Singapore out of Malaysian league: S-League clubs may get a booster shot

Balestier Khalsa goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam (in white) foiling Tampines Rovers’ striker Mateo Roskam (No.9) during an S-League match at Jalan Besar Stadium on Aug 21, 2015.
Balestier Khalsa goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam (in white) foiling Tampines Rovers’ striker Mateo Roskam (No.9) during an S-League match at Jalan Besar Stadium on Aug 21, 2015. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Infusion of LionsXII talent could breathe new life into competition that toils to draw crowds

Long regarded as the poor cousin of the Malaysian Super League, Singapore's own S-League could benefit from the LionsXII's split from football across the Causeway.

While disappointed with the manner of the exit perpetuated by the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), the local football fraternity feels a possible influx of LionsXII talent into the S-League clubs will breathe new life into the competition that struggles to draw crowds.

Former Singapore international R. Sasikumar, who runs sports marketing firm Red Card, said: "Ultimately, for football to grow in any country, your own domestic league has to take shape. You cannot depend on foreign leagues to develop your own talent."

 
 
 

He added: "We should take this decision as an opportunity for a much-needed reboot of our domestic football scene."

FAM had announced on Tuesday that the LionsXII will no longer take part in Malaysian football competitions after having featured for four seasons.

LOCAL ROOTS A MUST

Ultimately, for football to grow in any country, your own domestic league has to take shape.
You cannot depend on foreign leagues to develop your own talent.

R. SASIKUMAR, who runs sports marketing firm Red Card

The Straits Times understands that several LionsXII players sounded out S-League clubs yesterday over their potential availability.

Tampines Rovers general manager Tay Peng Kee said, depending on their salary demands, "as much as possible, we'll take them in".

Geylang International general manager Andrew Ang added: "We already have some good talents in the S-League, but for the LionsXII players to be injected back, it will be a bonus."

It is understood that key LionsXII players earn upwards of $6,000 a month - almost double the average S-League salary of around $3,500.

If they are willing to accept a pay cut, it will lead to increased competition for first-team spots within the six local clubs.

"Our league can only be credible when the best players are in it," noted Warriors FC striker Fazrul Nawaz, a former LionsXII player.

Personally, he is not worried about the talent pool increasing because the "league will only get better as a result".

PERFECT MATCH

Our league can only be credible when the best players are in it.

FAZRUL NAWAZ, Warriors FC striker

These views were also shared by readers on The Straits Times' Facebook page.

Wrote Ong Qizong: "Pay 25 players n spend lots of money to travel to MALAYSIAN states....

"Or try to revive the sleague which provide jobs for 400+ professional players, coaches and staff? FAS the ball is in your court... Show us that you know what to do!"

Many football fans also question the success of the LionsXII project, given how there has been little knock-on effect on the struggling national team.

About half the national squad comprises LionsXII players.

For example, the 23-strong selection that lost the recent World Cup qualifiers at home against Japan and Syria featured 12 of Fandi Ahmad's men.

Nonetheless, the LionsXII regularly drew crowds of around 6,000 to the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Although this is still a far cry from the Malaysia Cup heyday when the old National Stadium could attract sell-out attendances of 55,000, most of the S-League clubs struggle for gates of more than 1,000 fans these days.

Home United chief executive Azrulnizam Shah Sohaimi believes the LionsXII's abrupt dismissal from the Malaysian league speaks volumes of the Football Association of Singapore's management of the local game.

He said: "To me, it is indicative of a larger picture.

"As a footballing eco-system, there must be organisation and prior planning.

"We cannot wait till the day we get kicked out - we should be better organised so that we don't fall victim to things like this.

"Of course, having higher-profile players augurs well for the S-League but we cannot assume that, just because they come back, the league will completely change."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'S-LEAGUE CLUBS MAY GET A BOOSTER SHOT'. Print Edition | Subscribe