Why It Matters

Time to control Singapore football's future

LionsXII training at ITE Ang Mo Kio, on Nov 26, 2015. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

The LionsXII's unceremonious exit from Malaysian football has left not just the players, but also the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) red-faced.

For the LionsXII, who have been regarded as the richer cousins to their S-League counterparts, they now find themselves with little choice but to turn back to the domestic league. The LionsXII are used to a jet-setting lifestyle. They command larger salaries and play in front of crowds of tens of thousands. Next season, though, it's back to football in sparsely filled stands.

For the FAS, having its pride and joy - the LionsXII were created by the FAS in 2011 with the hope that having a team playing in Malaysia could help reignite football fever in Singapore - resort to now possibly playing in the very league the FAS chose to downplay is akin to a slap in the face.

The FAS said Tuesday's decision by the Football Association of Malaysia not to allow the LionsXII to play in its competitions from next year came as a shock. As recently as last week, everything pointed to business as usual next year. Yet, both sides actually had very different ideas of the future.

The easy thing for the FAS to do now is to cry foul and say it is the victim of perceived football politics. But the wiser thing to do would be to use the painful and embarrassing lesson to reassess its plans.

Let's face it, the return to Malaysia football - despite it yielding two trophies and a momentary return of Malaysia Cup fever - has outlived its usefulness. Gone are the days of full houses at Jalan Besar Stadium. The exercise also did little to help improve the standard of the Singapore national team, now ranked 152 in the Fifa rankings, down seven places from its 145th ranking in 2011.

Malaysia giving Singapore the boot could be a blessing in disguise - if the FAS realises the only way it can control its future is to be in charge of it. That means focusing on building a strong domestic league, even if it dreams of parading the LionsXII in the inaugural Asean Super League in 2017. Because as the FAS has found out, when relying on its neighbours, it has a record of being disappointed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2015, with the headline 'Time to control football's future'. Print Edition | Subscribe