With a number of rookies in the squad, many have tipped them to struggle in this season's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
But the Young Lions, the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) developmental team playing in the local professional football league, were given a shot in the arm with the announcement of a $4 million sponsorship deal with local company Garena yesterday.
As part of the deal, Garena will provide $2m in cash and a "programme budget" of up to $2m for the promotion and development of the team over the next two years.
The team will be known as the Garena Young Lions for the duration of the sponsorship, and will also have "Shopee" - an online consumer-to-consumer shopping platform owned by Garena - emblazoned across their playing kits this season.
FAS president Zainudin Nordin believes the record-setting sponsorship deal showed there is support for their youth-development plans, which was laid out in their Annual General Meeting in December.
As part of the focus on youth, he said, a number of high-quality opponents from around the region have been lined up for the Young Lions - comprising most of the country's top Under-21 players - for sparring matches.
The New Paper understands the first of these high-profile opponents will be Iran.
The national team will play Afghanistan in neutral-venue Teheran in a World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier on March 29, and the FAS is believed to be trying to arrange an Under-21 international friendly with the Iranians.
BAPTISM OF FIRE
Iran are currently ranked 43rd in the world, making them Asia's top team, and the match would represent a baptism of fire for incoming Young Lions coach Patrick Hesse, who TNP exclusively reported would take the team's reins upon approval of a work permit.
Hesse watched the Young Lions' 4-2 loss to Hougang United in a friendly last night from the stands.
Said Zainudin: "In between the league season, we will... (bring) them abroad for training, to play in competitions outside of the S.League.
"I may be jumping the gun here, but the first match they are going to have is a very strong team from Asia. One of the top-ranking teams, Under-21.
"So you can see we are serious. From now on, you will see them playing really quality teams.
"And when we announce that team, you will be surprised at the match we managed to arrange.
"So these are the things we are trying to do and hopefully, at the end of the season, all the players will become better."
He also defended the decision to tweak the Young Lions blueprint from an Under-23 side to one comprising mostly Under-21 players, describing it as a move that will pay dividends in the long run.
With the change, the outfit are now under the scope of technical director Michel Sablon.
Said Zainudin: "We (were) in a position where we must make a decision.
"We must believe. It is always a fine balance.
"But, from the advice of our technical team, we are confident the team will be able to give a good fight.
"Why not try to give them the exposure and opportunity? I think it will be a plus in terms of player development and we must be able to take that challenge.
"Our way of looking at talent development is that, if in this team, I have 30 players, if they started at Point A, at the end of the season I want them to be at Point B.
"That's my way of measuring. Not about the score or results."
This article was first published on February 3, 2016.
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