For The Record...
"In an interview with Yahoo! Singapore, Zainudin (Nordin, FAS President) reiterated that the S-league will not become a "poorer cousin" once the LionsXII start their Malaysia Cup campaign."

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Import Quota of DPMM Raised Eyebrows

DPMM will continue their involvement (file snap)
The participation of Brunei DPMM in the S.League has been under much scrutiny following revelations in recent media reports that the Sultanate's professional club was mulling a withdrawal from the Republic's setup to take part in leagues in either Malaysia or Indonesia.

However, updates posted on the team's official website suggested that they had changed their mind and will continue their involvement in the Singapore domestic football scene which they did since 2004 when the Wasps (the nickname of DPMM) were first featured in the Singapore Cup tournament.

On the same page of the aforementioned site, it was also made known, as quoted below.
AFTER THE S-LEAGUE HAVE DECIDED TO ALLOW DPMM ON 4 IMPORT PLAYERS,THEY NOW DECIDED ON HAVING ANOTHER DISCUSSION ON THE FOREIGN PLAYERS FOR DPMM.
The notion was further confirmed when the newly-appointed DPMM coach Rene Weber revealed in an article reported by BruSports News, a sports portal based in Brunei, that "DPMM FC are looking to sign four imports for the new season with two of them being under the age of 25".

This latest development raised a few eyebrows in this blog's Facebook Page where the said BruSports News' article was shared.

"How many sets of rules we have in sleague? (sic)" said one who replied citing the fact some rules are to be enforced in the coming season like local clubs are only allowed to sign two foreign players.

Meanwhile, another commented:" I think the key is how many they can put in the matchday squad and how many they can field. (sic)" on belief if what suggested by Coach Weber is going to be the case.

DPMM is Brunei's only professional football team (file snap)
Several club officials declined comment on the mentioned DPMM's import quota when approached.

Nonetheless, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) replied to the queries put forwarded by this blogger on this matter late last evening.

“The Football Association of Singapore is in discussions with Brunei DPMM FC on their participation in the 2018 domestic professional league. We are also in engagement with the other participating clubs on the matter. An announcement will be made in due course.” said a FAS spokesman in an email reply received this morning.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Mindset Tweak To Stay Relevant For NFL Clubs ...

Despite calls from all corners to push Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to implement the promotion/relegation system between the professional S.League and the amateur National Football League (NFL) in order to inject the much-needed competitiveness among clubs, this blogger is still not in favour of this conventional practice commonly used in most football leagues around the world.

Those who bothers can refer to this old entry to find out why this blog insisted promotion/relegation system is not feasible in Singapore football.

Added on to the recent embarrassments (source 1, 2) that occurred in recent weeks did little to improve the image of the NFL either.

NFL sides would have to tweak their mindset to stay relevant (file picture)
It is no secret that some of these NFL clubs harbouring thoughts of becoming part of the S.League one day but are being hamstrung by unfavourable climate of the game all along.

Perhaps, it is time to adapt a different approach to see how the NFL can contribute effectively to the growth of the game in the republic.

One of the ways is the establishment of a "farm system" in the ecosystem which, however, requires these amateur sides to give up their professional ambition for good and also to ensure good governance in their internal structure as well to compliment with what is going to suggest later in this entry.

HAVE A FARMING SYSTEM ...
The concept of “farm system” will see a partnership forged between the S.League and NFL clubs similarly to baseball's Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs have with their minor leagues affiliates in the United States.

The baseball "farm system" operates in a way that most new players drafted by MLB clubs do not usually start immediately in the big league but from the lower tiers of the minor leagues to hone their skills before they are ready for the big time.

It took years for baseball players to be ready to play in MLB (credit: Nick Jio on Unsplash)
In another words, the minor league is a "nursery" for the MLB clubs like how the collegiate system (i.e.: NCAA) is nurturing talents for basketball's NBA, etc.

