Football: S-League clubs make plans despite long lull before next season

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is likely to announce that starting next year, all six local clubs will have to have at least six Under-23 players in their squads, with at least three in every starting line-up, as it switches its focus to
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is likely to announce that starting next year, all six local clubs will have to have at least six Under-23 players in their squads, with at least three in every starting line-up, as it switches its focus to youth development.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) intends to announce plans this month to refresh and revamp the 22-year-old S-League and The Straits Times understands that clubs will be given time to adjust to the changes.

This is likely to mean the 2018 term starting later than usual, in March or April instead of February.

With players being paid only when pre-season begins and with the league yet to learn of the quantum of subsidies from the Tote Board, anxiety abounds.

Even big names like Baihakki Khaizan have not been spared.

The 33-year-old veteran defender was released by Warriors FC and is looking for a new team while also studying to qualify as a property agent as a back-up.

The former Singapore international said: "I wish I could say for certain that I'll be playing next year. Given a choice, I want to continue playing, but it looks like I may have to plan for a future outside football."

The FAS is also likely to announce that starting next year, all six local clubs will have to have at least six Under-23 players in their squads, with at least three in every starting line-up, as it switches its focus to youth development.

But an experienced player, who declined to be named, is not overjoyed with the impending change.

He lamented: "This new rule is putting the older guys under pressure. It is indirectly asking us to retire."

Two-time defending champions Albirex Niigata have not signed players for their 2018 squad as they await clarity on the FAS' plans.

UNEXPECTED GAIN

Maybe it's a good thing to begin early as most of our players don't look after themselves. The longer pre-season will help them to keep fit.

PHILIPPE AW, Hougang United coach, whose squad are almost ready.

But Albirex chairman Daisuke Korenaga has told his players that they are free to look for new clubs during this uncertain period.

Hougang United coach Philippe Aw, who has assembled most of his squad, has had to release the club's three foreign players - Spanish forward Pablo Rodriguez and Japanese duo Atsushi Shirota and Fumiya Kogure.

He said: "Unfortunately, we don't know what are the restrictions for the foreign players and we had to release all our (three) foreigners."

However, as he has already lined up his squad, he saw a silver lining with the delay, noting: "Maybe it's a good thing to begin early as most of our players don't look after themselves. The longer pre-season will help them to keep fit."

One club where it is business as usual are Tampines Rovers, despite the potential four-month vacuum with no competitive matches. The Stags will start their campaign next month owing to Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League commitments.

Tampines chairman Desmond Ong has already signed 15 players for next year.

He said: "We will let the players have time off in February (if the Stags fail to progress further in the AFC Champions League)."

More importantly, he promised: "There will be no break in their pay." However, he added that the players may be required to do community outreach during the lull.

The league runners-up are Singapore's representatives in the continent's top club competition as champions Albirex are a satellite team of a Japanese J-League side and therefore ineligible.

Jurgen Raab's men will play away to Indonesia's Bali United in a one-off first-round play-off match on Jan 16. If they progress, they will meet Chiangrai United, who finished fourth in this season's Thai League T1, on Jan 23. And if they make it to the third round, they face Chinese Super League giants Shanghai SIPG, starring Brazilian internationals Oscar and Hulk.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2017, with the headline 'Some clubs firm up plans despite long lull'. Print Edition | Subscribe