Million-dollar move by Sailors

Lion City's academy aims to allow teenagers to juggle school while chasing pro dream

LCS Football Academy trainees backing the Lion City Sailors, helmed by Forrest Li (below), during a Singapore Premier League game in March. The academy will pick 25 youngsters for its elite development programme run by Luka Lalic (above).
LCS Football Academy trainees backing the Lion City Sailors, helmed by Forrest Li during a Singapore Premier League game in March. The academy will pick 25 youngsters for its elite development programme run by Luka Lalic. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LION CITY SAILORS AND AHMED HAMDY
LCS Football Academy trainees backing the Lion City Sailors, helmed by Forrest Li (below), during a Singapore Premier League game in March. The academy will pick 25 youngsters for its elite development programme run by Luka Lalic (above).
LCS Football Academy trainees backing the Lion City Sailors, helmed by Forrest Li (above) during a Singapore Premier League game in March. The academy will pick 25 youngsters for its elite development programme run by Luka Lalic. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LION CITY SAILORS AND AHMED HAMDY
LCS Football Academy trainees backing the Lion City Sailors, helmed by Forrest Li (below), during a Singapore Premier League game in March. The academy will pick 25 youngsters for its elite development programme run by Luka Lalic (above).
LCS Football Academy trainees backing the Lion City Sailors, helmed by Forrest Li during a Singapore Premier League game in March. The academy will pick 25 youngsters for its elite development programme run by Luka Lalic (above). PHOTO: COURTESY OF LION CITY SAILORS AND AHMED HAMDY

They were already a trailblazer for Singapore football as the country's first privatised club in February and Lion City Sailors have again shown their ambition by committing $1 million to their Lion City Sailors (LCS) Football Academy.

Billionaire chairman Forrest Li hopes the revamped programme will help the Sailors grow into one of the top football clubs in Asia.

On top of grooming players for the club and national team, the academy aims to help launch the careers of its footballers in Asia and Europe.

It underlines the club's commitment to Singapore football, said Li, 42, in a media statement yesterday.

"Firstly, through the elite development programme that will support the growth of the most promising players who have the talent not just to represent our club, but also our Lions.

"Secondly, our goal is to develop the greater ecosystem of Singapore football, from players to coaches through to specialist areas like nutrition and psychology."

Li added that the vision for the revamped academy, formerly known as the LFA Protectors, was not just to make the Sailors one of the best clubs in the region, but for it "to bring Singapore football as a whole to the next level".

Selection for the inaugural cohort of 25 players has not taken place owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the bulk of the academy's funds will go towards this programme, which aims to help players juggle school while pursuing a professional career in football.

A team of staff will cater exclusively to the needs of academy players and it includes nutritionists, sports psychologists, video analysts and sports doctors.

Training, insurance and apparel costs will be covered for all players, with overseas camps and tournaments subsidised at 50 per cent.

Selected scholars will also receive additional cash incentives comprising allowances for transport, books and laptop, and school.

The club estimates this will cost $250,000 a year, or $1 million over an initial four years.

The programme, created by the academy's technical director Luka Lalic, is built around the local school curriculum, and will typically include a "study hour" for four of the six days the players spend with the club.

Serb Lalic, who was previously assistant coach at SPL club Balestier Khalsa before a stint with Dutch side Feyenoord from 2016 till last month, said: "I have seen from my time in Singapore that there is football talent in the country.

"With the Elite Development Programme, these talents will now have an opportunity to develop into professionals in a top-level football environment.

"I'm excited to get started with implementing a new technical programme based on the same parameters as the top academies in Europe. I look forward to seeing how far Singapore football will go, now that it's given the right structure, tools and people."

While the cohort has yet to be selected with the coronavirus not contained, Lalic and his coaches are clear on the profile of players they are seeking for the elite squad, who will be aged between 13 and 16 and must be Singaporean.

Among the criteria in place are training commitment, attitude and behaviour, as well as academic performance, which includes consistent attendance in school.

Tan Li Yu, general manager of the LCS Football Academy, said: "In my nine years running football academies here, we've seen that young Singaporean footballers up to the age of 12 can compete with their counterparts from Europe and the rest of the world in global competitions like the Gothia Cup.

"Now with the added professionalisation of a holistic programme that includes consistent high-level competition, off-the-field tools to deal with the competitive nature of football, and a clear pathway into a professional career, I can't wait to see what our players can achieve."

Open selections for the scholarship will be announced at a later date, and applicants can visit lioncitysailors.academy for information.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2020, with the headline Million-dollar move by Sailors. Subscribe