By Chia Han Keong
EUROPE has become the latest continent to have a team in the S-League.
Etoile FC, a football club set up solely to let French footballers play in Singapore's professional league, were given approval by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to participate in this season's matches, which begin on Feb 1.
They are one of two new foreign clubs to get the approval. The other club, Beijing Guoan, will become the fourth Chinese club to be featured in the S-League since it decided to admit foreign football teams in 2003.
These two clubs will be the eighth and ninth foreign representatives to play in the league and, together with Japan side Albirex Niigata, will compete with the nine local clubs for this year's title.
Etoile, which means "star" in French, said yesterday that their squad will consist of both seasoned professionals and young upstarts from France, as they aim to finish in the top half of the league.
Their chief executive and brainchild of the venture, Mr Johan Gouttefangeas, said the decision to start the club was made nearly two years ago.
He said: "It is not a rash decision to enter this league. In fact, I have been following the local scene for almost 10 years.
"We see ourselves as a long-term project, to eventually be a well-supported club here and to have academies around this region."
When asked what benefits their players get from the club, he said simply: "Exposure."
He added: "Hopefully, we can serve as their platform to further their football careers in Asia - to Japan and Korea or even in Singapore.
"There are about 300 professional footballers without jobs in France.
This could be a viable outlet for them."
FAS president Zainudin Nordin said that Etoile and Beijing Guoan were selected from eight possible candidates based on three criteria: quality of management, soundness of finances and technical ability.
It had sent technical advisory teams to scout these shortlisted clubs since last year to ascertain their qualities before approving their participation.
For Beijing Guoan, they will be out to prove that they are far more credible than the three previous Chinese teams in the S-League - Sinchi FC, Liaoning Guangyuan and Dalian Shide.
Those teams fielded substandard players, were plagued by disciplinary problems and, in Liaoning's instance, were involved in a match-fixing scandal which saw seven of their players jailed.
Beijing Guoan differ from those three clubs in that they are backed by Chinese government bodies, and Mr Zainudin believed that the club will thus be better managed than their predecessors.
Besides Asia and Europe, the S-League has also seen a club consisting of African players, Sporting Afrique, in its setup. That team played for one season in 2006.
Etoile FC will play their "home" games at Queenstown Stadium, while Beijing Guoan will play theirs at Yishun Stadium.
Both teams will be arriving next week to gear up for the start of the new season.
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