Football: S-League's exodus of veterans

Ridhuan Muhammad at his friend's barber shop Deep Cuts, where he likes to hang out. The former national player, who has been released by Tampines Rovers, enjoys barbering as a hobby. He has now enrolled in a part-time advanced course in petrochemical
Ridhuan Muhammad at his friend's barber shop Deep Cuts, where he likes to hang out. The former national player, who has been released by Tampines Rovers, enjoys barbering as a hobby. He has now enrolled in a part-time advanced course in petrochemical technology after retiring from football.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

They cite influx of LionsXII, emphasis on youth, one-year deals as reasons

The influx of former LionsXII players into the S-League for the new football season has created a tight job market in Singapore's domestic league.

And while Fandi Ahmad's men have all been assured of contracts and secured a spot at some of the seven local clubs, some players, including experienced ex-internationals, have been squeezed out.

Ridhuan Muhammad is a prime example. At 31, the ex-Tampines Rovers winger has decided to retire from the game and forge a new career in the oil and gas industry.

"I still can compete with the youngsters and match them in skills and speed," he told The Straits Times. "It's sad when you know you still can contribute something to Singapore football, but due to young talents coming back, some of the players from my batch have to give way."

"The people managing Singapore football have got to think about giving the players a life after football," he added.

"Now I feel that we are less appreciated as senior players. We have always talked about S-League players having salary caps, but the LionsXII players come back and there was no talk about salary caps.

"It's like there are more privileges for them. (They need to) treat every player the same too. Even (ex-Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine) Pennant has to go for trials. But LionsXII are granted a spot with the clubs."

UNEQUAL TREATMENT

(They need to) treat every player the same too. Even (Jermaine) Pennant has to go for trials. But LionsXII are granted a spot with the clubs.

RIDHUAN MUHAMMAD, on being forced out of S-League clubs because they have to take in LionsXII players.

INCORRECT APPROACH

To wipe out this generation of players is wrong. You still need someone with experience in the team. The young players need someone to look up to.

SHAHRIL JANTAN, who is now an assistant project manager at sports marketing firm Red Card Global.

The affable player has enrolled in a part-time advanced course in petrochemical technology at the NTUC Learning Hub. Lessons are thrice weekly.

In his free time, he hangs out at Deep Cuts, a barber shop in Kampong Bahru, as hairstyling has been his hobby since Primary 6 and he had previously volunteered to cut the hair of his former team-mates.

Other ex-internationals hanging up their boots, or gloves, at the end of last season due to the uncertain job market include goalkeeper Shahril Jantan and strikers Masrezwan Masturi and Noh Alam Shah, who is now in the car rental business.

Although Masrezwan, 34, is glad that he had found work as a crane operator at SembCorp Marine before quitting football, he calls it a "pity" that some veterans are finding it hard to look for a club.

He suggested: "They should have given like three months' notice and not be told last minute (to look for a new club).

"These players then have to scramble to look for other jobs."

Former national Under-23 player Syed Thaha is studying for a Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) certificate in process technology (chemical production).

He retired from football to ease the pressure of having to scramble from contract to contract. S-League clubs seldom offer more than a year-long deal, with some players claiming they are given 11-month contracts to avoid being paid the 13-month bonus.

The former Balestier Khalsa left-back said: "I love playing football. What made me stop is because they (the clubs) don't secure them (players).

"At the end of the year, players will always feel anxious and be worried about their jobs."

With the Football Association of Singapore confirming that the LionsXII will be reassembled in 2017 to compete in the Asean Super League (ASL) and that the S-League would act as a feeder competition, Masrezwan fears the worst for the 20-year-old competition.

He said: "I'm grateful to have played in the S-League for the past 17 years. If the (LionsXII) players are pulled out for the ASL, then we are left with a small bunch of players. A number of experienced pros had already retired this year. We will be left with a small bunch of players in 2017. How can we bring up the standard of the S-League like this?"

Shahril, 35, is now an assistant project manager at sports marketing firm Red Card Global. He feels that even if he is wanted by the S-League after the ASL starts, he will decline the offer.

"It doesn't make sense for me to come back. It's like having to start all over again. And at that age, it's not easy to get a job. After not playing for a season, it's not easy to come back," he said. "The way forward is never to entirely let go of the seniors. Even at 32-33, they can still play. To wipe out this generation of players is wrong. You still need someone with experience in the team. The young players need someone to look up to."

Ridhuan agreed that the experienced pros are a necessity to keep the S-League going, saying: "They get all the young ones to come and play the S-League. Right now, it feels like anybody can play. In the past, you had to prove yourself.

"As much as we feel saddened, we want to see the S-League progress. Hopefully with these LionsXII players coming back, it will be better.

"If not, it'll be sadder for us. We give way for young players, so we expect the standards to improve."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'S-League's exodus of veterans'. Print Edition | Subscribe