Football: Emphasis on youth the driving force behind FAS' revamp of the S-League

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SINGAPORE - The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) on Tuesday (Dec 12) revealed the first parts of its plans to revive the S-League and key to the rejuvenation is a strong focus on youth.

FAS deputy president Bernard Tan communicated some of the changes to The Straits Times after a meeting at Jalan Besar Stadium with S-League club chairmen.

The most significant change confirmed by the association is mandating that each of the six local clubs (Balestier Khalsa, Geylang International, Home United, Hougang United, Tampines Rovers and Warriors FC) should have at least six players under the age of 23 in their squads. At least three Under-23 players must be fielded in their starting line-ups for S-League games.

"The league will have a large emphasis on developing youth," Tan said.

"This will bode well for the future as there will be more people playing at a higher level at an earlier stage. There have been questions asked... what if all the (U-23) players get injured, do they have to start?

"We have told the clubs that we will be liberal and allow mid-season registration of U-23 players if for some reason their U-23 players are unable to play."

Another key change will see the import quota cut from three to two, with one needing to be under 21 years old.

He added that the full list of changes for next season will be announced by Friday.

The 2018 season will start in late March, compared to February starts in previous seasons, and it will end in late October to allow the national team sufficient time to prepare for November's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, the region's premier international tournament.

All nine clubs that played this year will continue to participate in next season's league.

The Garena Young Lions, essentially the FAS' developmental team, will remain for at least two more campaigns to help them prepare for the 2019 SEA Games and 2020 Olympic qualification.

In a compressed season, the FAS has decided to freeze the League Cup, which is held in June, for at least one year.

League matches will be played during weekends at 5.30pm while the FAS will announce further plans to engage local schools and communities to be involved with the clubs during match days.

In a bid to increase the fitness level of players, the FAS will introduce the Yo-yo Test to replace the 2.4km run.

The Yo-yo Test is a multi-stage shuttle run that gauges anaerobic fitness, which is a more relevant gauge of a footballer's match fitness.

Observers had expected promotion and relegation between the professional S-League and the two amateur National Football League (NFL) divisions to be part of the slew of changes but these have been put on hold. However, they will continue to be explored by the FAS.

"This is a transition year, the grant holders feel that an expansion is not the way to go right now. It will have to transition (to promotion/relegation) after some stability. What we are looking to do is an expansion of the league... trying to get more clubs in," said Tan.

"It's (promotion/relegation) is not off the table. It is something that will be raised (in the future) as it affects NFL clubs and people wanting to join the S-League. We need to have a formula of what it takes to join the S-League."

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