Bold changes, but more required for S-League

Bold changes, but more required for S-League
Lim Chin, chief executive officer (CEO) of S-League.

As the S.League gears up for its 20th season next year, much commotion has been raised over the changes announced by chief executive Lim Chin earlier this week.

Two fewer clubs, a limit in the number of 30-somethings in each team's roster, a tighter fitness mark, a return to three rounds of matches, it is yet another slew of changes for Singapore football's professional league.

Many have complained over the suddenness of the announcements, many more say the restriction on players aged 30 and over is unfair, some say the loss of two clubs reduces the talent pool even further.

I applaud Lim Chin and his team for being bold enough to make tough decisions.

But I am also disappointed there were no moves to force clubs to initiate engagement with potential fans.

And I believe that many of the clubs could do with more help from the authorities in trying to find talented foreign players to spice up the excitement in the league.

S.League clubs don't do nearly enough to woo fans, there is a whole catchment area in the football-mad north of Singapore that is in danger of being lost, especially with Woodlands Wellington now merging with Hougang United.

Lim Chin and his team need to act fast to grow numbers in the stands.

The recent announcements will help.

It would have been easy for the S.League to sit back and do nothing.

The 2014 season of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League ended with a stirring finish as Warriors FC just pipped Brunei DPMM to the title on the final day.

Unfashionable Balestier Khalsa will lock horns with troubled giants Home United in the RHB Singapore Cup final tomorrow and it could go either way.

Fan turnout for the season has shown a small uptick.

But the S.League is still far away from making the next step up.

And after Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin revealed in September's AGM that the ASEAN Super League (ASL) will kick off in 2016, further urgent changes to try and improve the S.League became necessary.

While skill level must always be a top priority, it is imperative that the S.League brand of football be played at a much faster pace.

It requires supremely-fit players and anyone who caught the Thailand Under-23 team play pass-and-move football at the recent Asian Games will get it.

The stricter passing mark for all S.League players in the 2.4km test - from 10 minutes to 9min 45sec - is a good start.

There have been too many pedestrians in the competition and the hope is the reduction in the number of clubs will also ensure a more intense battle for places, and a higher quality of player.

Much has been made of the restriction in the number of players aged 30 and above.

From 2015, clubs with a 22-man roster can only sign five players who are 30 and over (they must also sign three players aged 25 or under) while those with 20 players can only have four (two in the squad must be 25 or under).

While controversial, it is reasonable.

Each club will now have to find and groom young talent.

There will always be room for quality veterans like Aleksandar Duric and Indra Sahdan, but there are a few over the hill footballers in the S.League who should make room for younger players.

To create another slot for a young local player, perhaps the S.League could reduce the foreign player quota from five to four for the 2016 season.

National coach Bernd Stange has long complained about the number of foreign players in the S.League and it is time to address the issue, and increase the local talent pool further.

I also hope Lim Chin announces an even stricter fitness mark for the 2016 season because few players here seem to recognise it is the starting point for any footballer hoping to make it in the professional world.

As the competition prepares for its 20th season next year, there will be many in the S.League worried about the impending launch of the 2016 ASL.

The S.League clubs will receive more money from the Tote Board, they have to use it wisely, embrace the recent rule changes, and get down to work now, to remain viable in the face of more intense competition.

leonardt@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 6, 2014.
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