Football: Some FAS proposals like emphasis on youth and fitness lauded but not all parties are convinced

Up-and-coming players such as Adam Swandi, 21, are set to get more game time in future iterations of the S-League after the FAS' revelations of its plans for a revamp. THE NEW PAPER FILE PHOTO

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) clearly meant business when its deputy president Bernard Tan said there would be a "larger emphasis on developing youth (footballers)" in the S-League.

A raft of changes was shared with the various club chairmen in a 90-minute session at Jalan Besar last night; the most eye-catching of which was the flurry of age quotas.

While the composition of the league remains the same - the current nine-team line-up remains unchanged - the make-up of each team is set to change drastically.

For a start, each can sign only two imports - down from three for the senior squad last season - one of which has to be under 21.

And, according to the FAS proposal, each local team - except the Garena Young Lions - need to have at least six local U-23 players and at least nine local players aged 24 to 30.

The number varies depending on the size of the squad but a 25-man squad (the maximum) will need to have nine local U-23 players and 10 local players aged 24 to 30. This leaves room for just two to four players above 30 per team.

Former Singapore winger Ridhuan Muhammad, who has 68 caps and turns 34 next May, disagreed with the new ruling.

The Warriors player said: "Football shouldn't be about age. You need younger players but you can't just deprive the seniors from playing because of their age. Younger players should be promoted but they should not have a free pass into the team.

"In any case, our career spans are already short and not so lucrative here. The young ones may see this age cap and be discouraged into making football their profession."

Warriors fan Royston Wong felt that he would not invest two hours of his time watching an S-League game if the action is of low quality. He said: "I would give it a chance, but if the younger players can't string four or five passes and if the imports don't excite the fans on a regular basis, why should I pay for two hours of boredom?"

Geylang International coach Noor Ali, on the other hand, felt that these are positive measures that could refresh the league.

The 42-year-old said: "The league has been stagnant with largely the same bunch of players, who could have become complacent.

"This new rule makes things interesting and gives opportunities to new and younger players, which then expands our pool of players.

"Older players will then be pushed to prove themselves and be role models for the younger ones on and off the pitch, like Shahril Ishak and Daniel Bennett have been."

Tampines Rovers fan Ryan Goh agreed, saying: "Currently, those already attending S-League games are the diehards who will be there through thick and thin.

"We were quite excited to see new youngsters, such as Ehvin Sasidharan and Saifullah Akbar over the past seasons, coming through the ranks for the Stags.

"Instead of journeymen imports like (former Liverpool and Arsenal star) Jermaine Pennant who come and go, I'd rather see new local talents given a chance."

The introduction of an U-23 quota is not new in football. The Chinese Super League required its clubs to start with one U-23 player this season. While teams complied, some sidestepped the rule by substituting that player early in the game.

Hougang United coach Philippe Aw noted that details, such as what happens when teams have fewer than three U-23 players due to injury or suspension, still need to be ironed out but he lauded the FAS' intent.

"Where our football is now, we have to ensure younger players are playing and improving, and we need everyone's understanding and cooperation," he said.

"We have to do something that benefits Singapore football and the national team in the long term."

Besides aiming to lower the average age, the FAS also wants to raise fitness levels via the Yo-yo test that will replace the current 2.4km run. These tests will be held twice or thrice throughout the season. Players must pass the test to be eligible to play.

Home United defender Juma'at Jantan, 33, said: "I have never had a problem passing these fitness tests but while they are an indication of players' fitness levels, different positions have different requirements in terms of distances covered.

"It may be a bit harsh to prevent a player who can be effective with his vision and football brain just because he fails the Yo-yo test."

Despite the overhaul, former national player Aleksandar Duric cautioned against expecting an immediate impact on the ailing league, which has suffered from dwindling attendances in recent years.

He said: "I don't think the changes will instantly revive the S-League in the first year as many people are still doubtful. "But it is good that the FAS sees the need for changes, and it is up to everyone involved to make it bigger and better in the next few years."

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