Tampines prepared to live with a weakened squad

Tampines Rovers are in danger of facing an exodus of players after slashing their wages to as low as $2,500 per month for the next season. Chairman Krishna Ramachandra is, however, standing firm on his cost-cutting measures.
Tampines Rovers are in danger of facing an exodus of players after slashing their wages to as low as $2,500 per month for the next season. Chairman Krishna Ramachandra is, however, standing firm on his cost-cutting measures.TNP FILE PHOTO

Since news broke last week that Tampines Rovers will slash players' wages for the next season, it has been an unsettling period at the Stags camp.

But the man in the middle, its chairman Krishna Ramachandra, is standing firm on his cost-cutting measures even if he faces an exodus of footballers who are unwilling to accept their new contracts, which can be as low as $2,500 per month.

National players in the S-League typically earn between $4,000 and $10,000.

This will leave Tampines with a serious lack of firepower as Singapore's representative at next year's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup after a 2-0 win over Balestier Khalsa last night helped them seal second place in the S-League.

Ramachandra told The Sunday Times: "We have to live with that (the exodus) if we cannot afford them. If we lose the likes of Billy Mehmet and Jermaine Pennant and have fewer national players, for sure there will be some impact to the team.

"But one or two players don't make up a team. We will still have several senior players around, but if players do end up leaving, I will bring in the youths to fill the gaps and give them an opportunity to perform.

BEING REALISTIC

We have to make do with what we have. The long-term sustainability of the club is the top priority for us. We don't want to have an enlarged squad yet not be able to afford it.

KRISHNA RAMACHANDRA, Tampines chairman, on the necessity of a reduced budget next season.

LACK OF AMMUNITION

What sort of team are we putting up to represent the nation at the AFC Cup competition next year when we are supposed to represent the best of Singapore football?

ISMADI MUKHTAR, Tampines defender, questioning his team's firepower ahead of a reduced budget next season.

"For all we know, there might be some who say 'we want to stay on and build the team'."

Seasoned defender Ismadi Mukhtar questioned: "With (a reduced) budget, what sort of team are we putting up to represent the nation at the AFC Cup competition next year when we are supposed to represent the best of Singapore football?"

But the departure of quality players could potentially end the Stags' status as an S-League powerhouse. The club have won the title five times in the past 12 seasons and have finished in the top four every year since 2002.

Seven of their players were called up to the Lions squad for the recent international friendly matches against Malaysia and Hong Kong.

But Ramachandra is determined to tighten the belt, saying: "We have to make do with what we have. The long-term sustainability of the club is the top priority for us. We don't want to have an enlarged squad yet not be able to afford it.

"But maybe in the upcoming months and few years, if more sponsorships come through, then we can build a bigger team."

After taking over from Teo Hock Seng at the end of last season, he stuck to his belief that the club will not rely on the revenue from jackpot operations, which he called "artificially generated funds".

He questioned the viability of the jackpot revenue: "How long is that going to last? Relying on that creates an unrealistic bubble which might not be able to last in the future."

He also prefers not to rely on a benefactor or an individual to keep pouring money to finance a club. Instead, a better long-term viable option was to secure sponsorship.

Former national defender R. Sasikumar, whose sports agency Red Card Group helped Tampines sign Pennant, said: "(We cannot) crucify a guy (Ramachandra) who is just trying to live within his means.

"As far as paying players' salaries is concerned, he's kept his side of the bargain. He has gone into it (the job) with his eyes open, knowing what to do. It takes time to turn things around, you can't turn something around in just one season.

"But I do feel for the players, it's the worst place to be in right now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 23, 2016, with the headline 'Tampines prepare to live with a weakened squad'. Print Edition | Subscribe