SPL has regressed to platform for youth development

Hiroyoshi Kamata tries to stop Jordan Webb during a Singapore Premier League match between Tampines Rovers and Albirex Niigata FC.
Hiroyoshi Kamata tries to stop Jordan Webb during a Singapore Premier League match between Tampines Rovers and Albirex Niigata FC.PHOTO: ST FILE

Despite the rebranding of the previous stumbling S-League as the Singapore Premier League (SPL) last year, the top-flight Singaporean professional league for association football clubs has not performed any better in its second season (What about the SPL?, Aug 26).

It has failed to improve in technical quality, deliver action-filled challenges, provide a monetised positional performance award to clubs according to their league standings, attract funding, interest more fans, provide a platform for locals to play and earn a sustainable living, and have an avenue to more lucrative attachments to international clubs.

Sadly, the SPL has instead become a non-level playing field for participating clubs.

There are different sets of rules for local clubs and the two foreign clubs.

Japan's Albirex is allowed to sign as many locals as its budget allows. However, the club is allowed only one Singaporean over the age of 23. Also, Albirex must have two Singaporeans in its starting line-up for each game.

Brunei's DPMM is allowed to sign up to three foreign players instead of two, with no age restrictions, and will also not be subject to the same age restrictions as the local clubs.

Each local SPL team, apart from the Young Lions, will be required to have at least six under-23 players and eight under-30 players in the squad. Singapore teams can sign four foreigners, of which two must be below 21 years old.

With such a range of restrictions, when the best football talents in the country should be exhibiting their skills for club and country, regardless of age, the SPL has regressed to a platform for the training and development of Singapore youth.

Hence, the SPL cannot create a highly contested, challenging and motivating league for any aspirant to a professional football career. Therefore, the usual proposed grandiose schemes for the development of youth football in the country will become recreational pursuits rather than a ladder to a career in professional football.

The truism that a national team is as good as its national league is borne out by many successful countries in world football.

If we have a national team that can level up with the best teams in Asia, the goal to qualify for the 2034 World Cup will not be a pipe dream.

George Pasqual

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2019, with the headline 'SPL has regressed to platform for youth development'. Print Edition | Subscribe