It will probably be difficult for the Singapore Premier League (SPL) to attain viewership numbers comparable to other leagues in the region such as the Malaysian and Thai leagues, but to even give the SPL the slightest chance to become popular with the local football fans, one aspect which needs improvement would be the level of play.
I concur with Lion City Sailors coach Aurelio Vidmar's sentiments and frustrations regarding the SPL (S'pore footballers too comfy, mentality change needed to progress: Sailors coach, ST Online, Nov 16).
Most people who are truly familiar with the SPL, and follow it week in, week out, would know that there are definitely quality local players in the league.
For example, over a week ago, we had Geylang International striker Khairul Nizam scoring a wonder goal, and just on Tuesday, the local players of Lion City Sailors stepped up to grind out a win after their foreign star Stipe Plazibat was forced off due to injury.
Players who can create something out of nothing and have the potential to become local stars of the game are arguably present in every team. Yet, due to the relatively slow-paced nature of SPL matches, these players tend to fit in instead of performing at the level they are capable of, as Vidmar suggested.
In this respect, foreign players may be beneficial for the teams and the league, as they are able to instantly change the pace of the game. This may bring about positive influences on the local players as well.
Albirex Niigata consists of Japanese players who have mostly come out of university and decided to ply their trade in Singapore, and while they usually become accustomed to the level of play in the SPL, they can still up the pace of the game on their own when necessary.
I think that is an area in which our local teams and players can learn from foreign ones.
While I do not expect every team to start playing top-notch football out of the blue, as a fan, I simply hope to see teams be more adventurous and unique with their styles of play.
That way, local players may improve individually and get the chance to play for overseas clubs, and the SPL will also attract more viewers and possibly improve its reputation among local fans.
Henry Choong Kun Lin