Throughout the years, the fallout rate in the scene witnessed many raw talents did not sustain long enough to see them reach the level to play in the S.League due to factors like academic pursuing and the mandatory National Service.

Crippled by the "elitism" policy which had further eroded the already small talent pool, we might accidentally filtered away some of those "later boomers" along the way and live with regret for not giving them a second chance.

A "farm system" program could serve as an option to put things in place to ensure the conveyor belt is working to churn out the talents, if the NFL clubs are willing to fit into the proposed plan.

FORM A CLUSTER ...
One suggestion this blog can offer is to have a S.League club pool its resources together with one or a few NFL affiliates to form a cluster that would see a bigger pool of players being formed out of it.

The roles within this cluster should further defined as in the NFL affiliates will see themselves function as a "nursery" for rookies signed by the cluster for a minimum period of one year to prepare them for the professional game and at the meantime allow those injured professional S.League players to regain match fitness during their rehabilitation period by turning out in NFL matches, given the absence of Prime League.

Whereas the S.League club of the cluster will now be able to focus its role being main source for national team and leaving the rest of the fundamental grooming in the hands of their NFL affiliates.

(L-R) Former Lions like Itimi Dickson and Ali Imran Lomri turned out for NFL side SRC in 2014
Both "Balestier" can work out something like forming a "cluster"
Not just the playing staff, this cluster arrangement should also allows the strengthening of the backroom support (eg: administration, etc.) among the affiliates by providing support for each other, when necessary.

The formation of the suggested cluster can be based on locality (eg: Balestier Khalsa working with its NFL namesake Balestier United) or S.League club Home United (who is associated with Ministry of Home Affairs) to form a strategic partnership with its "distant cousins" - Police Sports Association.

SWALLOW THAT BITTERNESS ...
To give up something they have been striving so hard is a bitter pill to swallow but with the local game at its lowest point, this blogger would urge all stakeholders to look at things in a perspective for a bigger picture.

Any idea and proposal that come along the way now is nothing more than a gamble that is bound to meet with skepticism and doubts.

But at the end of the day, we shall not let the fear of uncertainty and unknown to deter us from steering out of the tunnel, more importantly - never to repeat the mistakes we made in the past.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

[Annual Review] - "Heaven Knows"

To be honest, when "Team LKT" and their allies sworn in as the new Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Council - the highest decision making organ of the game's local governing body, this blogger wonder if those voting delegates ever regretted their decisions after witnessed what were unfolded subsequently following that controversial landmark election?

HISTORICAL BAGGAGE ...
Banking on the experiences of those who served in the past councils and despite the "historical baggage" embedded on them, the team headed by lawyer Lim Kia Tong, who convinced some of their fiercest critics to join their camp, crushed their challengers - "FAS Game Changers" convincingly to take office.

Can Lim Kia Tong and his council bring the faith back to Singapore Football?
However, little time was given to these newly-elected office bearers to acclimatize their roles, the new Council soon realized it's a tough battle to pull the beleaguered sport out of the doldrums from the moment they were voted in by the majority of 44 affiliates on 29th of April.

With various national age-group sides showing no sign of improvement in tournaments such as the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers (for the national 'A' team) and the South East Asia Games (for the Cubs), FAS was dealt with another blow when news of pending reduction in subsidies from the Tote Board surfaced.

It will be a devastating blow to many clubs in the so-called professional S.League whose lifeline depended heavily on those Tote Board subsidies.

REDUCED FUNDING ...
After reading this, it would hardly be a surprise if the clubs are being told subsequent fundings from Tote Board, which is administered via local sports governing agency - Sport Singapore, will be "A DOLLAR TO MATCH A DOLLAR" basis.

The subsidies have been misinterpreted as something taken for granted by some clubs that even during those "good times" when big bonanza were dished out in the past, there were reports of some clubs still "pleading for more help" in this aspect.

