Football: SPL Under-23 quota reduced from 3 to 1; clubs to be rewarded for youth development

Under-23 players Saifullah Akbar (second from left) and Nur Adam Abdullah (front, in green vest) at the Lions' training, on Aug 31, 2021.
Under-23 players Saifullah Akbar (second from left) and Nur Adam Abdullah (front, in green vest) at the Lions' training, on Aug 31, 2021.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Acknowledging feedback from the local football fraternity, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has tweaked its contentious Under-23 quota for the Singapore Premier League (SPL), while introducing monetary rewards for clubs that promote youth development.

At its virtual Congress on Saturday (Sept 25), FAS president Lim Kia Tong  said clubs will be required to field only one U-23 player – instead of three – for the first half of a match from next season. There will be no limit on the number of U-23 players registered in each squad.

He added: "While youth development remains an integral focus in our football plans, we acknowledge that our professional clubs' teams need to stay competitive at the regional and international levels.

"The revision will allow coaches more flexibility in player selection and increased opportunities (for over-23 players) in the form of more possible playing minutes. This will also allow players to showcase their abilities in the league and to be scouted for the national team."

The rule was introduced in 2018 to develop more young local players but received mixed reactions.

Naturally, U-23 players enjoyed more exposure, but seniors felt it was not always on merit and came at the expense of their playing time. 

National coach Tatsuma Yoshida and skipper Hariss Harun had previously said this would hamper the Lions on the international stage.

However, the change does not mean the FAS and SPL are easing off on youth development.

FAS general secretary Yazeen Buhari also noted the U-23 quota was never a permanent one.

Instead, youth elite leagues are slated to resume next year after being suspended since 2020 due to the pandemic.

Lim said: "The elite youth leagues will provide platforms for increased playing opportunities and a continued pathway for the development of more young players towards a career in top-flight professional football."

Additionally, the FAS will also introduce a new scheme to incentivise SPL clubs to place higher priority on their youth development programmes.

Clubs will receive monetary rewards for each of their U-23 players who gets called up to the national teams. The details are being worked on and the aim is to roll it out in 2023.

Hougang United coach Clement Teo said: "The new rulings will definitely help the national teams. Regular playing time is very crucial for national-team players in the short and medium term.

"On the other hand, we cannot neglect the development of younger players aged 18 to 23, and they must be given the opportunity to train with the senior team for continuity in their development.

"Our chairman (Bill Ng) has placed an emphasis on youth development. We have tapped on the fruits that we have planted in players like Idraki Adnan, Farhan Zulkifli and Kishson Philip, who have represented our youth and senior teams."

Meanwhile, Lim also confirmed that Singapore will "put in a strong and determined bid to host" the Dec 5-Jan 1 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, originally scheduled for last year but postponed due to Covid-19. The Republic last co-hosted the competition with Vietnam in 2014.

Hariss felt that winning the hosting rights will improve the Lions’ chances of reaching the knockout rounds, which they failed to do after winning the Cup in 2012.

He said: "Not only will we be avoiding travel complications during the pandemic, being able to play in front of our fans will also be a big boost for us. 

"Hopefully we get to host it and we will get to train more at the National Stadium to increase our familiarity with the conditions and maximise our advantage."

In the draw held on Tuesday, the Lions were drawn into Group A alongside five-time champions Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines and the winner of the qualifying play-off between Brunei and Timor Leste.

Yoshida's men will kick off their campaign against Myanmar on Dec 5 before facing the Philippines on Dec 8 in a crucial four days that could decide if they make it to the semi-finals for the first time since they won the tournament in 2012.

They will then take on either Brunei or Timor Leste on Dec 14, before meeting Thailand on Dec 18.