Football: Brunei DPMM make U-turn on decision to quit S-League

Brunei club make U-turn after FAS considers exceptions to new rules but move draws flak

Brunei DPMM FC have announced that they will continue to play in the S-League next season.

Last week, the club had posted on their website that they were exploring the possibility of leaving Singapore's professional football league to join Indonesia's top-tier league.

CNN Indonesia reported that the club had met officials from the Football Association of Indonesia last week to discuss the matter.

Sources had revealed that DPMM were concerned that the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) S-League revamp plans on imposing age quotas and a reduction in the number of foreign players would hurt their ability to be competitive.

But on Monday, the 2015 S-League champions removed the post, announcing instead that they will stay in the competition for next season, which starts in March.


Former Brunei DPMM striker Billy Mehmet in action against Albirex Niigata in last season's S-League. Two-time champions Albirex will be subject to the new restrictions but DPMM may be exempt. THE NEW PAPER FILE PHOTO

The Straits Times understands that the U-turn came about as the FAS considers allowing DPMM to sign four foreign players - twice the number local clubs are allowed.

Sources also revealed that there will be no age restrictions placed on the rest of the playing roster.

  • ONE LEAGUE, FOUR SETS OF RULES

  • LOCAL CLUBS

     
    • Six U-23s, three must start each match
     
    • Minimum of eight U-30s
     
    • Two foreigners (no age restrictions)
     
    • The rest can be over 30. YOUNG LIONS • All players are U-22s
     
    • A few overaged players could be included (to be confirmed)
     
    ALBIREX NIIGATA
     
    • Minimum of nine U-21s.
     
    • Minimum of nine U-23s.
     
    • One player of any age.
     
    • Option to sign two U-23 Singaporeans
     
    DPMM *
     
    • Four foreigners
     
    • No age restrictions for rest of the squad. * Pending ratification. All rules for 21-man squad.

This raised eyebrows within the football fraternity as the FAS had consulted local clubs on the matter and, if DPMM are given special concession, that will appear to go against the national body's plans to focus on youth development.

An age quota aimed at giving younger players more exposure will be imposed on the six senior local clubs next season while Japanese side Albirex Niigata, the league's other foreign side, will also be subjected to restrictions.

For a 21-man squad, two-time defending champions Albirex must have nine Under-21 players, nine U-23s and only one player of any age. They will also be allowed to sign two U-23 Singaporeans.

The FAS did not confirm the DPMM's announcement, but in response to ST's queries, a spokesman said: "In view of the announced changes to competition rules, the FAS is in discussions with DPMM on their participation in the 2018 domestic professional league.

"An announcement will be made in due course."

DPMM, who were invited to join the S-League in 2009, could not be contacted for comment.

But ST understands that some S-League clubs have called for the FAS to allow DPMM to field only two of their four imports at any time in a match, while others have requested that local clubs be allowed to sign a third foreign player.

Some in the fraternity believe that having four foreign players will give DPMM a huge advantage next season but Warriors FC general manager Paul Poh is unfazed.

"I can understand that the U-23 move is a Singapore development programme and we can't enforce it on Brunei if they feel that their youth system is not ready," he said.

"We can work with the number of foreign players that they have been allowed to sign. They have been our partners for so long and we should move to keep them with us."

MULTIPLE STANDARDS

There's one set of rules for local clubs, one for the Young Lions, one for Albirex, and another for DPMM - they are making a mockery of the league.

FORMER S-LEAGUE CLUB OFFICIAL, on the new rules not applying across the board.

Former DPMM coach Steve Kean, though, said in an interview with the Borneo Bulletin last month after the announcement of his departure that he drew pride from the fact that he had promoted several U-19s into the senior side.

Poh is confident that S-League clubs can compete with DPMM because of a shift in players' mindsets.

"My personal view is that (with the new regulations) players now understand that they have to work hard. I believe that if they do, they can be as good as a foreign player."

Others were not so optimistic.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a former S-League club official scoffed at the new rules.

"There's one set of rules for local clubs, one for the Young Lions, one for Albirex, and another for DPMM - they are making a mockery of the league," he said

"The league title will be a two-horse race between Albirex and DPMM because the rules for local clubs will definitely weaken them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2017, with the headline 'DPMM won't exit S-League'. Print Edition | Subscribe