S.League clubs are struggling to stay afloat.
While being someone not in the shoes of those struggling club administrators but it's fair to say after more than twenty years in business, some clubs just don't deserve any sympathy for having mired in this malaise.

It is kind of painful to read those woeful tales that have been making around the circle detailing the dire situations to keep things afloat.

Tanjong Pagar United was one of the founding clubs in the S.League
For that is the reason why little sympathy should be shown to either Gombak United or Tanjong Pagar United when the Ministry of Home Affairs decided to revoke the jackpot licenses of these two clubs under the revised criteria.

One comment that replied to the posting on the above-mentioned by this blog's Facebook page sums up well.

Said Shawn Lim:"Gombak had 19 years, while Tanjong Pagar had 21 years to find an alternative revenue stream. So, hard to feel sorry for their predicament at the moment (sic)."

LACK OF WILLPOWER ...
Rather than taking steps to turn things around, the approach initiated by the folks at Jalan Besar Stadium suggested they are going to make do with what is available for them if the reduction is going to take place.

It will be a huge disappointment for the lack of willpower and determination to rid away from the existing operation model that failed us for more than two decades.

Questions will have to be raised on why is the S.League facing the same stagnancy with little effort by the decision makers to get things back on track despite having the mandate to bring the local football forward?

ALBIREX'S RAMPAGE AND LOCAL EMBARRASSMENT ...
Following his side's successful retaining of the Great Eastern Hyundai S.League title, Albirex Niigata (Singapore) General Manager Koh Mui Tee said:"If you aim for mediocrity, you will get mediocre results."

A strong statement that shall be seen as a wake up call after for second year on a roll had all four major honours in local football swept by the Yuhua-based side who also boasted the tightest backline in the nine-team league.

Albirex Niigata (S)'s success in recent years is hard to be matched by local clubs.
The rise of the Japanese club in the League in recent years has been phenomenon and concluded they are not longer one of the whipping boys like in their early days.

The irony part is the team is filled with many youngsters who barely started off their professional playing career in a setup with high turnover rate annually.

Having witnessed how Albirex youngsters ripped apart his team - the one-time powerhouse of Singapore football - Warriors FC, Coach Razif Onn could only echoed what his Garena Young Lions counterpart Vincent Subramaniam said weeks earlier that the gap will only be narrowed between local and those Japanese players if the former are willing to put in more efforts and disciplined in their game.

Both Warriors and Geylang Int'l fought for AFC club tournament qualifications.
The wide gulf of standard between the White Swans and the rest of the League led to an awkward situation where other clubs (except for another foreign side - Brunei DPMM) were jostling to be the second or third best at the end of the day in order to qualify for the continental tournaments such as the AFC Cup.

It has been an embarrassment for local football when Singapore, for the last two consecutive seasons due to regulations, were not represented by teams who were neither league champions nor premier domestic cup holders (DPMM and Albirex won the S.League title and RHB Singapore Cup respectively in 2015).

COACHES DON'T HAVE THE FINAL SAY?
In an attempt to resuscitate the ailing competition, it was announced a proposal to enforce all local S.League clubs (except for Albirex Niigata (S), Brunei DPMM and Garena Young Lions) "to recruit at least six Under-23 footballers for their squads, with a minimum of three Under-23 players to feature in the starting 11 for each match."

The aim of this move, on top of the reduction of import quota to two from three, is to allow more local young players to play in the S.League in order to widen the pool for the national team selectors in the near future.

Hougang Utd's coach Philippe Aw and his follow coaches will have some headaches ahead.
Prior to that announcement, this blogger shared the following views in a TODAY article, as quoted below.

“Given the ‘heavily-centralised grooming’ of our players using the National Football Academy system and results of late of these age-group teams at international level, I am not sure if these players are ready for the intensiveness of a professional league,”

“We could see more young players in the league if this ruling is enforced but they may not necessarily be good enough for the national team, as international football is more demanding in areas like pace and tactical awareness, and the S-League isn’t able to provide that kind of environment at the moment.”

