As the ASEAN Super League (ASL) inches closer to being a reality, Singapore's top players are unclear over their involvement in a competition that was tipped as a game-changer, but could instead be devoid of many regional stars.
The uncertainty has led LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad to call on the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to clarify the future of his team who now compete in the Malaysia Super League (MSL).
Speculation is rife the LionsXII will be Singapore's ASL representatives. The league is expected to feature at least one side from each of the 12 member nations in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF).
"There is a lot of talk from outside but, as the coach, I know nothing so far," Fandi told The Straits Times yesterday. "It's up to FAS to decide where we will play and I hope they will tell us soon.
"My main concern is for the players as they are very worried about their future."
LionsXII defender Madhu Mohana added: "All of us are concerned over our contracts as they end this year. We have spoken to coach Fandi and he has said that he will inform us once he has the news."
With Malaysia's Under-23 outfit Harimau Muda's future involvement in the S-League uncertain, the LionsXII's own participation in the MSL is also in doubt as the 2011 agreement signed between the football associations of Malaysia and Singapore ends this year.
AFF general secretary Azzuddin Ahmad said on Saturday that the ASL is on track to kick off its debut eight-month campaign in August next year. FAS president Zainudin Nordin is heading the AFF committee working on the mechanics of the new league, such as its composition and fixtures.
While the goal is to showcase ASEAN's prime talents, The Straits Times understands that Malaysia and Thailand are worried that the ASL will draw fans and media attention away from their strong domestic leagues.
Hence, Kuala Lumpur academy Frenz United are in talks to send an Under-18 team to play in the ASL.
This will allow the country's national players to remain in the MSL, which will be privatised under a RM1.26 billion (S$453 million) deal with media rights giant MP & Silva next season.
Frenz technical adviser Jita Singh said: "We have a strong base of youngsters from Malaysia, Indonesia and Iran. We are looking to add a few young Brazilians too.
"Our U-18s have beaten MSL teams in friendlies so I have no doubt, if we are chosen to play in the ASL, we can put together a team who can hold their own against top ASEAN sides."
Sources said the Thais are considering sending Bangkok-based team Port FC, who finished 13th in last year's Thai Premier League under the name Singhtarua.
There is also uncertainty over Indonesia's participation as their football association is currently suspended from international competitions by Fifa.
As for Singapore, if the LionsXII are not involved, five-time S-League champions Tampines Rovers are keen to play in the ASL.
Tampines chairman Teo Hock Seng said: "It's a matter of money for us - a budget cap will be necessary to ensure a level playing field.
"We also have to be honest and ask ourselves if Tampines can draw a 30,000 crowd at the National Stadium. If that's the main aim, then I will concede that only a Singapore-branded team with a strong and exciting line-up can do that."
LionsXII striker Khairul Nizam hopes to be in that side. "I am looking forward to the ASL as it is definitely going to change Singapore football. It will be interesting to see the different styles from each country going up against each other."
This article was first published on July 27, 2015.
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