News analysis

Leagues must form cornerstone of FAS' plans

SINGAPORE - The video of the "footbrawl" between National Football League (NFL) sides Safsa and Yishun Sentek Mariners lasted no longer than three minutes, but it will take far longer to repair Singapore football.

It is too convenient to jump on the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and criticise them for a second major NFL free-for-all in 14 months. After all, individual clubs should be responsible for the behaviour of their officials and players.

Sceptics will also be quick to support suggestions of a funding reduction by Sport Singapore to the FAS, but that could be the final blow to local football which is already on its knees.

The one positive the fight has done is to retrain the FAS' focus on the state of the NFL.

FAS president Lim Kia Tong has taken it upon himself to oversee the NFL, and his team should be credited for bringing on board a sponsor in Ajinomoto (S) Pte Ltd, organising insurance coverage, improving scheduling and securing proper match venues.

But as the S-League and NFL conclude their respective seasons, he must be clear about how best to synergies both competitions and take them forward. He needs to realise these leagues must be the centrepiece on which Singapore football and its national team are built.

As FAS technical director Michel Salon attempts to improve youth development in Singapore, it is important to understand that even if the National Football Academy or SportsSG grooms hundreds of young players a year, it will be immaterial if there is no room for them in the S-League or the NFL when they come of age.

As the S-League and NFL conclude... Lim Kia Tong must be clear about how to take them forward... they must be the centrepiece on which Singapore football and its national team are built.

As it stands, there are just nine S-League clubs and two of them are foreign teams. Assuming each of the seven local teams can register 25 players, and even if the import quota is cut from four to two, there are just 161 places up for grabs for local players in the top division, and many of these spots are taken up by senior players and journeymen.

With the exception of a few teams, the same goes for the two-tier, 24-team NFL, in which there are a sizeable number of veteran S-League dropouts.

As the S-League looks set to impose age rulings, the same must be done for the NFL because it is the next best ground to blood more talents, even as the FAS ponders a professionalisation system between the professional and amateur competitions.

Former international defender R. Sasikumar, who is also the founder of sports marketing agency Red Card Global, helped set up the professional Philippines Football League as a consultant.

He made plenty of sense when he said: "I don't think one should look only at the free-for-all to make a judgment call on whether NFL clubs are ready to make the step-up towards professionalism.

"It has to be an educated decision based on data and key performance indicators.

"For example, do NFL clubs have at least a proper skeletal structure of management, technical and backroom staff? It can't be just two guys running the show.

"We can't expect them to go from zero to 100 but the FAS has to empower, and not just expect, them to work towards professionalism. This can be done through subsidies.

"They can also look at running team manager courses that are open to the public. A team manager does much more than submitting team sheets, and this will immediately widen the pool of administrators from which the bright ones can be recruited."

The FAS cannot do it alone. Word on the grapevine is that the FAS will run the S-League from next season, instead of having a separate arm to do so, like it has been the past few seasons.

If the same team running the S-League are also put in charge of the NFL without having adequate manpower, then it's doomed to fail.

But if the FAS has a sound plan for both competitions, they should be supported by SportSG in terms of human and financial resources.

Those within the NFL must also change their mindset. As Sasikumar said: "It is not just enough to say they are in the NFL for the passion of the game. If they just love to play social football, then go play in a social league instead.

"The teams and players also have to be asked, and they must know why they are in the NFL - be it as a route to the S-League, to get scouted to play for an S-League club or for the national team, or earn a better contract.

"You have square-offs even at the highest levels of football and players do lose their cool, but you rarely see free-for-alls because players and officials know they can lose their livelihood if they get involved.

"But from the footage we saw, it seems like football is secondary to those involved in the fight. It's an amateur mindset, which shouldn't be the case for teams who train a few times a week and take part in an organised league."

Yesterday was the 200th day since Team LKT won the FAS election to run Singapore football, mainly with votes from NFL clubs, and tonight, they will hold their annual congress.

With the Lions plunging to their lowest Fifa ranking of 173rd, the state of the S-League and NFL must be high on FAS' agenda. One might say they have a serious fight on their hands.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2017, with the headline 'Leagues must form cornerstone of FAS' plans'. Print Edition | Subscribe