For the first time in a long while, there seems to be a buzz surrounding the S-League. With the disbandment of franchise team the LionsXII and the return of some of the nation's best footballers to the domestic league, there is hope that the beleaguered competition - one faced with perpetually dwindling attendances - could get the fillip it badly needs.
Alas, the excitement looks set to be short-lived. With Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin confirming that the Asean Super League (ASL) will kick off in 2017, it is likely to be a case of deja vu for the S-League as it faces yet another exodus of its best players. The bulk of the LionsXII players, who won the Malaysia Super League in 2013 and the Malaysian FA Cup in May, are expected to form the team that will represent Singapore in the regional inter-club tournament.
According to Zainudin, all 12 members of the Asean Football Federation have inked an agreement in support of the ASL. All that is left is to iron out a framework with world football body Fifa.
Speaking after the FAS' annual general meeting yesterday, the former Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP said he was confident the move will benefit Singapore football, and move the association towards its objective of building a stronger national team.
What do we want to provide for our talent? To just say, 'Play in the S-League'? Or we say, 'The world is your oyster', and provide the stepping stone for them?
ZAINUDIN NORDIN, FAS president
"What do we want to provide for our talent? To just say, 'Play in the S-League'? Or we say, 'The world is your oyster', and provide the stepping stone for them?" said the FAS chief. "The regional league is the stepping stone. (In that sense) our S-League can be a competitive league for our budding talent, they can play and rise to the best, get spotted by clubs at regional (level), and then move on."
He pointed to the example of the Belgian national team, whose entire starting XI play abroad.
He stressed that the ASL project should work in tandem with FAS technical director Michel Sablon's planned restructuring of the youth development system, which aims to, among other objectives, increase participation at the schools level. This will in turn provide and increase the talent pool.
The details will be announced by March.
FAS vice-president and Marine Parade GRC MP Edwin Tong added: "It would be wrong to think if the best players in the S-League end up in the ASL it is a setback for us. It is not a setback. It is a new opportunity. If the best players of the S-League graduate into the ASL, it creates an opportunity for... the club chairman here (to) put in the younger players."
S-League chief executive officer Lim Chin said the league is looking at "creative" ways to ensure it can fit in this ecosystem.
He said: "We are going to continue to look at this transformation in the coming months. The most important objective for all our entities... is that we want to have a very strong national team.
"If we agree that ASL (is) a good platform for us to build a strong national team, then we should all be streamlined and work together to achieve that."