Top local players needed to revive S-League

Albirex Niigata celebrating their Singapore Cup win on Friday night to complete the Cup double. There are calls for Singapore internationals to be spread among the local S-League clubs.
Albirex Niigata celebrating their Singapore Cup win on Friday night to complete the Cup double. There are calls for Singapore internationals to be spread among the local S-League clubs.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

When Japanese side Albirex Niigata defeated Home United 2-1 in the Singapore Cup final on Friday, it meant a second S-League season that foreign clubs have won all of the domestic football trophies.

Albirex had also won this year's League Cup, while Brunei's DPMM lifted the S-League title.

The first time such a sweep occurred was in 2010, when Etoile FC - a team made up of French players - won both the S-League and the League Cup, while Thailand's Bangkok Glass took the Singapore Cup.

Singapore international defender Baihakki Khaizan, who plays for Malaysian side Johor Darul Takzim II, was compelled to post on Facebook: "It's a shameful state we are in right now... It's getting worse year by year. It's like a living catfish, breathing in the wet market. Please someone, save our football."

Whether his lament is able to galvanise the local scene remains to be seen, but after the first foreign-club sweep in 2010, one of the solutions rolled out was the formation of the LionsXII to play in the Malaysian Super League (MSL).

The intention was to provide the players - who were essentially the national Under-23s - with competitive experience, while also reviving interest among Singapore football. However, that move furthered weakened the S-League talent pool and last week, the LionsXII were sensationally told that they will not play in the MSL from next year .

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) will meet S-League club officials this week to discuss the future of the LionsXII players and reach a decision by Friday.

It is believed that it prefers to keep Fandi Ahmad's squad together in preparation of the inaugural Asean Super League in 2017.

However, local football officials want the LionsXII players to be released back to the S-League clubs to reinvigorate the local scene.

Said Balestier Khalsa chairman S. Thavaneson: "You must bear in mind that the majority of the best local players are in the LionsXII. If 20-25 of them are playing in the local league, you won't see such a situation of foreign clubs winning all three domestic trophies.

"We have to put all our eggs into one Singapore basket, from which our national team will evolve."

Home United's chief executive Azrulnizam Shah Sohaimi added: "When Tampines won the Asean Club Championship in 2005 and the Warriors did well in the AFC Champions League, those two clubs had their fair share of internationals like Noh Alam Shah, Aleksandar Duric and John Wilkinson.

"Centralisation of talent in just one team is something we should get rid of. The onus should go back to the clubs to help produce talented players and build up the national team."

The alarming talent slump has increased the urgency for change. Former Singapore international Duric has called it a "huge crisis", saying: "It's something that's accumulated over the years. We have been developing players but forgot all about our own league. Now we are paying the price."

Indeed, in 2010, Singapore Armed Forces FC - now Warriors FC - beat Chinese side Henan Jianye 2-1 in the elite AFC Champions League competition. This year, playing in the second-tier AFC Cup, the Warriors suffered six straight defeats to exit in the group stage.

Said Duric: "Look at JDT. A few years ago, they were nothing but now they have won the AFC Cup. We need more budget and more action from the FAS."

All is not lost, however, as the local trophies were not surrendered without a fight. Tampines Rovers took the S-League title race to the final day, before losing out to DPMM by four points.

Former Warriors coach Alex Weaver said: "The local clubs shouldn't be too overly worried. It's not going to happen every year. Hougang, Balestier, they've taken points off against DPMM and Albirex. If DPMM and Albirex win every year, then there is a gap."

  • Additional reporting by Alvin Chia
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2015, with the headline 'Top players urged to revive S-League'. Print Edition | Subscribe