Football: Return young talent to S.League

Football: Return young talent to S.League

The Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League is preparing to enter its 20th year in 2015.

It is a landmark moment, although the health of the Republic's only professional sports league is still very much in question.

After all these years, clubs continue to struggle to capture the imagination of local football fans and sponsors.

Tampines Rovers chairman Teo Hock Seng and his Balestier Khalsa counterpart S Thavaneson both believe returning young local talent to the S.League will help. Speaking to The New Paper, Teo said: "I've been in the game for more than 16 years, and throughout that time the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has kept saying that the S.League is a pillar of Singapore football, but for that to actually happen, we have to be more serious about youth development.

"Our role is to find players and groom them for the national team, and I'm one who is always proud if my players get selected.

"But what is happening is that the good players are taken to the Courts Young Lions and the LionsXII (in the Malaysian Super League), and that leaves our league short on content, we just don't have enough young ones coming through."

The FAS signed an MOU with its Malaysian counterparts in 2011 which saw the LionsXII join Malaysia's domestic competitions, with Harimau Muda coming this way to play in the S.League and cup competitions here.

That agreement will end in 2015, and while there has been no indication yet of the fate of the LionsXII, veteran football administrator Thava knows what he wants.

"I won't use the word grim to describe (Singapore football). We (local clubs) are putting our money where our mouths are, but the powers that be need to do more," said Thava.

HARNESSED

"All our local talent must be harnessed into our national league," adding a caveat that individuals who have earned contracts with foreign clubs should be allowed to go and develop their game.

Tampines have lost talent like Shahdan Sulaiman and 22-year-old Christopher van Huizen, who was snapped up by the LionsXII after some decent performances in the S.League earlier this year.

Warriors FC winger Suria Prakash, who impressed as the club stormed to this year's S.League title, has already started training with the Young Lions ahead of 2015.

Currently only Home United, Warriors and Balestier run Centre of Excellence (COE) programmes for youth footballers.

"Right now, If we want to win the league, we have to buy players, and I'd more likely go for a fit 31-year-old than an inexperienced 21-year-old player," said Teo, who is keen to get Tampines involved in developing youngsters again.

"We must do something more serious in youth development... and Tampines don't mind (getting involved) again, but we don't have resources as far as location is concerned," said Teo.

With an additional pitch located outside the old Tampines Stadium, the Stags used to run consistent programmes for youngsters, but with the venue closed for construction works on the new Tampines Townhub, the Stags have become nomads, moving first to Clementi, with plans being finalised for a move to Jurong West ahead of the 2015 season.

Thava has called for an out-of-the-box fix for the S.League.

"Because we are a city-state, it's difficult to inculcate club loyalty, and that's a fact. We are so small and our football is so fragmented, there is no tribal mentality which clubs need to inspire a following," he said.

"If we want to make our product marketable, and increase the demand for it, we may have to step out of what we have been doing. "Demarcate the island into eight sectors and just have eight strong local sides, we may be able to make it work.

"But we must, at least, get our local talent back into the S.League."


This article was first published on Dec 17, 2014.
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