Football: Asean player slot introduced by Thailand's domestic leagues attracts Singapore players

Lions defender Madhu Mohana shielding the ball from Thailand forward Teerasil Dangda during a Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup match last Tuesday. Singapore lost the group game 1-0 and eventually failed to make the semi-finals while fellow four-t
Lions defender Madhu Mohana shielding the ball from Thailand forward Teerasil Dangda during a Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup match last Tuesday. Singapore lost the group game 1-0 and eventually failed to make the semi-finals while fellow four-time champions Thailand are in the last four.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

S'pore footballers could be Thailand-bound following South-east Asian player quota

More Singaporean footballers could follow in the footsteps of former international John Wilkinson and current stalwart Hassan Sunny and play in Thailand's domestic leagues from next year.

Starting next season, Thai football authorities will introduce an Asean player slot for teams in the second-tier Thai Division 1 League, before implementing it in the top-flight Thai Premier League (TPL) in 2018.

This means each Thai Division 1 League club can have a maximum of three foreign players, one Asian player and one Asean player.

They will be allowed to field all five foreigners at the same time.

Clubs can still register up to five foreign players but only three from outside Asia may be on the pitch simultaneously.

Former Liverpool attacker Florent Sinama Pongolle, 32, headlines the foreign contingent in the Thai second-tier. He will turn out for Chainat Hornbill.

A FRESH CHALLENGE

They should step out of their comfort zone and try something different. It will be tough, the intensity of every game is high... but it will be a good experience.

HASSAN SUNNY, the Lions goalkeeper who spent two seasons with Thai outfit Army United, urging his national team-mates to consider plying their trade in Thailand.

Yesterday, Benjamin Tan, deputy chief executive officer of the Premier League of Thailand, said the move was driven in part by a desire to improve the level of football in South-east Asia.

Tan, former deputy director of development and planning at the Football Association of Singapore, said: "The idea is for them to compete with the best in the region and to increase their technical level. Furthermore, the crowds are good, games are broadcast live and Division 1 clubs have decent facilities.

"Of course there are commercial benefits for our clubs, especially if the new player has a high profile in his country. But overall this could help raise the standard of football in the region."

Indeed, Thailand have stolen a march on their regional rivals in the last few years. Its national team is in the semi-finals of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, facing Myanmar, and are the only South-east Asian country to reach the third round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

While the prospect of playing second-tier football might not appeal to some, Tan said players can see it as a chance to put themselves in the shop window, and possibly join a top-tier club in 2018.

National goalkeeper Hassan, who played two seasons in the TPL with Army United, encouraged his team-mates to grab any opportunity that comes along.

The 32-year-old goalkeeper left Army United this week but is considering several offers after a good stint in Thailand and a solid Suzuki Cup campaign, despite the Lions crashing out in the group stage.

He said: "They should step out of their comfort zone and try something different. It will be tough, the intensity of every game is high, sometimes comparable with Suzuki Cup matches but it will be a good experience."

It is believed several national players are actively seeking moves to Thailand as funding for local clubs for next year's S-League season had yet to be decided.

Lions defender Madhu Mohana, who has been released by Warriors FC, said he would certainly be interested if a Thai club came calling.

The 25-year-old said: "As you can see from the Suzuki Cup, the standard of Thai football has improved tremendously. If we play there it will only improve us and it's something I'll consider."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2016, with the headline 'Asean slot opens doors'. Print Edition | Subscribe