Whilst the intention is to allow more exposure for players of that age group to a higher level of competitive football, several factors should be taken into account during the implementation of this weird ruling, as highlighted in one of the articles appeared in the Straits Times and a commentary published by TODAY.

1) Is the current pool of Under-23 players big enough to cater for the demand in events of non availability due to injuries, suspensions, etc.?

2) Is the quality of the available Under-23 players good enough to cope with the demand of a professional league (after all, clubs can't blindly sign players for the sake of comply to the ruling)?

3) Would it also meant coaches are not longer have their final say in their team selection when the "minimum three Under-23" ruling is confirmed, since they may able to field their ideal starters in their mind?

TANGIBLE POSITIVITY JAB NEEDED ...
We are always told never to pass a judgement after the job is done.

Sad to say though, such a luxury is never to be accorded to Singapore Football at this juncture after a number of setbacks and disappointments that it hardly surprised to see the lack of faith by many on the decision makers to restore the faith in it.

Hassan heading back to Thai League is a positive jab to local football.
What the local game need most is a tangible injection of positiveness to put that faith back to it and perhaps the news of national custodian Hassan Sunny's pending return to Thai League football and interest shown on Irfan Fandi by Thai side Bangkok Glass could be singled out as one such positivity as it proved Singapore players can play at a higher level.

After the Lions' exit from the Asian Cup Qualifiers, national coach V Sundram moorthy had set his target to do well in next year's AFF championship which has always been seen as "faith restorer" of local football.

Having said that, are we likely to do well next year? Heaven Knows.

(P.S.: This blog entry was prepared way before yesterday's (18th December 2017) announcement and it was already scheduled to publish on 19th December 2017.)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Kick Off On Weekend Only For Season 2018

Apparently, the panel, which was led by Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Lim Kia Tong, painstakingly tried to convince the media the rationale of implementation of the controversial "age quota" in the upcoming season of the local professional league that had generated much buzz of late in the fraternity.

(L-R) VP Teo Hock Seng, AGS Yazeen Buhari, P Lim Kia Tong, Dy P Bernand Tan, VP S Thavaneson
In an announcement made at the press conference held at the Jalan Besar Stadium earlier, the rules pertaining the aforementioned quota requires "All local clubs will have to register a minimum squad of 19 players and a maximum of 25. Of this, in a squad of between 19-22 players, six of their players have to be Under-23, and eight have to be Under-30. Clubs are open to register any players to fill the remaining slots, which may include a maximum of two foreign players."

LONG TERM PLANNING IS THE KEY ...
In a press release issued shortly after the event, Mr Lim explained:"These are wide-ranging changes we are implementing to gear the league towards building a broader base to enable our National Team to succeed... because this allows for greater stability and will encourage the clubs to develop longer-term plans,"

With the imposing of such unorthodox competition rules, the league authority decided to impose the following measures (as shown below) during any match being played.

reproduced from handout given at press conference
Although at this stage, this blogger can't be sure how much a challenge any head coach would be facing following the implementing of these criteria, given the scarcity of quality players of mentioned age group of "Under-23" whom are being singled out as the "cornerstone" for the development of future national players.

While clubs like defending champions Albirex Niigata (Singapore) and national developmental squad Young Lions are not subject to the above ruling, it is understood, however, the Yuhua-based Japanese club is to abide to a different criteria.

FAS president Lim Kia Tong
Under the new criteria specifically imposed on them, the White Swans are required to fill up their roster with 50% of their squad with Under-21 players, with another 50% being players of Under-23 category, with one player being allowed under the "Open" category plus an option to recruit two local players who must be classified under the Under-23 manpower.

Nonetheless, it was informed the discussion on the new ruling is still well underway with another foreign club Brunei DPMM.

