Semi-pro moves won't help Lions

Semi-pro moves won't help Lions

Singapore may have beaten Cambodia 4-0 in last month's Group E World Cup qualifiers last month, but the word "minnows" is slowly slipping out of the football vocabulary in the region.

Observers have noted that traditionally weaker teams like the Philippines, Cambodia and even Laos are catching up.

Several people The New Paper spoke to believed that in the context of regional improvement, the Singapore national team will take a hit if the S.League does turn semi-professional.

They say the move will be a slap in the face of all that the S.League stood for when Singapore left Malaysian football competitions in 1994 and set up its own professional league.

"We got out of Malaysian football to start something of our own, for Singapore. This is not just a step backwards, it's a slap in the face for all of those involved then - and I am one of them," said Seak Poh Leong, chairman of S.League competitions in 1997.

"It's very simple, if that (semi-pro) happens, we will have a smaller pool of players and that would mean lower standards for the national team," he added, saying that turning semi-pro with just two or three professional teams plying their trade in the proposed ASEAN Super League (ASL) and Malaysian Super League (MSL), would leave the national coach with a pool of around only 70 players.


Speaking on condition of anonymity, a former senior Football Association of Singapore official echoed Seak's sentiments.

He said: "If we have the ASL, MSL and Courts Young Lions (in the S.League) teams, and a semi-pro S.League, what we have is an inverted pyramid. If you build your house from the roof, it will keep collapsing."

While former Thailand assistant coach Steve Darby believes that the long-term effect on the national team will see the Lions slip lower and lower, because "they won't be able to match the intensity at the international level of football", Alex Weaver, coach of S.League champions Warriors FC, does not agree.

"I don't think going semi-pro will set the national team back in the slightest.

Looking at it objectively, you don't need a professional league to have a strong national team," said Weaver, asserting that playing standards in the ASL and MSL would provide a good platform for national players.

"As it stands, there aren't many players from the S.League who are in the national team," he added, pointing to Singapore coach Bernd Stange's selections that draw mainly from the LionsXII and Courts Young Lions.

But some critics argue that staying with a professional S.League does not mean sticking with the current system, but improving on it and eventually give the national coach an even bigger pool of players to choose from.

Former Singapore international Tay Peng Kee, does not believe the national team would be hit by a move to turn the S.League semi-professional, but he conceded that Singapore's only professional sports competition has lost its shine since its bright start in 1996.

"Our own league was initially very successful but, then things dwindled, maybe because we didn't keep up with the changing times and manage it properly," he said. "It seems to have died a natural death."

This article was first published on July 28, 2015.
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