Youth focus a key goal in S-League revival plan

An S-League match between Warriors FC and Garena Young Lions at Jalan Besar Stadium on June 28, 2017.
An S-League match between Warriors FC and Garena Young Lions at Jalan Besar Stadium on June 28, 2017. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Six local clubs should each have at least six players aged below 23 in their squads: FAS

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) yesterday shared the first parts of its plans to revive the S-League and key to the rejuvenation is a strong focus on youth.

This was revealed by FAS deputy president Bernard Tan after a meeting at Jalan Besar Stadium with S-League club chairmen.

The most significant change confirmed by the association mandates that each of the six local clubs - Balestier Khalsa, Geylang International, Home United, Hougang United, Tampines Rovers and Warriors FC - should have at least six players under the age of 23 in their squads.

At least three Under-23 players must be fielded in their starting line-ups for league games.

"The league will have a large emphasis on developing youth," Mr Tan said. "This will bode well for the future as there will be more people playing at a higher level at an earlier stage. There have been questions asked... What if all the (U-23) players get injured, do they have to start?

"We have told the clubs that we will be liberal and allow mid-season registration of U-23 players if for some reason their U-23 players are unable to play."

His comments are in line with the plans unveiled by the FAS during its congress last month ,  when it said it wants to widen the base of players and increase opportunities for young aspirants to play.


Albirex Niigata's Naofumi Tanaka vying for the ball with Home United's Faris Ramli during a match at Bishan Stadium in September. One key change is that at least three Under-23 players must be fielded in the local clubs' starting line-ups for league games. TNP FILE PHOTO

He added that the final plans for next season will be announced by Friday. The Straits Times understands there could be plans to centralise the jackpot earnings of clubs and the clubs' administration, and introduce a quota for players under the age of 30. The FAS has also yet to announce plans to engage schools and communities on match days.

He said: "There were discussions of where that quota should be and whether it will be beneficial and what should be the proportion."

Although not implemented yet, the mooted quota for U-30 players could fall foul of employment regulations. In 2014, the S-League tried to introduce a rule limiting a local club to no more than five outfield players above 30 and at least three players aged 25 or under.

It was frowned upon by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), which deemed it to be discriminatory towards older players.

  • S-League 2018

  • •Possible name change. Sources say S-League could be rebranded as Singapore Premier League.

    •The upcoming season, to be played over three rounds, will kick off on March 31 and run till end-October to allow the national team to prepare for the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup in November. The League Cup is being dropped for at least one season to ease fixture congestion.

    •The same nine-team line-up remains, with plans to expand in the future. Promotion-relegation system will be explored.

    •S-League matches will kick off on Saturday and Sunday at 5.30pm.

    •Foreign import quota cut from three to two, with one player under the age of 21.

    •Age quotas to be introduced. For a squad of 20 players, six have to be under 23, nine under 30. Factoring in the two imports, this leaves room for just three players above 30. The permutations differ slightly as squad sizes range from 19 to 25.

    •The Prime League (an Under-21 competition) will be replaced by a reserve league.

    •The Singapore Cup could evolve into a knockout competition against Malaysian teams.

    •The 2.4km fitness test will be replaced by the Yo-yo test which will be held twice or thrice over the season. Players have to pass to play.

    The full list of changes for next season, including funding, will be announced by Friday.

But FAS deputy general secretary Yazeen Buhari said Tafep and relevant stakeholders had been kept informed of these proposed changes.

Mr Tan added: "There will be no U-turn."

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

The league will have a large emphasis on developing youth. This will bode well for the future as there will be more people playing at a higher level at an earlier stage.

FAS DEPUTY PRESIDENT BERNARD TAN

Another key change will see the import quota cut from three to two. One of the two will need to be under 21 years old, with the possibility of naturalising him under the Foreign Sports Talent scheme.

The new campaign will start in late March, compared with February starts in previous seasons, and will end in late October to give the national team time to prepare for November's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.

In a compressed season, the FAS has decided to freeze the League Cup for at least a year. Games will be played on weekends at 5.30pm.

In a bid to raise the standard of play by increasing the fitness level of players, the yo-yo test will replace the 2.4km run. The multi-stage shuttle run that gauges anaerobic fitness is deemed a more relevant gauge of match fitness.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2017, with the headline 'Youth focus a key goal in S-League revival plan'. Print Edition | Subscribe