Football: Young Lions' $4 million windfall

(From left) Howard Soh, Garena's associate director, corporate development and strategy; Forrest Li, Garena founder and group CEO; FAS president Zainudin Nordin and FAS general secretary Winston Lee at yesterday's press conference. The team, to be kn
(From left) Howard Soh, Garena's associate director, corporate development and strategy; Forrest Li, Garena founder and group CEO; FAS president Zainudin Nordin and FAS general secretary Winston Lee at yesterday's press conference. The team, to be known as the Garena Young Lions, have not been given specific targets with Zainudin saying that player development outweighs results.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Record two-year sponsorship deal with Internet firm Garena ushers in new chapter

With less than two weeks to go to their first S-League fixture, doubts persist over the Young Lions, who have no head coach, no official squad list and no finalised backroom staff.

But that has not stopped the team, who kick off their campaign against Balestier Khalsa on Feb 14, from landing the biggest sponsorship deal in the league's 20-year history.

Yesterday, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) inked a $4-million, two-year deal with Internet and mobile platform firm Garena to back the Young Lions, the country's developmental team comprising mostly members of the Singapore Under-21 side.

 

The figure eclipses the league's sponsorship deal with title sponsor Great Eastern, believed to be worth about $1 million over two years.

Explaining his rationale for backing the Young Lions, Garena founder and group chief executive officer Forrest Li said: "I really love football, and many of us here at Garena love football as well... We love to support young talent. The future of Singapore football is the Young Lions, so that's why."

NURTURING LOCAL TALENT

I really love football, and many of us here at Garena love football as well... We love to support young talent. The future of Singapore football is the Young Lions, so that's why.

FORREST LI, Garena group CEO, on sponsoring the Young Lions.

The Singapore permanent resident, who has lived here for 10 years, added that the deal fits in with Garena's youthful profile. He said the average age of the firm's employees is about 26 to 27 years old.

The partnership includes a $2 million cash sponsorship, which will cover operating expenses such as players' wages, and a $2 million component to be used for developmental programmes.

These include overseas training trips and competitions, as well as bringing quality opposition here for friendlies. FAS president Zainudin Nordin said there will be more such matches lined up for the team, with one against an U-21 side of a top Asian team already pencilled in.

He added that the developmental funds will also be used to bring in key backroom staff who will "enhance our technical ability".

The team, henceforth called the Garena Young Lions, will don shirts with its Shopee brand emblazoned in front for the new season.

But even with national striker Khairul Amri - who will captain the team - on board, the Young Lions face an uphill battle to better their ninth-place finish last season.

They are still without a head coach following the departure of German Juergen Raab, although The New Paper reported yesterday that Frenchman Patrick Hesse is set to be appointed.

The make-up of the squad is also unclear. In fact, it is believed that the uncertainty over the players, some of whom have national service commitments, is why Fandi Ahmad, the FAS' preferred choice to replace Raab, turned down the role.

Against this backdrop, Zainudin declined to specify targets for the team, saying it is important to have realistic expectations and that player development outweighs results.

Since 2003, when the Young Lions first played in the S-League, several national players have emerged from their ranks, including Shahril Ishak, Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin.

"It's always a fine balance, but we are confident the team will be able to put up a good fight," Zainudin said.

Li, singing from the same songsheet, added: "We don't set any (targets) and say they have to win (the) S-League. We care more about development.

"After two years, if we see (that) all these players grow up as professional players... we see the progress and we feel the dollar we put in is good money... I'd love to continue (the sponsorship).

"This in a way is the spirit of giving back to the home society we belong to."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'YOUNG LIONS' $4M WINDFALL'. Print Edition | Subscribe