SINGAPORE - The Singapore Premier League (SPL) could see the inclusion of yet another foreign side after Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim revealed on Sunday (Jun 6) that talks were underway to send Johor Darul Takzim's Under-21 squad to compete in the Republic's professional football league.
Tunku Ismail, who owns JDT, made the remarks about the U-21 squad, known as JDT III, in an interview with Malaysian media.
Asked about the club's development plan for its younger players, he said: "We have put a lot of investment (in our youth). Now we have been discussing with the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) to send JDT III to play in the Singapore league because we want to give more competitive games to our young players. Right now, they aren't getting much competitive games in Malaysia.
"So we are still discussing and I hope they will be absorbed and be given the opportunity to participate (in the SPL)."
JDT III currently participate in the Malaysia President Cup, the national U-21 competition.
FAS president Lim Kia Tong noted the comments made by the Tunku Ismail and said in response to media queries: "The FAS will extensively review any written application if received, to join the SPL, taking into account the interests of Singapore football, before any decision is made."
Since the inclusion of Sinchi FC in 2003, the league has seen the participation of at least nine other foreign clubs. This includes the last Malaysian sides to have participated in the S-League (the SPL's precursor) - Malaysian national youth teams Harimau Muda A and Harimau Muda B. Their inclusion was part of the arrangement that saw Singapore's LionsXII playing in the Malaysia Super League.
The agreement, which saw the Singaporeans finish second in 2012 and first in 2013, ended in 2015.
This term, the SPL has eight teams, with defending champions Albirex Niigata the only foreign side in the competition. The Japanese side, however, have to field two Singaporeans in their starting line-up for each match and have at least 10 Singaporeans in their squad.
Two-time champions (2015 and 2019) Brunei DPMM withdrew from the current campaign due to Covid-19 travel restrictions although they are expected back next year.
The possibility of another foreign side playing in the SPL has not gone down well with some members of the local football fraternity.
Former national defender R. Sasikumar, a keen observer of the local scene, blasted the idea as one that "should not land on anyone's table".
When asked if he saw any benefits the move would bring Singapore football, the founder of sports marketing agency Red Card Global replied: "None at all. They (JDT) are coming with their third team, what does that say about us?
"I like everything about JDT - what the Johor Crown Prince has done for football. He has even put Asean football on the map with the success he has brought to JDT. But this is an idea that I cannot support."
Instead, he wants the league to have more local clubs, especially in light of Unleash the Roar!, the project to help the Lions reach the 2034 World Cup.
"It's about time that we look past foreign teams," he argued. "The ecosystem of having a large player base cannot be ignored anymore and the only way to do that is to get at least 10 local clubs in the league."
Former national goalkeeper Shahril Jantan called on the FAS to reexamine the purpose of the SPL.
He said: "The decision makers need to relook why the SPL exists. A strong domestic league will produce a strong national team and local players of good quality. It will provide the national team with a good base to begin with.
"So how would the inclusion of JDT III play a role in that ecosystem of producing quality local players?"
But Balestier Khalsa vice-chairman and FAS council member Darwin Jalil urged the SPL clubs to embrace the inclusion of sides that could add to the competitiveness of the league.
He said: "It is a good move because it expands the number of teams in the league. While increasing the number of local clubs in the league is the end game, we currently do not have enough matches being played in the SPL due to a lack of clubs. Having JDT III could be a good stop-gap measure to boost the competitiveness."
He also pointed to the club's standing in the region, saying: "We know how JDT model themselves as a club. Their level of professionalism and standard of coaching within the team can bring about positivity to the league."