Football: FAS may turn to Foreign Talent Scheme again to aid struggling Lions

SINGAPORE - It was shelved in favour of focusing on grooming local talent but the string of poor performances by the Lions in recent years has driven the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to relook its policy of recruiting naturalised footballers.

While the Foreign Talent Scheme (FTS) has often been the subject of controversy, FAS president Lim Kia Tong believes it is necessary to shake the Republic's team out of their current malaise.

Four-time champions (1998, 2004, 2007, 2012) Singapore have crashed out in the first round of the past two Asean Football Federation championships and slumped to their all-time low world ranking of 171 last year. The national team have won only two of their past 16 matches, losing 10 games including last month's 2-1 home defeat by Chinese Taipei in a Asian Football Confederation's Asian Cup qualifier.

At the RHB Singapore Junior Football Programme launch held at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday (July 2), Lim told The Straits Times: "After a certain point in time, we laid off the (FTS) concept hoping to groom our local talent to bring glory to Singapore.

"But we aren't seeing much results at the moment and that gave us the idea to look into the foreign talent scouting again. Especially when Sundram expressed desire to bring in players."

National coach V. Sundram Moorthy has submitted reports and earmarked Warriors FC's Canadian winger Jordan Webb, Home United's South Korean midfielder Song Ui Young and French defender Sirina Camara as players who will improve his 157th-ranked squad.

The former national striker had previously told ST: "If the Germans are doing it, how about us?"

This approach was shared by Lim. He added: "I see some qualities in each and every one of them (Webb, Song and Camara). But overall from what I've seen and heard as well as what I've read from Sundram's papers, I feel like it is a good decision to include them."

Launched in 2000, the FTS has welcomed nine foreign players, with China-born Qiu Li being the last in 2008. Of that group, only England-born Daniel Bennett, 39, and Serbia-born Mustafic Fahrudin, 36, are still active with the Lions.

The trio of Webb, 29, Song, 27, and Camara, 26, have fulfilled Fifa's five-year residency requirement and would be eligible for naturalisation.

Turning to foreign players to improve standards has its detractors, like Hougang United head coach Philippe Aw who labelled it a quick-fix remedy. He said: "It is a short-term solution. It will just help us for now but I think the efforts and money should go into developing good and young footballers.

"If you rely on foreign talent all the time, then you will always need to find them. Let's not neglect the local young players, they need an environment to thrive and an opportunity to play."

His Home United counterpart Aidil Sharin disagreed and pointed to the lack of quality among the domestic pool. He said: "Ui Young has proven himself thus far and he has already been in Singapore for long. So why don't we take advantage of his capabilities? He is strong and talented - something we might not really have with the locals."

Singapore, bottom of Group E, next face Turkmenistan on Sept 5 at the National Stadium in the Asian Cup third-round qualifiers but the addition of new foreign faces is unlikely for now.

The FTS procedure was not immediate, noted Lim. "We are looking into it. It is not an instant tree where you plant many in Singapore. It is a long process and will take a lot of time."