Lion City Sailors have been pouring resources into youth development in recent months, first announcing a pledge of $1 million over four years for the club's football academy and then revealing a $10 million blueprint for its home.
The ambitions of the first privatised Singapore Premier League club were given a boost when their academy was awarded a one-star rating by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the first in the country to achieve the feat. The regional governing body has a maximum rating of three stars.
The academy's general manager Tan Li Yu called the AFC's endorsement "an honour" and said it was a "validation of the systems and processes" at the academy, which grooms players from the age of six to 18.
He said: "We are proud to be recognised as a one-star academy, but we are aiming higher. This is only the first step for the LCS football academy on our path towards becoming an elite development hub."
Academy director Luka Lalic also revealed it is working towards qualifying for a higher rating as more specialist staff are brought in going forward.
The grading is part of the AFC's elite youth scheme, an initiative aimed at improving development programmes of its member nations. Academies are evaluated on 20 performance categories, including administration, facilities and programmes, welfare, and psychology and education. They are then sorted into three tiers: one-, two-and three-star.
Being a one-star academy means that the Sailors' outfit has the fundamentals required for an elite youth academy.
The academy's elite programme will kick off with its pioneer batch of 25 players after the completion of the Primary School Leaving Examinations on Oct 7. It aims to help players balance their studies while allowing them to pursue a professional football career, and will cover training, insurance and apparel costs for all players.
The players will be supported by staff such as nutritionists, sports psychologists and sports doctors.
Players will form Lion City Sailors' pioneer academy batch once the PSLE ends on Oct 7.
The academy is also expected to have its own training facility comprising six artificial turfs, a clubhouse with dedicated locker rooms and showers, functional and recovery gyms, and a canteen by 2022.
According to a statement by the Sailors, the one-star grading played a crucial role in helping the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) pass the AFC's 11-point evaluation criteria to become a full member of the elite youth scheme.
FAS technical director Joseph Palatsides hopes that the rating will pave the way for others in the football ecosystem to follow suit, stating that it is the long-term goal for every academy in Singapore to be accredited and "have a solid developmental structure".
He said: "We want other club academies to be accredited as well, and our role at the FAS is to continue playing the role of an enabler to make sure these academies are in the best possible state to be considered for such accreditation."
Palatsides added that the FAS will be reaching out to provide assistance to all youth developmental centres interested in also attaining accreditation from the AFC.