"YO-YO" TO REPLACE 2.4KM RUN ...
Other changes to be introduced in the upcoming season, which is scheduled to kick off on the 31st of March 2018 with the repeat of this season's opener between Albirex and Tampines Rovers at the National Stadium, is the replacement of 2.4km run with the "Yo-yo" test to gauge the fitness of the players.

With emphasis of fitness on the players, it is mandated that every club must engage a fitness coach who will work closely with the FAS' fitness department to improve this aspect.

5.30PM KO ON WEEKENDS ...
In addition, all games in the upcoming season will be played on weekends at 5.30pm in a move to allow fans to watch some local football actions at their neighbourhood stadiums before given ample time to head home for more football actions on their televisions at night.

FAS VP S Thavaneson explains some of the new measures
Such a drastic move is to minimize the frequent fixture changes that the league had seen in the past and also to allow fans to stay focused in their weekend activity planning.

Furthermore, this blogger also understood that clubs will be given more autonomy in organizing activities at their home matches with details to be announced on a later timing.

NOT MORE "S.LEAGUE"?
When asked to confirm if there will be any change of the name to the local professional league, FAS vice-president Mr S Thavaneson hinted they don't rule out the "possibility" of it but while it is something not critical, it is still under discussion.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"ZERO WIN" In 2017 For The Hapless Lions ...

Far too familiar sight for the past one year
The woeful display by the Singapore national team on their last match of the year sums up the state of the game in the island republic.

In this do-or-die battle against Bahrain at the National Stadium, a victory would have ensured the Lions of their faltering hopes to stay alive to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup tournament next year.

Unfortunately, things did not go the way Singapore wanted as they found themselves succumbed to their ninth defeat of the year in the hands of the Middle Easterns and the three-nil loss at home eventually kissed their continental dream goodbye.

This result also concluded the fact that the four-time Asean champions ended their calendar without a single win since their last triumph back in last November against Cambodia at the Bishan Stadium.

DOUBLE WHAMMY ...
Right from the start, attempts by both Geylang International's Shawal Anuar and Home United’s Irfan Fandi in a space of ten minutes gave the beleaguered host side a glimpse of hopes that they were ready to put the rot to a stop.

Shawal Anuar (white boots) collapsed onto the ground
Shawal had his effort draw across the face of the goal from the right in the second minute, while Irfan’s free-kick was smothered by the Bahrainis ’keeper Sayed Shubbar on line moments later.

The exploits by these both players seems to be instrumental in coach V Sundram moorthy’s game plan that everything turned chaos for the home side when they were forced to take early shower due to injuries occurred during the match.

The moment when Irfan Fandi (20) had his ankle twisted
“Both Shawal and Irfan are important players that with their absence from the game, I can't make any tactical changes.” lamented Coach Sundram at the post-match press conference.

“When Irfan was forced out of the game due to a twisted ankle, you can see the void he left behind which allowed the Bahrain number nine (Mahdi Abdul Jabbar) to score two goals.

"We did well to hold them for sixty minutes but disappointed with the conceding of those soft goals (after Irfan left the game)." he added.

CONFINEMENT IN OWN HALF ...
Compared to the flair and confident shown by the guests, the Lions were not able to match their opponents with same kind of performance, as it was the Bahrainis who dictated the momentum of the game by restricted the hapless Lions in their own half throughout the night.

Mahdi Abdul Jabbar (9) headed home with this aerial attempt
Poor decision making, stray passes which were easily intercepted by the guests also resulted the lack of firepower upfront for toothless Singapore side that hardly rattled the Bahrain fortress.

S.LEAGUE FOR STRIKER OPTION ...
When asked what could be done to address the weak striking power that has been plaguing the FIFA-ranked 173 side, the former national striker replied the remedy depends on how the domestic league is able to support that cause.

Jamal Rashed (second from right) scored Bahrain's third goal of the night
"We have to look for strikers in the S.League and see they can give younger ones," suggested the ex-Jurong FC coach. "For now, we just have to do our best in our next match against Chinese Taipei and prepare for AFF tournament."

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