S-League 2018

Football: More Lions abroad good in long run

They will improve and while the S-League will be hurt in the short term, others will have to step up, say fraternity

Next year's S-League season will start without some of Singapore's best players, adding uncertainty to its revival bid. But players and coaches believe the recent spate of Lions joining foreign clubs can only help the Republic in the long term.

Following national defender Madhu Mohana's move to Malaysia Super League (MSL) club Negeri Sembilan last week, there are now four Lions who will ply their trade overseas next year.

National skipper Hariss Harun will return to Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) after spending a season on loan with Home United, Safuwan Baharudin has switched from PDRM to Pahang, while Singapore No. 1 Hassan Sunny has re-signed for Thai League 2 (T2) side Army United.

Home defender Abdil Qaiyyim is at T2's Khonkaen FC for trials this week and with the Malaysian and Thai leagues implementing Asean player quotas, there is interest from foreign clubs in other Lions like Tampines Rovers goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.

S-League fans like John Lim, who supports Home, felt a watered-down domestic league needs to work even harder to draw crowds.

"I will still go and watch the first few games, but if no stars emerge to replace the ones that left, and the quality is poor, I may not go any more," he said.

Geylang International coach Noor Ali, 42, acknowledged that while the mini-exodus will weaken the S-League in the short term, it is necessary to improve Singapore football in the long run.

FRESH BLOOD

With the new rule requiring three Under-23 players to start, we might see some new talents, which will be good for the national team.

NOOR ALI, Geylang coach, on younger players getting more chances to play.

GROWING HUNGER

When you play in better leagues, you have team-mates shouting at you and it's like your mortgage depends on it. That lifts you to another level.

JOHN BURRIDGE, former national goalkeeping coach, on higher standards in regional leagues.

He said: "It's not good for the S-League to lose its best players but it's up to those who are in it to step up and make it better. With the new rule requiring three Under-23 players to start, we might see some new talents, which will be good for the national team.

"All hope is not lost when our players are recognised and poached by the top clubs in South-east Asia. It also gives the younger players motivation, that there is hope for them to play overseas."

MSL teams are well-funded by their respective states while the Thai League has matured to the point clubs even receive a share of TV revenue and have the financial muscle to sign big names like former France and Liverpool forward Florent Sinama Pongolle (Chainat Hornbill).

Former national goalkeeping coach John Burridge paved the way for Hassan's foray into Thailand, and believes overseas experience was necessary as an incremental step for local players to develop.

He said: "But first, they have to get into the gym, just like what Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale did when they realised their bodies were not big enough. And National Service is the perfect time to build their bodies."

He added that players should aspire to look beyond the S-League, and tipped Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi, Shakir Hamzah, Iqbal Hussain, Adam Swandi and Faris Ramli to eventually play overseas.

Burridge said: "The players need to show they want better than the S-League. After a few years playing locally, you get comfortable. When you play in better leagues, you have team-mates shouting at you and it's like your mortgage depends on it. That lifts you to another level."

Madhu could potentially be team-mates with Kim Do Heon if the former South Korea and West Bromwich Albion winger completes his move to Negeri.

Hariss said: "There's no room to relax as a foreign player because you need to justify your place in the squad. It's also a good experience to play in bigger stadiums, in front of bigger crowds.

"I think our national players have the ability, but moving overseas will help with that extra push, which will benefit the national team."


BASED OVERSEAS

HARISS HARUN (27, midfielder)

TO Johor Darul Takzim, Malaysian Super League 

FROM Home United, S-League (loan)

MADHU MOHANA (26, defender) 

TO Negeri Sembilan, MSL 

FROM Tampines Rovers, S-League 

SAFUWAN BAHARUDIN (26, midfielder) 

TO Pahang, Malaysian Super League 

FROM PDRM FA, Malaysian Premier League

HASSAN SUNNY (33, goalkeeper) 

TO Army United, Thai League 2 

FROM Home United, S-League

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2017, with the headline 'More Lions abroad good in long run'. Print Edition | Subscribe