Within 24 hours of receiving official confirmation from the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) that the LionsXII will not participate in competitions across the Causeway next year, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) took steps to assure the players in limbo that their rice bowls for next year are intact.
FAS president Zainudin Nordin and general secretary Winston Lee met Fandi Ahmad's men before training commenced at Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central at 6.30pm yesterday and briefed the team for 90 minutes.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the FAS said the management assured the players that they will secure a playing contract at the same salary for the 2016 season.
"The players were informed that the FAS is consulting its key partners on the various possibilities relating to their playing club in the S-League next season."
The Straits Times understands that if a player has to take a pay cut to sign for a club in the S-League, the FAS will top up the difference for a year.
The gesture is extended to every player in the squad, including the reserves and those whose contracts are expiring next month.
In the coming days, senior FAS officials will also be meeting the top brass from the S-League clubs to find out if the latter are keen to sign the LionsXII players before the annual retain/release list is published next Friday.
However, it is believed that the FAS wishes to keep the LionsXII together as a team to compete in the S-League.
Although it could result in lop-sided results as most of Fandi's men are internationals, the association hopes to keep the team together for the sake of continuity ahead of the ASEAN Super League (ASL) kick-off, which is set for March 2017.
A regional club competition sanctioned by the ASEAN Football Federation, little is known about the format and composition of the ASL.
However, FAS officials are optimistic that the elite teams from across South-east Asia will want to take part.
The competition is expected to receive the green light from world governing body Fifa by next March.
On the FAS' move to assure players of their contracts next year, Fandi said: "Their (FAS officials) prompt action in assuring us all has given us full confidence to do well on Saturday.
"We all knew that the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) was valid for four years, and there will come a time when we have to move on.
While we were disappointed by the approach FAM took in announcing this decision, it has been a good journey and we will now continue to develop further."
The FAS and FAM signed an MOU in 2011 that allowed both countries to send their developmental teams across the Causeway to compete in league and Cup competitions.
The four-year agreement kicked off in 2012 with the LionsXII playing in the Malaysia Super League and Malaysia's Harimau Muda joining the S-League.
But on Tuesday night, after Fandi's team suffered a 1-4 loss at Pahang in the first leg of the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals, the FAM announced on its website that it is not renewing the MOU.
It caused consternation among the players ahead of the return leg at Jalan Besar Stadium tomorrow.
Midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin said: "The certainty that every player in LionsXII is assured of a playing contract for next year means a lot to us, and the guarantee that we will receive the same salary is definitely a big bonus."
This article was first published on November 27, 2015.
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