Football: S-league finds no joy in ASL move

Hassan Sunny is one local player who developed his skills by playing in the S-League. The goalkeeper has done well for the Thai Premier League side Army United. He was named in their team of the year for 2015.
Hassan Sunny is one local player who developed his skills by playing in the S-League. The goalkeeper has done well for the Thai Premier League side Army United. He was named in their team of the year for 2015.ST FILE PHOTO

Football fraternity not convinced S'pore will benefit from entering team in regional league

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) sees the Asean Super League (ASL) as the way to improve local football standards.

But members of the local football fraternity are not convinced that the regional inter-club league, set to kick off in 2017, is the answer.

With question marks surrounding the calibre of the other teams who will join the ASL, there are doubts about the viability of sending the nation's top players to compete in it.

Balestier Khalsa chairman S. Thavaneson said: "We need to look at the composition of the competition, which has not been determined yet. Is the ASL going to be a club competition or a national team competition?

YES, FOCUS ON THE ASL

By competing in the region, hopefully the players will get quality matches at a greater intensity.

JITA SINGH, former Singapore coach

"If we play against teams such as Harimau Muda (Malaysia's developmental team), then we might as well stick to playing in the S-League - it's the same. But if they put up their best players, then we've got to put up the best ones too."

Former Warriors coach Alex Weaver agreed, saying: "If other countries field Under-19 and U-20 teams, it defeats the purpose. Only if we get to play against the best teams in the region will it work."

NO, BUILD UP THE S-LEAGUE INSTEAD

We used to be a main league, but now it's just a feeder league.

INDRA SAHDAN DAUD, former Lions skipper

One drawback of having the nation's cream competing in the ASL is that it will further deplete the S-League's talent pool.

It will be the second talent exodus to hit the S-League. The LionsXII's formation in 2012 diverted the bulk of the country's best players from the S-League to the Malaysian league, thus also driving fans across the Causeway.

Former Lions skipper Indra Sahdan Daud, 36, lamented: "We used to be a main league, but now it's just a feeder league. It's disappointing and frustrating to see that happen."

The FAS sees the ASL as a stepping stone for local footballers to gain entry to a higher level of competition.

But Indra pointed out that it is not necessary for Singapore to look beyond its own shores to give budding players a leg up. The S-League can breed young talents too and serve as a springboard for them to land lucrative international stints.

For instance, Indra was invited by Major League Soccer (MLS) club Real Salt Lake for a two-week pre-season tour in 2008. Issey Nakajima Farran, Albirex Niigata's star striker in 2004 and 2005, moved on to play for several Danish clubs in Europe. Daniel Bennett signed for Welsh club Wrexham from 2002 to 2003, while Noh Alam Shah underwent trials at English side Notts County and Latvian League champions Skonto Riga in 2005.

More recently, 2014 S-League Player of the Year Hassan Sunny hit his stride playing for Thai Premier League side Army United. The goalkeeper was named in their team of the year for 2015.

Geylang International defender Hafiz Osman, 31, said: "We have seen these good players who have come through the S-League. So why do people feel that the S-League is not producing any talent?"

While the ASL provides opportunities to compete with teams from the region, S-League teams have similar prospects too by qualifying for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League - Asia's most prestigious club competition, and the second-tier AFC Cup.

Indra added: "The AFC tournaments are big, and I believe the standards are comparable or (will be) even better than the ASL.

"Look at what Johor Darul Takzim have done by winning the AFC Cup. We can be like that too, competing on the Asian stage. That's the way to progress."

Home United's chief executive Azrulnizam Shah Sohaimi said: "We should aspire to strengthen the S-League and aim for more places in the AFC Champions League or the AFC Cup."

However, former Singapore coach Jita Singh backs the FAS' move and feels that the ASL will benefit the national team.

He said: "By competing in the region, hopefully the players will get quality matches at a greater intensity."

Weighing up the pros and cons of the ASL, Tampines Rovers chairman Krishna Ramachandra felt that it is a "challenge and (an) opportunity at the same time".

He said: "You want to have a feeder system in which up-and-coming players know that the Holy Grail is the ASL. But the S-League is also a sound platform for them to show off (their) skills to push themselves (to) the next level."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2015, with the headline 'S-LEAGUE FINDS NO JOY IN ASL MOVE'. Print Edition | Subscribe