Football: S-League to bring in more big stars?

Tampines Rovers' signing of former English Premier League player Jermaine Pennant has generated an unprecedented buzz in the S-League. Numbers have also shown that interest in the league has spiked, notably through the increase in its Facebook likes
Tampines Rovers' signing of former English Premier League player Jermaine Pennant has generated an unprecedented buzz in the S-League. Numbers have also shown that interest in the league has spiked, notably through the increase in its Facebook likes and a higher average match attendance. TNP FILE PHOTO

Marquee Player Scheme could be reinstated, but huge cost may deter clubs from signings

Tampines Rovers' signing of former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant has generated an unprecedented buzz in the S-League - and it seems other clubs could be set for similar high-profile signings.

The Straits Times understands that league officials are considering bringing back the Marquee Player Scheme, which ran from 2012 to 2014, for the mid-season transfer window. Clubs were informed of this over the past couple of weeks.

The second transfer window is open from May 16 to June 10.

A league spokesman said yesterday: "S-League may consider proposals from clubs who are interested in signing a marquee player."

Under the scheme, 30 per cent of a foreign star's salary - a component which is not included in the salary cap - is subsidised by the league. Players under this scheme were believed to earn upwards of $15,000 a month.

As was the case before, a panel will assess any potential signing's credentials and other factors, including the ability to attract fans.

Previous signings under this scheme include Goran Ljubojevic of Balestier Khalsa and former Japan international midfielder Kazuyuki Toda who joined Warriors FC.

Former Brazilian striker Adriano and Arsenal player Jerome Thomas were believed to have enquired about the possibility of playing in the S-League following his arrival.

It is believed the scheme will be similar to the earlier one but with added emphasis on the player's playing history.

After all, apart from his talents on the pitch, Pennant's appeal stems from his association with two well-supported English Premier League teams.

The numbers show that interest in the S-League has spiked since the start of the year. According to data from the league, its Facebook likes have increased 19 per cent since Jan 1, compared to a 21 per cent spike for the whole of last year.

Average match attendance has also increased by 57 per cent. Crowd figures as of April 16 were 2,048, up from 1,302 last season.

Part of this is due to the return of the nation's top players from the disbanded LionsXII, which has made the league more competitive.

But it is clear the Pennant factor has played a role, with the foreign media also tracking his progress in the Republic. In February, he was featured by British newspaper The Times in an extensive interview.

Some clubs, however, are concerned about a potential financial burden midway through the season, as they will have to foot much of a marquee player's wages.

These worries will not be helped by Tampines' current cash-flow problems.

Some are also unsure about whether a new signing will be able to acclimatise in time, with the S-League ending in October.

Regardless, former national defender R. Sasikumar, who was involved with Tampines' signing of Pennant, said the benefits of a star signing are clear.

He stressed the importance of getting someone with the right profile, which should be as important as - if not more than - playing ability.

"Any new signing has to be a household name, someone who has played for the top four or five teams in the big European leagues," added Sasikumar, managing director of sports marketing agency Red Card Group. "Talent is important but Singapore football is dying for heroes. These are the names that will get people excited. Of course if you get both, like Pennant, it's great."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'S-League to get more big stars?'. Print Edition | Subscribe