It is a policy that had been dormant for eight years but the Foreign Sports Talent (FST) scheme is now back online for the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
The revival of the policy was announced yesterday at the association's annual congress held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
FAS deputy president Bernard Tan said "it will be a long-term development. We will incorporate these foreign players into the national squad in a uniquely Singaporean way.
"We want them to stay in Singapore. If they start playing in the SPL at a young age, they can integrate into the local culture and they have about 10 years to give to the national team."
FAS vice-president S. Thavaneson added: "If the players are really young, it will be easier for them to assimilate. And by the time they are 23, they can start playing for Singapore (if they fulfil the five-year residency period required by Fifa for naturalisation)."
Currently, the six local clubs in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) are allowed two foreign signings. The FAS is looking to introduce a third slot for an import next year and will decide if this player will be Under-23 or Under-21.
The last player to receive citizenship under the FST scheme was China-born forward Qiu Li in 2010.
A LONG RUNWAY
We want them to stay in Singapore. If they start playing in the SPL at a young age, they can integrate into the local culture and they have about 10 years to give to the national team.
BERNARD TAN , FAS deputy president, believes naturalised players will benefit the Lions. in the long run.
While some quality players like Daniel Bennett (England), Shi Jiayi (China), Fahrudin Mustafic (Serbia) and Qiu served the Lions well, there were some misses as well.
The first two men under the scheme, strikers Mirko Grabovac and Egmar Goncalves, were unable to reproduce their club form, where they were prolific strikers. Goncalves returned to Brazil in 2006 while Grabovac returned his Singapore passport in 2008 before returning this year to coach his old club Warriors FC.
"This is a good policy that can benefit the national team," said Home United coach Aidil Sharin.
"It's also good news for local clubs playing in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Cup as it means we have an additional foreign player."
INTERNATIONAL RECORD: 15 caps, 4 goals
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24 caps, 4 goals
But the tactician pointed out that these young signings must be made judiciously, saying: "The players cannot be signed just because they are cheap. They must have quality, be fit and have good physique.
"And if these players do very well, some of our neighbours will be waiting to take them. The Thai league is stronger and these young players could be tempted to leave after they establish themselves here which would affect their five-year residency status."
The FAS believes there are promising young foreign players around and deputy president Tan pointed to Home's Korean midfielder Song Ui-young, 24. He joined the Protectors in 2012 and had recently applied for permanent resident status.
Aidil also singled out Balestier Khalsa's 18-year-old Serbian midfielder Dusan Marinkovic as another quality youngster who could be naturalised.
Apart from bringing back the FST, the FAS highlighted that the upcoming Kallang Football Hub, a new training centre for the national teams featuring three full-sized pitches and other support facilities, will be ready in phases by the third quarter of next year. One of the full-size fields will be laid with the same turf used at the National Stadium.
In its financial statement, it was noted that FAS' revenue was almost $30 million while it spent about $15.4 million on the SPL while the national team and Lions training costs were some $4 million.
FAS president Lim Kia Tong also revealed that plans are afoot to create a corporate and professionals league, saying: "The plan is to see participation from both businesses and professional associations. We would like to have the corporate sector involved in football again."
The lawyer added that over the year, the FAS had fruitful partnerships with various parties like the Singapore Sports Hub, SportSG and the Japan Football Association. It also partnered Singapore Pools to raise more than $700,000 for charity and community sectors supported by the Football With A Heart event.
Lim concluded: "We have laid the foundations to achieve our shared goal for Singapore football and in the coming year, we will be fine-tuning our plans to ensure that we can make a positive difference."