club."
Sathia also believes it will benefit the national teams.
National players of one country plying their trade in another - the likes of Singaporeans Hariss and Hassan Sunny (Army United, Thailand) will have fewer problems turning out for their national sides.
Sathia also backs the idea of the ASL because he believes it will see the best players in the region playing consistently at a high level, giving youngsters something they can aspire to.
Zainudin is expectant.
He believes the Fifa meeting, expected to take place in May, will be the final hurdle.
"There is no request for us to make a presentation there, but I'm confident that the recommendation will be a strong one."
"Everyone worries that we will cannibalise the local leagues - it's a valid concern, but I thought we answered (Fifa's) questions," said Zainudin.
"The (Asean) MAs are very supportive, the AFF is united, the AFC has shown endorsement and support, now this (Fifa's discussion) is the last one.
"In my view, we are on track."
REGIONAL LEAGUES’ KICK-OFF DATES
- Jan 4 — V-League (Vietnam)
- Feb 13 — Thai Premier League
- Feb 14 — Malaysian Super League
- March 1 — S.League
- April 4 — Indonesian Super League (postponed from Feb 23)