Match Of The Week

Football: Rover and out for players?

Tampines players including Jermaine Pennant (second front right) training at Jurong West Stadium ahead of tonight's S-League game against Balestier. Both sets of players will be playing for their futures.
Tampines players including Jermaine Pennant (second front right) training at Jurong West Stadium ahead of tonight's S-League game against Balestier. Both sets of players will be playing for their futures.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Tampines players are thinking about their futures as the S-League season winds down

S-LEAGUE

Tampines Rovers v Balestier Khalsa

Jurong West Stadium, 7.30pm

From 2002 till now, apart from a three-season break to play overseas, Fahrudin Mustafic has been an ever-present figure in Tampines Rovers.

Fiercely loyal and competitive, the defensive midfielder and captain of the S-League football club can see his time as a Stag drawing to a close as the side prepare to drastically slash their wage bill for the next campaign.

And Mustafic is not the only one. Senior players The Straits Times spoke to all revealed they are ready to leave for greener pastures.

Last week, the club dropped a bombshell that rocked the team to their core: Next year's contracts come with monthly salaries capped at $2,500.

Mustafic, 35, said ahead of today's S-League clash against Balestier Khalsa at the Jurong West Stadium: "I have a family of three children (aged eight, five and 16 months) to feed. As of now, I cannot see myself staying in this club.

"Another reason is the level of football that we are going to play next season. If next year the team are going to be made up of Prime League players and youths, it's hard to see us challenging for the title. When I play, I want to play for a top team to fight for the title. It's hard to see that happening next year.

"It's a difficult situation for us right now because there is a week left to go in the league season and most of us are not certain about our future.

"I felt that we had a good season of football, but in the end we still have to hear these bad news."

Star signing Jermaine Pennant, the former Arsenal and Liverpool winger who is paid $20,000 monthly, is also set to leave.

Right-back Ismadi Mukhtar, 32, who joined Tampines in 2010, hinted that he could leave too.

He said: "If you give the players $2,500, who's going to stay? I am still keeping my options open, but for many players, maybe our futures are somewhere else."

National midfielder Hafiz Sujad added that he could be forced to quit the team which he has supported since he was a child.

The 25-year-old said: "It's tiring and stressful having to go through another cycle of negotiating and talking to clubs again. But I have to think about my rice bowl and many of us have families and I'm going to start my own family soon. I'll likely look for other clubs with better offers."

Stags coach Akbar Nawas is hoping his players will not switch off for the remaining two S-League games despite worries over securing a good contract for next year.

He said: "Mentally, we're in a difficult situation right now. But this is a test of character for the team. Normally, great players will turn up in these unfavourable situations.

"With them knowing now that their future is uncertain, will they turn up and play their best? That is what I want to see."

Perhaps Balestier can relate to their emotions. The results of their last two matches are also inconsequential as the Tigers will finish second from bottom.

Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic said: "We've got nothing much to fight for but we cannot just walk on the pitch.

"The players are on one-year contracts and it matters a lot to them because they have to fight for their jobs."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Rover and out for players?'. Print Edition | Subscribe