Makeover is wake-up call, says FAS boss

Officials, coaches and players must be more professional to make S-League revamp a success

FAS president Lim Kia Tong says at the announcement that players must put in greater effort and the mindset of management also needs to change for higher-quality football.
FAS president Lim Kia Tong says at the announcement that players must put in greater effort and the mindset of management also needs to change for higher-quality football. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Lim Kia Tong has always been mild-mannered, polite and affable, but he had to dish out some hard truths on the reasons for the big changes planned for next year's S-League.

In the biggest transformation of the league since its inception in 1996, the FAS announced at Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday that it will drive down the average age of players with Under-23 quotas, implement the gruelling Yo-Yo test to gauge the players' fitness as well as conducting courses to administrators, coaches and players to upgrade their skills.

And it is the current state of Singapore's only professional sports competition and the possibility of a drastic cut in funding that prompted the extensive makeover (see sidebar).

For Lim, who was elected FAS president in April, it is high time for officials, coaches and players to be more professional in their mindsets.

The 64-year-old lawyer told The Straits Times on the sidelines of yesterday's announcement: "The threat of going semi-pro was very real.

"These past months, my team and I have been trying to make good on our promise by putting together a proposal to rejuvenate our league; to keep our professional league.

"In this process, we have a commitment to our stakeholders to justify the funds we require.

"We are glad to note that we have the full endorsement by stakeholders who have committed to multi-year support, so that helps clubs to plan long term."

The FAS had formulated its plans revolving around four key pillars - youth development, capability development, cost efficiency and a vibrant football culture.

Local clubs can look forward to substantial subsidies, totalling $888,200 if key performance indicators are met.

Some of these changes are geared to make the local footballers more professional on and off the pitch, a point stressed by Lim.

He said: "Players overseas put in so much effort to be professional. Our players train just once a day.

"The clubs must be more professional, the mindset of the management has to change if we are to play entertaining and fast-moving football, which is the name of the game now.

"No development means no future. If we encourage our younger players to join the S-League, there is a future in our football.

"I strongly believe it is time to roll out these changes and, if we take control with vigilance, the football landscape will change."

It had been reported that the association could implement the pooling and redistribution of the clubs' jackpot revenue, but FAS deputy president Bernard Tan revealed that the idea was not discussed and will not be introduced in 2018.

Sit-out clubs Gombak and Tanjong Pagar will also not return to the league next year.

The FAS' plans have been given the thumbs up from national sports agency Sport Singapore. Toh Boon Yi, the chief of SportSG's Singapore Sports Institute, said: "The FAS leadership has signalled its commitment to make the necessary changes to turn the fortunes of Singapore football around.

"It is imperative that key stakeholders get behind them and the implementation of the plans as 'One Team Singapore'."

Toh added that he hopes the FAS will see through this road map, saying: "For any sport, a strong pipeline through high quality and broad-based youth development is vital to its long-term success.

"The FAS' efforts must therefore be well led, disciplined and sustained in order to encourage the best talents to join up."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2017, with the headline Makeover is wake-up call, says FAS boss. Subscribe