ASL worry for S-League

Local clubs yet to hear from FAS; players and coaches need time to prepare for next season

With the Asean Super League (ASL) set to start in August 2016, Singapore's S-League clubs are concerned over what the future holds.

For most of the local clubs, the main worry is that they have yet to hear from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) of its plans to lead the local league into its 21st season next year.

Geylang International coach Jorg Steinebrunner feels the FAS - whose president Zainudin Nordin heads an Asean Football Federation committee working on the format of the upcoming ASL - should come out to calm the worries of the S-League fraternity.

Each of the 12 AFF member nations are expected to have at least one team in the ASL.

"If they are going to launch an ASL, then at least let us know early," said the German.

SCORING AN OWN GOAL

Now with the ASL, we are again pushing fans away to another competition. It is bad for the S-League. We cannot be neglecting our own league.

JORG STEINEBRUNNER, coach of Geylang International

"At this time, most clubs are already planning for the next season, in terms of assessing areas of improvement and players to sign.

"Even if it's not so good news for the S-League, at least give the players and coaches some time to plan and prepare for what is next."

Chief executive of Home United, Azrulnizam Shah, said: "As important stakeholders, it would be better if there is some form of communication to let clubs know of the situation. So far, all we know is information from the media."

Steinebrunner, who formerly played for Gombak United and Woodlands Wellington and witnessed healthy crowds in the late 1990s, is also concerned that the S-League's attendance - 1,000 on average - could take a hit when the ASL starts.

"Now with the ASL, we are again pushing fans away to another competition. It is bad for the S-League. We cannot be neglecting our own league," he lamented.

Singapore's LionsXII, who play in the Malaysian Super League, enjoy good support at home games in Jalan Besar Stadium.

Geylang centre-back Hafiz Osman, 31, said: "For us players, we are not sure what is going to happen to the league.

"The S-League players are concerned and we wonder if we have to expect surprises just like last year."

Last November, he was part of a Tanjong Pagar United side who were informed that the team would sit out the current season.

A controversial decision was also made to merge Woodlands Wellington with Hougang United.

The news came as a shock to the players of the affected clubs who were left with limited time to secure a contract with a new club.

It did not help that the S-League introduced, and subsequently rescinded, a controversial age cap on the number of players above 30 who could be signed.

While Hafiz was offered a contract by Geylang, others were not as fortunate and had to scramble for alternative employment.

"I hope it does not happen again. First of all, it was shocking and disappointing and I hope there is no repeat," he said.

The Straits Times reported yesterday that Kuala Lumpur academy Frenz United are in talks to send an Under-18 team to play in the ASL.

Thai sources added that Bangkok-based team Port FC, who finished 13th in last year's Thai Premier League, will be the kingdom's representatives.

Tampines Rovers striker Indra Sahdan, 36, who has played in the S-League since its debut season in 1996, is perplexed and saddened.

"If the ASL is a very strong league with top teams, I can perhaps understand. But if it's true that these teams will compete, then what is the benefit for Singapore football?

"It is very sad to see the S-League not being prioritised. We should be concentrating on our own league."

The ASL has also divided some fans. Stanley Wong, 40, a businessman, said: "It (the ASL) is a substandard league. If we send our best talen, it will be a waste of time.

"After all, what can you learn from playing the teams that are reportedly joining the ASL? For sure, an ASL would kill the S-League."

But student Farhan Afiq, 22, said: "Football fans are always looking for something new.... when the LionsXII were created, there was a buzz and an ASL is pitting Singapore teams against regional teams so I think there will be greater excitement."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2015, with the headline 'ASL WORRY FOR S-LEAGUE'. Print Edition | Subscribe